May 2016 – TOKYO, Japan – For decades, Japan has sheltered safely under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. But advancing weapons technology and changing American politics are forcing Tokyo to confront a longstanding taboo: will it one day need its own nukes ? China’s ever more sophisticated nuclear weapons — such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles which can reach U.S. bases in Japan from the South China Sea and a new array of medium-range cruise missiles — are giving Beijing fresh options. If an armed conflict with China were to escalate and America’s conventional weapons could not win, the U.S. might be reluctant to use nuclear weapons first for fear of retaliation.
Western Europe saw a similar loss of faith in the U.S. nuclear umbrella at the end of the Cold War. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union deployed SS-20 intermediate-range missiles that could reach Western Europe but not the U.S. If the Soviet Union attacked Western Europe with the SS-20, the U.S. would want to retaliate. But that, in return, would prompt the Soviet Union to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles from submarines deployed in the Arctic Sea and Okhotsk Sea to attack the continental U.S. Washington would have to decide whether to risk an attack on its homeland by helping its Western allies.
That problem was solved when the U.S. deployed Pershing II nuclear ballistic missiles to counter the Soviet SS-20s and negotiated a treaty with Moscow scrapping both sides’ ground-launched intermediate range missiles. The risk now is that China may try to undermine the U.S. nuclear protection of Japan by deploying its own submarine-launched long-range nuclear missiles and combining them with mid-range missiles that have already been deployed in large numbers. In theory, Japan could develop its own nuclear weapons.
The Japanese government first looked into that option when China went nuclear in the 1960s. Various options are apparently being studied by the current government and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet has approved a statement saying the country’s pacifist constitution does not prohibit a minimum necessary level of nuclear capability. Some in the U.S. support Japan’s nuclearization. Real estate mogul Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee, is one because it fits his philosophy of encouraging America’s allies to shoulder a greater burden of their own defense.
Postwar Japanese society is extremely averse to nuclear weapons, creating an almost insurmountable political hurdle. But there is still some time for debate before China can deploy submarine-launched missiles in the South China Sea that can reach all of the continental U.S. –Nikkei Asian Review
Japan could develop nukes in as little as 6 months: “Japan already has the technical capability, and has had it since the 1980s,” said the official. He said that once Japan had more than five to 10 kilograms of plutonium, the amount needed for a single weapon, it had “already gone over the threshold,” and had a nuclear deterrent.
Japan now has 9 tons of plutonium stockpiled at several locations in Japan and another 35 tons stored in France and the U.K. The material is enough to create 5,000 nuclear bombs. The country also has 1.2 tons of enriched uranium.
Technical ability doesn’t equate to a bomb, but experts suggest getting from raw plutonium to a nuclear weapon could take as little as six months after the political decision to go forward. A senior U.S. official familiar with Japanese nuclear strategy said the six-month figure for a country with Japan’s advanced nuclear engineering infrastructure was not out of the ballpark, and no expert gave an estimate of more than two years. –NBC News