Twofish's Blog

October 20, 2006

Anatomy of a Fiasco….

Filed under: china, politics — twofish @ 9:09 pm

Charles Krauthammer wrote an interest piece in which he argues that Japan should be allowed to get nukes…..
It’s a very interesting piece since it shows a lot of the blind spots that got us into the Iraq mess.  First of all, it neglects to consider how complex the world is.  If you do A, it will trigger reaction B, which will cause counterreaction C.  There is also this seeming inability to think more than one move ahead.

Yes, Japan is a very close ally to the United States, but much of these alliance is due to the fact that Japan is dependent on the US for military protection.  With nuclear weapons, Japan is no longer dependent on the US, and there is no reason to think that Japan and the US would have similar strategic interests.
The other problem is that any sort of strategic calculus has to deal with the fact that you have conflicting goals, and any sort of strategic planning has to include admiting this and trying to figure out how these goals interact.  There isn’t that sort of tradeoff thinking present.

There is also the question of what do you do if something goes wrong.  What do you do if people act differently than you think they will, or if one of your beliefs turns out to be incorrect.  There is nothing in that article that suggests that this has been thought through.



  1. I agree with you that “If you do A, it will trigger reaction B, which will cause counterreaction C.” The situation that we are in now starts from a historical political calculus from a bygone time. After WW2 , the US implicitly promised to protect Japan, so that they would never need an offensive army. When that promise was made, North Asia was a much different place. There were no credible threats to Japan.

    Forward 56 years, and North Asia is different. The US can not unilaterally engage whoever she wants militarily in the region and guarantee Japan’s safety, she has to work with partners.

    Those partners ( such as China ) do not feel bound by the implicit agreement.

    Because of this situation, the US can no longer keep up her part of the deal, and Japan has to look for a new deal, in protecting herself.

    A China did not stop NK from going nuclear.
    B. The US appears no longer to be able to guarantee Japan’s safety
    C. Japan starts looking at nukes to defend herself
    D. China gets nervous about a re-armed japan
    E. ????

    Japan’s pacifist constitution is safe as long as Japan feels safe. The way to stop any movement away from the current constitution is to remove the threat of a NK nuclear attack. China is the only one that has the influence to do that. It is in China’s best interest to implicitly guarantee Japan’s safety from NK nukes, to keep Japan peaceful, and the japanese constitution intact.

    The article states “The Japan card remains the only one that carries even the remote possibility of reversing North Korea’s nuclear program.” I think that is true, By China containing NK, we can create a non nuclear Korea and keep Japan non nuclear.

    The only question is if China will respond or let things get further out of control.

    Comment by Wenzi — October 25, 2006 @ 12:40 am

  2. The deal hasn’t broken up yet. The US still has a credible ability to defend Japan. Also, Anthony Cordesman wrote some great analysis about NK’s nukes in CSIS, and at appears that at this point NK does not have the credibile ability to threaten anyone with its nukes (they are too small and they are not matched with delivery systems). This could change in a year, but this would require more tests by NK, and I do think that if NK tries to test again, that China will cut all of its oil.

    China is responding, but there are two limits. First China does not want NK to collapse and millions of Korean refugees, although if the choice was between refugees and a nuclear Japan, then refugees would win.

    Second, China does not want to make the standard mistake that the United States makes. The United States tends to put all of its sanctions up at once on the theory of showing resolve and strength. The trouble with this is that you get into the Iran/Cuba issue that if you shoot all your bullets at once, you are left with nothing else.

    CSIS mentions something else and that is that in the 1960’s, Japan took a serious study at having nukes, and this turned out to be a bad idea. Assuming that US power does not collapse completely, the arguments against nukes remains.

    One also has to separate the question of Japanese nukes and Japanese conventional rearmament which is a totally separate question.

    Comment by twofish — October 25, 2006 @ 1:53 am

  3. One more thing….

    I think that the possibility of Japanese nukes is unnecessary to get China to pressure North Korea, since a credible North Korea nuclear capability (i.e. reasonable yields + delivery system) is a grave national security threat to China. Personally, I’d trust Tokyo with nukes a lot more than more than I would Pyongyang.

    I’m actually not too worried about the next year or two. What worries me is if there is a turn toward isolationism which results from a debacle in Iraq over the next decade. Right now, the US is willing to defend Japan. If that changes, then things will really fall apart.

    Comment by twofish — October 25, 2006 @ 2:01 am

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