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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06TOKYO6587 2006-11-17 05:48:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tokyo
Cable title:  

NUCLEAR WEAPONS DEBATE PERSISTS DESPITE OFFICIAL

Tags:   PGOV PREL PARM KN JA 
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1. (C) Summary: Political debate over Japan's possession of
nuclear weapons continues despite efforts by Prime Minister
Abe to reaffirm the government's strict non-nuclear policy
platform. Discussion has largely taken place in the Diet and
media, with few indications that the public allergy to
nuclear weapons has weakened as a result of North Korea's
October 9 nuclear test. The opposition DPJ has attempted to
capitalize on apparent LDP disunity on the nuclear issue.
Polls suggest, however, that while the public is against the
nuclear option, most do not oppose a debate about the issue.
Academic specialists and political insiders say that Japan
will maintain public ambiguity in its intentions but will
continue to forgo the nuclear option as a policy. Some
observers see ambiguity as an effective lever with China on
North Korean nuclear matters. End Summary

Nuclear Debate, Non-Stop


--------------------------





2. (C) Public discussions over the nuclear question have
simmered since the October 9 DPRK nuclear test. During late
October Diet sessions, Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso
and Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma brought the debate into the
cabinet by presenting apparently conflicting opinions about
Japan,s nuclear option. Aso stated that Japan will adhere
to its three non-nuclear principles but should at least
discuss the reasons why it should not go nuclear. Kyuma, on
the other hand, expressed concern that such a debate might
have unintended negative consequences.



3. (C) On November 8, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe distinguished
between nuclear deterrence and nuclear armament. Abe
stressed that politicians should actively discuss deterrence,
which implicitly includes the U.S. nuclear umbrella, but that
neither the government nor ruling party would entertain
discussions about armament. Abe's latest statement on the
subject was prompted by repeated calls by politicians in the
ruling and opposition camp for the Prime Minister to censure
LDP Policy Affairs Research Council (PARC) Chairman Hidenao
Nakagawa, who has been a vocal advocate of exploring the
nuclear option. Nakagawa has toned down his message in
recent days, stating that he would wait to see how events
related to the post-election environment in the U.S. and
Six-Party Talks play out.



4. (C) The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has
attempted to use apparent LDP policy discord to its
advantage, most recently by demanding the resignation of FM
Aso over his nuclear weapons comments. Thus far at least,
the DPJ seems to be gaining little traction on the issue.
While surveys continue to show strong opposition to
developing nuclear weapons, media polls conducted between
November 5-12 registered majorities (from 51-72 percent,
depending on the poll) approving of a debate on the issue.



5. (C) Media commentary has generally divided along
ideological lines. Editors from the conservative Sankei have
voiced their desire for lively debate on the nuclear issue,
insisting that PM Kishi had already declared in 1959 that
possessing small nuclear arms was not unconstitutional, and
that muzzling even discussion of the topic prevents Japan
from becoming a normal, country. The editorial board of
the Asahi Shimbun, on the other hand, has insisted that while
Japan enjoys freedom of speech, a sitting Foreign Minister
should proceed with extra caution on such sensitive topics.
MOFA North American Affairs Deputy Director General Kazuyoshi
Umemoto remarked that even the conservative media has
intentionally tried to dampen debate, for example by
downplaying coverage of an October 20 Washington Post column
advocating a Japanese nuclear capability and avoiding the
question in public polling.

Strategic Ambiguity


--------------------------




TOKYO 00006587 002 OF 002




6. (C) Takushoku University Professor Takashi Kawakami, head
of the nuclear option research project commissioned by former
PM Yasuhiro Nakasone,s International Institute for Policy
Studies (IIPS), told the embassy that Japan will continue to
maintain a level of ambiguity in its nuclear weapons rhetoric
for policy reasons. In March 2007, IIPS will release an
assessment that promotes this balance, although Nakasone
himself has already made public reference to the ongoing
nuclear review. The report, he continued, would determine
that while current Japanese stocks of plutonium are
sufficient to generate 4,000 nuclear warheads, Japan has no
need to develop nuclear weapons because of the firm U.S.
nuclear commitment to defend Japan.



7. (C) By keeping this issue alive, Kawakami asserted,
Japanese leaders are seeking to put pressure on China to take
action on North Korea's nuclear program. Chinese Embassy
Defense Attache Major General Xu Jingmin told embassy Pol-Mil
Chief that China's biggest concern over Pyongyang's nuclear
program is its potential to push Japan to cross the nuclear
threshhold. While China considers Abe a pragmatist, Xu said
China recognizes the intense pressure the Prime Minister is
under on North Korea (and China) policy from LDP hawks, many
of whom form Abe's core base of support.

U.S. Nuclear Deterrent Key


--------------------------





8. (C) Takushoku University's Kawakami said that rhetoric
notwithstanding, the final determinant in Japan's nuclear
debate will be U.S. security guarantees. Kawakami said that
recent public assurances from the Secretary and Ambassador
Schieffer following the North Korean nuclear test were
critical in managing public fears. Kawakami added that these
clear and succinct public statements also strengthened the
hand of those within Japan trying to manage the nuclear
debate.

Comment: Lots of Smoke, No Fire


--------------------------





9. (C) There are no indications that Japan is seriously
considering the nuclear option. Nevertheless, the debate
will continue to be fueled by hawks like Nakagawa and those,
like Kawakami, who see deterrent value in simply publicly
discussing the issue. Rather than weakening the Abe
administration, the debate on whether to debate, seems to
be working thus far in the government's favor, both in
domestic and regional terms. The key to maintaining this
balancing act will be continued public confidence in the U.S.
nuclear umbrella.
DONOVAN