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Don’t make the Japanese MAD

November 11, 2006

Bennett Richardson of the Christian Science Monitor reports that some LDP politicians are raising the nuclear issue in Japan. The article provides plenty of food for thought about the impact of North Korea’s nuclear test on Japanese politics, but it also includes a rather strange quotation from a Japanse academic

Alarmist views have been continually wrong in the past and they are wrong again now,” says Shunji Taoka, a defense writer and former professor at Tsukuba University.

One strategic factor against Japan acquiring a nuclear arsenal is that the country’s small size cancels the principle of mutual destruction, HE SAYS?. Japan’s concentrated population centers would more than likely be wiped out after a first strike [emphasis, but not accidentally left-in editorial comment, added].

The whole point of mutually assured destruction is that both sides will suffer unacceptable losses in the event of a nuclear exchange. This requires two conditions.

First, both sides must have a secure second strike capability. In other words, if the other side strikes first the target needs to have sufficient surviving nuclear forces — missiles in hardened silos, nuclear-missile subs, bombers, and so forth — to inflict unacceptable causalities when it retaliates.

Second, both sides need to have vulnerable civilian populations. If, for example, one side has a reasonable expectation that its civil-defense preparations will ensure the survival of a significant proportion of its population and infrastructure, it might be able to contemplate a first strike against its adversary.

It sounds to me as if Taoka’s arguing that the second condition will necessarily hold for Japan….

Did Richardson misquote him?

Or perhaps I’m missing something.


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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.