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Japan: Japanese Nuclear Disarmament and Proliferation Strategy

Written by: Tomoki YAGASAKI, Chuo University & Kohei HAYAKAWA Chuo University


Nowadays, East Asia, where Japan located in, has alongside Middle East as one of the most serious security issue.[1] Recent nuclear development by North Korea is arguably main contributor of this issue. In spite of persistent warnings and sanctions by international community, North Korea’s provocation using nuclear weapon is escalating, especially in this Kim Jong- Un regime. On January 6th 2016, North Korea declares it has successfully carried out its first underground test of a hydrogen bomb – a more powerful weapon than an atomic bomb. On next month, North Korea carried out missile test which can be load nuclear warhead and its firing range includes not only Japan but also the continental United States.

It is impossible to talk about Japanese national security matters without situation of nuclear weapon over the world. As the only country to have suffered atomic bombings[2], but also the country which relies security field on nuclear umbrella of United States, Japan has difficult and complicated but one step ahead strategy of disarmament and non-proliferation. In this paper, I will focus on the nuclear strategy of Japan which contributes to stabilizing and peacemaking on 21st century Asian region.

II. Decision making factors of Japanese Nuclear Strategy

Over the past 70 years since World War II, passion toward anti-nuclear weapon is relatively stronger than other developing countries from government to citizen level. Arguably, it comes

from atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945), and incident of Daigo Fukuryū Maru (1954)[3]. Those tragic events result in strong public concern which become driving force for government to carry on disarmament and non-proliferation strategies.

Japanese government have been considering mainly three factors when to plan and proceed disarmament and non-proliferation policy. Balancing the factors of security, humanity, and diplomatic is the first priority in Japanese disarmament and nonproliferation policy procedure.

Firstly, security matter is indispensable factor to organize Japanese Disarmament and non-proliferation strategy. One of the basic and fundamental duty of Japanese government is to maintain and save life and property of the Japanese people, therefore it is impossible to disregard this factor. As it was previously mentioned, East Asia was an ever-presented and one of the most serious security danger in the world. Moreover, it is true that still tons of nuclear weapon exists in the world, and some inconsiderate, out of control nations such as North Korea are having it. These kind of severe situation is why Japan is declaring not to hold nuclear weapon by self and appealing to countries possessing nuclear weapons while in under the nuclear umbrella based on the U.S.‐Japan Security Treaty.

Also, humanitarian factor is as important as security factor. Japan have been consistently asserting reduction as well as extinction of nuclear weapon since World War II. The root of this approach is comes from the argument that use of nuclear weapon does not match to the humanitarianism. This idea is supported on Advisory Opinion of 8 July 1996 by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), “Unanimously, a threat or use of nuclear weapons should be compatible with the requirements of the international law applicable in armed conflict, particularly those of the principles and rules of international humanitarian law, as well as with specific obligations under treaties and other undertakings which expressly deal with nuclear weapons.”[4] Especially Japan had experienced Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in which creates strong national opinion to extinct nuclear weapon.[5] As a democratic country, it stands to reason that Japan follow national opinion and carry on the policy to extinct nuclear weapon. Importance of humanitarianism during promotion of disarmament and nonproliferation can be matched not only nuclear weapon but also other weapons of mass destruction and conventional weapon.

Last but not least, for Japan, disarmament and non-proliferation policies are as part of diplomatic policy. It is important diplomatic activity to find out global issue’s countermeasure and lead global society to carry it on in the international field. In view of Japan’s historical experiences, disarmament and non-proliferation are the field which Japan can take initiative to lead the global society. The fact Japan had been consistently contributing to promote disarmament and nonproliferation since post World War II is precious asset for Japanese diplomacy which earns esteem and influence from over the world.


As it was previously mentioned, balancing these factors properly is important. The balance is not that easy, which depends on that present international affairs, characteristics of issue’s item, or idea of decision maker. This is how Japanese characteristics of nuclear strategy is created since post World War II.

III. Characteristics of Japanese Nuclear Strategy

According to last chapter, Japanese Nuclear Strategy stands on realism and slow, steady moderation principle. Situation of international affairs is changing rapidly, especially disarmament and non-proliferation is dramatically impressionable from current situation. The strategy has to be realizable in short term and acceptable to other countries especially to superpowers.

Japanese government have been always insisting to “make the world peace and free from nuclear weapon as soon as possible”. This short phrase shows all of the nuclear strategy of Japan which aims to promote disarmament with keeping security of domestic and international field. This approach to achieve eradication of nuclear weapon as soon as possible is accepted from many other countries.

Japan’s policy does not captured by disarmament or non-proliferation dualism. Both concepts can be coexist and those are inseparable. If we slack up non-proliferation effort, more countries and international terrorist group can hold nuclear weapon.[6] Or, if we just focus on non-proliferation, quantity of nuclear weapon in the world would never decrease.

It is important for Japan to address and get the understanding of these policies at international field. There is two major ways to achieve it. First, multilateral treaty, such as Treaty on theNon-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Japanese government is recognizing NPT as fundamental treaty of maintaining international security matters. However, multilateral treaty is not almighty especially for regional issues. Promotion of the Middle East nuclear weapon free zone (MENWFZ) and settlement of one nation’s nuclear weapon issues such as Iran or North Korea had been supported by bilateral disarmament agreement or regional regime. Six-Party Talks for North Korea nuclear weapon development is one of the successful sample. In other words, on the disarmament and non-proliferation field, coexistence of multilateral treaty, regional and plural nations’ regime, cooperation of volunteer nation, and bilateral agreement is indispensable.

IV. Considering cases

Last but not least, let’s look over how these mentioned above concepts of Japanese disarmament & nonproliferation policies have been affecting real world policy agreement.

One example which describe Japanese measure toward nuclear disarmament clearly is the annual United Nations resolution for the abolition of nuclear weapon. Japanese government made a proposal of nuclear weapon abolition first at United Nations General Assembly First Committee in 1994. This proposal is considered by next year’s NPT committee, making abolition of nuclear weapon as the ultimate goal, urging promotion of disarmament, settling Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), beginning of Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) agreement negotiation, and enforcing nonproliferation effort. At the beginning, nuclear powers such as United States and Russia had rebelled severely on this proposal. It is partly up to the Japan’s situation that ourselves are in under the umbrella of U.S nuclear weapon. However, this progressive idea got a support from non-nuclear powers and also from the U.S academic world such as Henry A. Kissinger, U.S prominent diplomat and political scientist, has proclamed.[7]

This proposal had been submitted every year by trial and error. On 2000, the name of proposal changed to “The path to total abolishment of nuclear weapon”, and on 2005 it changed to“Brand new determination toward total abolishment of nuclear weapon”. Steadily Japan’s concept have been accepted by other countries. Nowadays, it became one of the good example of the field which Japan is taking initiative.

V. Conclusion

As it mentioned before, the new shift of Japan’s security policy receives the impression that Japan can play a role in the war. However, we have been consistently followed the path of a peace-loving nation since the end of World War II, which cannot be replaced so easily. By accumulated peace-loving passion and know-how, Japan have potential to take initiative and lead the international society to better, peaceful way. Because of Japan’s peculiar experience, which as the only country to have suffered atomic bombings, this nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation field is perfect point to make effort for Prime minister Abe’s foreign policy called ”Proactive Contributor to Peace”. Now is the time for Japan and international society to carry on the concrete and acceptable policy to create the world free from nuclear weapon.




[1] Masahiko ASADA, Hiroshi TOZAKI “Law and Politic of Nuclear Disarmament and Proliferation 4. Yukiya AMANO- Japanese Disarmament, Proliferation Strategy” p.89.

[2] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan “Japan’s Security / Peace & Stability of the International Community- Disarmament and Non-Proliferation” January 20, 2016 (accessed February 11, 2016)

[3] On 1 March 1954 a Japanese fishing boat, the Daigo Fukuryu maru (Lucky Dragon V), while operating in the central Pacific, was sprayed by a cloud of radioactive ash. This accident was caused by a US thermonuclear weapon test on Bikini Island. One crew died and several crews were suffered aftereffect such as cancer.

[4] International Court of Justice “LEGALITY OF THE THREAT OR IJSE OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS”, Advisory Opinion of 8 July 1996, p.94. (Accessed February 11, 2016).

[5] John BARROWS (translated by KenjiURATA “Illegality of using nuclear weapon – Advisory Opinion by ICJ”, Waseda Institute of Comparative Law series 27, 2001, p.17.

[6] David Smith, “Barack Obama at nuclear summit: ‘madmen’ threaten global security”, The Guardian, April 1st 2016. (

[7] George P. Schultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons”, The Wall Street Journal, 4 January 2007, p.A15.


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