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Yanagisawa: Japan & North Korea

April 20, 2017

For its own safety, Japan must seek peaceful path to N. Korea nuclear problem solution


The following is a summary of comments by Kyoji Yanagisawa, a former assistant to the deputy chief Cabinet secretary, regarding the rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

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What is most worrying about the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is that the goal that the administration aims to achieve through its use of force remains unclear.

Even if we accept that the cruise missile strike on a Syrian government airbase was intended as a punishment for the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons, it did nothing to help either end the civil war or protect human rights in that country. On North Korea, too, we cannot see if the United States is trying to stop the North's regime from conducting another nuclear weapons test, or what the Trump administration will do if there is such a test.

Right now, it is not North Korea but the U.S. that is dealing in brinksmanship diplomacy, attempting to extract desired concessions from its rivals by menacing them with the threat of war. However, for brinksmanship to work, two conditions must be in place. One, there must be some prospect that the country on the receiving end will indeed make concessions; and two, there must be some idea of what will result from military action taken in cases where no concessions were made. There are no examples of successful military force-first diplomatic gambits without looking ahead to the potential outcomes.

A U.S. Navy strike group led by the Nimitz-class USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier is steaming for the waters off the Korean Peninsula. I cannot call this anything else but an empty action, and therefore a dangerous action. The reason North Korea is clinging to its nuclear program is because it feels threatened by U.S. military power. If the Carl Vinson gets a touch too close it would only feed North Korean fears and, should the North feel backed into a corner, perhaps provide the regime a reason for a pre-emptive strike. And if that happens, the targets would most likely be U.S. bases in South Korea and Japan.

There are some outstanding issues between Japan and North Korea, including the latter's abduction of Japanese citizens. However, there is no bilateral problem so severe as to lead to war. Nevertheless, should mutual distrust between the U.S. and North Korea over Pyongyang's nuclear program lead to an armed conflict, Japan and South Korea would be sucked into the conflict because both nations host U.S. bases.

It is harmful for Japan to so easily back the new U.S. emphasis on displays of force. There is apparently a plan for Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) vessels to conduct joint exercises with the Carl Vinson. But if the MSDF undertakes these drills in highly charged circumstances, Japan will in effect be declaring its active participation in the intimidation of North Korea. What will Japan do if the North Korean problem explodes? Japan should stick to its strictly defense-oriented policy.

First and foremost, Japan must consider its own strategic goals. Is it preventing missile attacks on our country? And should Japan be attacked, would it retaliate and then seek the destruction of the North Korean regime?

It is difficult to imagine that the North would now agree to give up nuclear weapons through a negotiated settlement. Thus, aiming to dismantle the North Korean regime may indeed be the only guaranteed way to force North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. However, we then have to answer the question of how to govern North Korea with its population of more than 20 million. Considering how difficult the consequences of toppling the North's government are certain to be, regime change should not be seriously considered.

Should limited military strikes be launched on North Korea in a bid to strip the country of its nuclear capabilities, it would invite "limited" retaliation by Pyongyang if missiles deployed by the country remained intact. For the sake of its own well-being, Japan ought to have an alternate plan, a non-military plan, to drain away North Korea's fear of the United States.

The North's nuclear program is the last thing holding up its regime. If that regime is threatened militarily, it will likely cling all the tighter to its nuclear bombs. Pyongyang needs an alternative guarantee of its survival. If it cannot be prevented from building a nuclear arsenal, then it must not be given any incentive to use the weapons. While preventing the spread of nuclear arms technology and strengthening measures to block the flow of capital into North Korea, the international community should seek every opportunity for dialogue. Patience is required, especially when one side sparks a crisis. (Interviewed by Kaori Onaka, Opinion Group)



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