Japan's Nuclear Future: Policy Debate, Prospects and U.S. Interests [February 19, 2009]   [open pdf - 232KB]

From the Document: "Japan, traditionally one of the most prominent advocates of the international non-proliferation regime, has consistently pledged to forswear nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, evolving circumstances in Northeast Asia, particularly North Korea's nuclear test in October 2006 and China's ongoing military modernization drive, have raised new questions about Japan's vulnerability to potential adversaries and, therefore, the appeal of developing an independent nuclear deterrent. The previous taboo within the Japanese political community of discussing a nuclear weapons capability appears to have been broken, as several officials and opinion leaders have urged an open debate on the topic. Despite these factors, a strong consensus--both in Japan and among Japan watchers--remains that Japan will not pursue the nuclear option in the short-to-medium term. This paper examines the prospects for Japan pursuing a nuclear weapons capability by assessing the existing technical infrastructure of its extensive civilian nuclear energy program. It explores the range of challenges that Japan would have to overcome to transform its current program into a military program. Presently, Japan appears to lack several of the prerequisites for a full-scale nuclear weapons deterrent: expertise on bomb design, reliable delivery vehicles, an intelligence program to protect and conceal assets, and sites for nuclear testing. In addition, a range of legal and political restraints on Japan's development of nuclear weapons, including averse public and elite opinion, restrictive domestic laws and practices, and the negative diplomatic consequences of abandoning its traditional approach is analyzed."

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CRS Report for Congress, RL34487
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