WASHINGTON -- The first stop on Condoleezza Rice's post-detonation, nuclear reassurance tour was Tokyo. There, she dutifully unfurled the American nuclear umbrella, pledging in person that the U.S. would meet any North Korean attack on Japan with massive American retaliation, nuclear if necessary.
An important message, to be sure, for the short run, lest Kim Jong Il imbibe a little too much cognac and be teased by one of his ``pleasure squad'' lovelies into launching a missile or two into Japan.
But Secretary Rice's declaration had another and obvious longer-run intent: to quell any thought Japan might have of going nuclear to counter and deter North Korea's bomb.
The Japanese understood this purpose well. Thus, at a joint news conference with Secretary Rice, Foreign Minister Taro Aso offered the boilerplate denial of even thinking of going nuclear: ``The government of Japan has no position at all to consider going nuclear.''
The impeccably polite Japanese were not about to contradict the secretary of state in her presence. Nonetheless, the very same Foreign Minister Aso had earlier the very same day told a parliamentary committee that Japan should begin debating the issue: ``The reality is that it is only Japan that has not discussed possessing nuclear weapons, and all other countries have been discussing it.''
Just three days earlier, another high-ranking member of the ruling party had transgressed the same taboo and called for open debate about Japan acquiring nuclear weapons.
The American reaction to such talk is knee-jerk opposition. Like those imperial Japanese soldiers discovered holed up on some godforsaken Pacific island decades after World War II, we continue to act as if we too never received news of the Japanese surrender. We applaud the Japanese for continuing their adherence to the MacArthur constitution that forever denies Japan the status of Great Power replete with commensurate military force.
Of course, Japan has in recent decades skirted that proscription, building a small but serious conventional military. Nuclear weapons, however, have remained off the table.
As the only country ever to suffer nuclear attack, Japan obviously has its own reasons to resist the very thought. But now that the lunatic regime next door, which has already overflown Japan with its missiles, has now officially gone nuclear, some rethinking is warranted.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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