Japan is a true anomaly. All the other Great Powers went nuclear decades ago -- even the once-and-no-longer great, like France; the wannabe great, like India; and the never-will-be great, like North Korea. There are nukes in the hands of Pakistan, which overnight could turn into an al-Qaeda state, and North Korea, a country so cosmically deranged that it reports that the ``Dear Leader'' shot five holes-in-one in his first time playing golf and also wrote six operas. Yet we are plagued by doubts about Japan joining this club.
Japan is not just a model international citizen -- dynamic economy, stable democracy, self-effacing foreign policy -- it is also the most important and reliable U.S. ally after only Britain. One of the quieter success stories of recent American foreign policy has been the intensification of the U.S.-Japanese alliance. Tokyo has joined with the U.S. in the development and deployment of missile defenses, and aligned itself with the U.S. on the neuralgic issue of Taiwan, pledging solidarity should there ever be a confrontation.
The immediate effect of Japan considering going nuclear would be to concentrate China's mind on de-nuclearizing North Korea. China currently calculates that North Korea is a convenient buffer between it and a dynamic, capitalist South Korea bolstered by American troops. China is quite content with a client regime that is a thorn in our side, keeping us tied down while it pursues its ambitions in the rest of Asia. Pyongyang's nukes, after all, are pointed not west but east.
Japan threatening to go nuclear would alter that calculation. It might even convince China to squeeze Kim Jong Il as a way to prevent Japan from going nuclear. The Japan card remains the only one that carries even the remote possibility of reversing North Korea's nuclear program.
Japan's response to the North Korean threat has been very strong and very insistent on serious sanctions. This is, of course, out of self-interest, not altruism. But that is the point. Japan's natural interests parallel America's in the Pacific Rim -- maintaining military and political stability, peacefully containing an inexorably expanding China, opposing the gangster regime in Pyongyang, and spreading the liberal democratic model throughout Asia. Why are we so intent on denying this stable, reliable, democratic ally the means to help us shoulder the burden in a world where so many other allies -- the inveterately appeasing South Koreans most notoriously -- insist on the free ride?
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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