T177. Japan and the Nuclear Umbrella

 

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 177
Panelists: Gregory Kulacki and Richard Denton
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired:  2 February 2021
Date Transcribed and Verified:  4 May 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar 

Metta Spencer  

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. And today we’re going to go to Japan. And we have a speaker from Japan has really an American named Gregory Kulacki, who is living in Japan, he works as a senior researcher or a senior scholar or something at the Union of Concerned Scientists. And joining us also is my friend Richard Denton, who is a retired physician. But he’s certainly keeps himself busy. He’s the co-chair of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War in North America, as well as being a big time Rotarian. So, he knows a thing or two about nuclear weapons. And that is really the topic that we’re going to cover today. Because I really want to quiz Gregory Kulacki about some of the things going on in Asia. Of course, we all know that the Biden administration is going to have, obviously different policies from the one that preceded it. And I have seen signs or hints that the policy may be much friendlier toward nuclear disarmament, or certainly reducing nuclear weapons, than anything that we’ve seen in decades, maybe. So, let’s get right down to it. Good morning, Gregory. And good morning, Richard Denton, say hi, Gregory.

Gregory Kulacki  

Greetings.

Metta Spencer  

Greetings. All right. So, we are going to mostly quiz you, because I understand very little really about Japanese military policy. But I believe that there is this imaginary umbrella that covers the half of the world and that Japan is under it, and they think that’s this thing is going to protect them. It’s called the nuclear umbrella. Is that right?

Gregory Kulacki  

Yeah, the concept of the nuclear umbrella has been around for a long time. They’re actually about 60 or so references to it in the diplomatic history of the United States, the foreign relations with the United States. The very earliest references were actually to the… supposed Soviet umbrella over China. Japan, references to Japan come later. And the references are very scattered. They cover all kinds of crazy things. For example, there’s a translation from a discussion in Thailand, about the Thai military being covered by the nuclear umbrella. So that it would encourage it to suppress Laotian communist guerrillas. Right now, people think of it as this more formal policy, but actually, it’s just a very vague concept. Oh, it’s

Metta Spencer  

just a code. Well, there must be documents, there’s something called the… Status of Forces Agreement… between the US and Japan, which has been there since about what 1960?… that is that the basis is like a pact of friendship or something, right? No, it’s not the base. 

Gregory Kulacki  

No, it’s… a very formal and controlling treaty that governs an awful lot of even Japanese domestic behavior. Flights [from] Haneda Airport here in Tokyo are rerouted because of provisions of that treaty. But the nuclear umbrella is there’s no formal guarantee from the United States to use nuclear weapons. It’s informal. It’s not part of the security treaty at all. As a matter of fact, the provisions of the treaty that do mention nuclear weapons, make it clear that they are not to be brought into Japan without prior consultation of the Japanese government.

Metta Spencer  

And have they ever brought them in and have the contents…?

Gregory Kulacki  

Yes, routinely and secretly for decades. This was uncovered. Finally, we all knew about it for… years, but it was finally uncovered in 2009 when Foreign Minister Okada ordered the foreign ministry to disclose a lot of the information about covert cooperation with US nuclear weapons policies, and mainly discussed the nuclear submarine-launched cruise missiles that were on submarines that were visiting Japanese ports in violation of the treaty, and in violation of actually Japanese domestic policy. which does not allow for the introduction or transit of US nuclear weapons in or through Japan.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, it was there an uproar when this was disclosed, or did people sort of think that was had been going on all along, and they weren’t surprised.

Gregory Kulacki  

By 2009, there was no uproar. But back when this was being debated in the 70s, when … they returned Okinawa to Japan, we occupied the island until 1972. The United States was… forced to remove the 1000 or so nuclear weapons that we had stored in Okinawa. And then again, in the 90s, when President George HW Bush removed all US tactical nuclear weapons from Asia. There was another occasion where this… issue was debated in Japan.

Metta Spencer  

Yeah, why would that is? Well, I’m not sure. Maybe I just wasn’t looking, because I don’t know anything about any of those removals. Richard, do you know anything about the history of the removal of tactical weapons from Asia? No. Okay, good. Yeah.

Gregory Kulacki  

It was the it was the boldest and largest disarmament initiative ever, that the United States undertook and it was unilateral. This was not part of a treaty with anyone. George HW Bush decided, in 1991 by himself, that it was dangerous to have all of these tactical nuclear weapons stationed abroad. And in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, he unilaterally ordered them to be removed. Many… were removed from Europe, a few remain and remain to this day, but all of them were removed from East Asia.

Metta Spencer  

That is really interesting. You know, at the time, all peaceniks hated George W. Bush, but this… now leaves me with a little warmer feeling toward that man.

Gregory Kulacki  

Well, this is his dad, right. HW Bush.

Metta Spencer  

Oh, yeah. Older HW Bush. Okay, good. 91. Okay, so yeah, he was a man with a better judgment in general, all around, I guess. But why don’t we know about that? Because I if Richard doesn’t know that it’s pretty…. It kind of lets me off the hook for my ignorance. But I really don’t think I ever heard about that.

Gregory Kulacki  

Well, the problem is, we’ve retreated some much from the disarmament atmosphere of the 1990s. Over the last 20 years, we’ve been going evermore rapidly in the wrong direction to the point now where the Obama administration actually agreed to Japanese requests to reintroduce US tactical or nuclear weapons into Asia, we’ve sold the Japanese dual-capable aircraft that can carry us nuclear munitions. And we have an arrangement made through something called the “extended deterrence dialogue” that the Obama administration’s started, to reintroduce US tactical nuclear weapons in a time of crisis, whatever that is. And then the Trump administration piled on top of that, the development of a new submarine-launched nuclear-capable cruise missile that Congress is currently funding and is under development, that would put the nuclear weapons back on the attack submarines that would be visiting Japanese ports. Okay, one of the reasons we’ve forgotten about taking them out, is that we’re so busy trying to put them back in.

Metta Spencer  

Now, I hear that… there’s… a new discussion going on, about what Biden might do, and and why the Japanese are nervous about it, or at least opposed to any kind of backtracking and reduction of nuclear. I, you know, I think, Biden or people in Washington, I’ve been not using the word “no first use” lately, but I was told it’s something like “sole purpose” — 

Gregory Kulacki  

correct. 

Metta Spencer  

Sole purpose of nuclear weapons is… deterrence. And that is I don’t know whether that’s a firm policy or what, but it means basically the same thing as no first use… am I right? please. 

Gregory Kulacki  

You’re right. 

Metta Spencer  

Okay. Who’s talking that way? And how much should we trust that that is a realistic … possibility —

Gregory Kulacki  

The Obama administration talked about that in 2009. And they were about to make that US policy, but the Japanese objected. And the US administration gave in to the Japanese. Now, [be] very careful that we talk about… the Japanese, what we’re talking about is a tiny number of officials who don’t want their names revealed, and who say these things in secret, who are not elected officials, but are just bureaucrats in the foreign ministry, in the North American Bureau. And they’re the ones who supposedly, according to US officials, make these demands on the US. But they deny them in public here in Japan. One of the reasons I’m here is because we’re investigating all of this and trying to make it public… trying to make it better known in Japan… what their officials are doing in secret. So, the Obama administration didn’t do it, he had another chance when he went to Hiroshima, where he wanted to make this announcement. But the Japanese Foreign Ministry intervened again, to stop him from changing the status quo. So, the Biden administration now is also considering trying, again, to say to the world that we won’t use nuclear weapons for any other purpose than deterring a nuclear attack, or, you know, responding, God forbid, to a nuclear attack from someone else. And already, the Japanese government is lobbying the Biden administration, as it lobbied the Obama administration, not to do that…

Metta Spencer  

Well, let us joyfully participate hand in hand and exploit exposing these nefarious… fellows. Because now, are they people in the Ministry? What are their roles? And how, why? I can imagine why they don’t want it known, because the Japanese anti-nuclear weapons movement is clearly the strongest in the world. And I wonder if you check public opinion polls — must do so I presume? What would you find out about what the Japanese want and believe in?

Gregory Kulacki  

Well, polling on the Treaty on the prevention of nuclear weapons, for example, which is the major issue here now in Japan, Japanese participation in that treaty was in the high 70s in favor. If Japan were to participate in the treaty, that it would have to not allow the introduction of US nuclear weapons into its territory, or the use of US nuclear weapons in the defense of Japan in any form. So that’s gives an indication of what the Japanese public thinks about it. But there are these groups of officials, they’re in what’s called the North American bureau of the Foreign Ministry. And they are people who are involved in the discussion and application of the Security Treaty you mentioned. So it’s a very small number of people, but they have a enormous influence over their American counterparts, or their American counterparts are trying to exaggerate their influence in order to get what they want out of the US system. And because there’s so much secrecy involved, it’s really hard to see who’s pushing whom, or whether they’re working together.

Metta Spencer  

Well, I know that when Obama did all the things that disappointed most of us… such as going for this modernization program of nuclear weapons, there were a lot of excuses put forward by people who wanted to like him. I wanted to like him. I think there are real problems there… that, you know, that he had to do it, that… this was the best the best deal he could make, to get the New START treaty approved by the Senate. And therefore, we have to just smile and accept it, his heart is with us, and some of the people who are were involved with his administration. I remember talking with Joseph Cirincione, who was convinced… he and his team, that Obama and his Team A really did want a much greater move toward nuclear disarmament that when they came in but just weren’t able to pull it off. And I wonder what that means… maybe your job is to go around and find out who’s pulling levers that make it impossible? Is that what you’re trying to do? 

Gregory Kulacki  

Well, we do… research… a lot of it related to Asia, Japan and China. We also do research on the technical aspects of weapons… how missile defense works, whether it works, we just did a report on hypersonic weapons. So, this whole… can we just get rid of the ICBMs altogether? Or if you insist on keeping them, can we just fix the old ones, instead of buying new ones, we do a lot of research about cost and benefits of those things. But we also try to… find out what’s going on at a policy level. And we try to lobby, both Congress and the administration on our preferences, which, of course would be, you know, to move more quickly towards disarmament. The bureaucracy just has so much power, that elected officials, you know, are afraid to challenge it, may be …  an older and more experienced, individual will have more courage than Obama had to call into question all of this accepted wisdom from the bureaucrats in the Pentagon, in the State Department, and do what he wants. That’s what I’m hoping. And we’re trying to supply him the evidence that says don’t worry about Japan. If you make these changes to US nuclear weapons policies, these bureaucrats who are making all the noise will just hide in their corners and be angry. But Japan’s not going to develop its own nuclear weapons or, or become a threat to the United States. You don’t have to worry about that. 

Metta Spencer  

Do you think any of them are taking it seriously and worrying about it, that Japan might go develop? 

Gregory Kulacki  

Well, that’s the problem. That’s the reason Obama wouldn’t do it. Because these… US officials say, “Well, if you don’t do this to Japan, Japanese will develop their own nuclear weapons”, which is of course, ridiculous. These bureaucrats hide from their own people. If they came out and advocated greater use of US nuclear weapons, not to mention Japanese nuclear weapons, they’d lose their jobs. They’d never say these things in public. But you really don’t need to worry about what they think.

Metta Spencer  

Well, where are we here in Canada have some experience with double-faced, two-faced governments… that want to claim to be very much… peaceable forces, but really don’t do things like sign the TPNW. And so, I guess that’s something we all have to look for. I guess I I blamed it all on, not on, necessarily Obama or… even two-faced politicians, but mostly on the jobs and the economy — and the politicians, I mean, they’ve got, as I understand, in the US, they’ve got every state deliberately contaminated with, you know, building, having some installations or job programs in every state, so that there will be a demand for continuation of the current development of weaponry. Well… there must be real political forces behind it. In terms of Japan, who would be the political forces supporting? Well, I would I would be reductionist and say, Abe… that is in favor of maintaining, you know, this kind of relationship with the US in nuclear matters. And that is, he’s put people there who agree with him. I presume he’d get rid of them if he didn’t like it when he —

Gregory Kulacki  

Well, it doesn’t really work that way over here. I’m not an expert on Japanese politics. I’m learning a little bit, but these are career civil servants. So, they’re not the cabinet officers who are appointed by elected officials. They are people that have been in these bureaucracies their entire lives. And these bureaucracies have so much power because the elected politicians come and go, and they have to learn everything about what’s going on. And by the time they do, the next group is coming in. But these bureaucrats who have been there forever, they are the ones that everybody accepts as knowing what’s going on. And so, they get what they want. And so, the most powerful person in Japan in this regard right now is the Vice Foreign Minister. His name is Takeo Akiba. And he’s the one who has organized this group of Japanese bureaucrats… pronuclear Japanese bureaucrats, this clique really, it’s not a group. It’s really a small number of people. And he’s probably the strongest, silent, unknown — to almost everybody except a few of us who follow these things — bureaucrat who’s been pushing this so hard with the United States.

Metta Spencer  

Hmm. Okay, where are you going with this? How? I don’t want to ask your methods —

Gregory Kulacki  

We can ignore these people… and do what we want. So, if Biden wants to declare “sole purpose”, he does not have to worry about the opinions of these people. He can tell them no, safely, without worrying that there’s going to be a nuclear armed Japan as a result.

Metta Spencer  

Well, okay. Japan, and you say… that HW Bush had removed tactical weapons throughout Asia, that must have an impact on other countries, then besides Japan? And are there conversations going on in other countries in Asia, that we that are comparable to the one that you’re investigating in Japan? 

Gregory Kulacki  

Well, the central issue in Asia is China. And the central military problem for the United States and its allies in Asia is the increase in conventional capabilities that China now has, which are much greater than they were in 1991. Personally, I think those things are somewhat exaggerated. For example, we talk about a Chinese military buildup, but China has spent a constant 2% of GDP on its military since 1988, as a matter of policy, but because its economy has grown, that 2% has grown. And of course, its technology is more modernized. And so, China has a much stronger conventional military that it had in 1991. So strong, in fact, that it is now that the US advantage is much less clear in a lot of areas. And so, this is what makes people in the United States and some people in Japan want tactical nuclear weapons reintroduced, to sort of counterbalance this growing Chinese conventional capability. And so, it’s sort of like the situation we had in Europe, in the early days of the Cold War, where you had a preponderant conventional Soviet military, and the United States and NATO allies felt they had to use tactical nuclear weapons to balance that — we’re seeing that same dynamic emerge here in Asia now because of China’s increasingly capable conventional military capabilities.

Metta Spencer  

So no, I’ve you know, I kind of think that I was aware that there are tactical weapons still in Europe, and I thought the big campaign should be to try to get them out of Europe. I don’t hear much about tactical weapons… elsewhere. Where else are their tactical weapons, owned by the US? Or what would be — NATO, I guess, in other in other parts of the world — besides Europe, is that the only place? 

Gregory Kulacki  

That’s it, but they want to bring them back into Asia and then the people who want to do this have been pushing very, very hard for it for almost 15 years now. Under Trump, you know, they actually got him to commit to building… a new weapon system.

Metta Spencer  

Richard, what I would like for you to put your oar in here because, you know, I am not, I know that… IPPNW has been a major force behind ICAN the outfit that created and initiated the Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. But what position do you know about in IPPNW regarding any of these changes in the position of the US in Asia? Do you know anything about this? And feel free to ask Gregory, whatever you want to ask. 

Richard Denton  

— we certainly support getting rid of nuclear weapons, we want to get them out of NATO, we feel that they don’t serve deterrence. Both, because if you have them, for them to be deterrent you have to use them. And you don’t want to use them because of the humanitarian consequences… And now we know also about the electromagnetic radiation and how that could mess up electricity in the country as well as the nuclear winter. In terms of China… with the tactical weapons, our concern is that because they are smaller, low-yield, they’re more likely to be used. And then of course, once you start using them, then up goes the escalation. So those are our concerns, and therefore we definitely would not want them. I guess the question I would have to you, Gregory, is, again, the risk of accident. I think both the US and China don’t want to go to war. On the other hand, China wants Taiwan as part of their territory, they’ve basically taken over the western province with the Uyghurs, they’ve taken over Tibet… and Xi Jinping there certainly wants to add Taiwan to his collection. But, you know, unless Taiwan makes a major mistake that I don’t see them doing — an invasion, but — with all the building up of the islands, in the South China Sea, even on the Philippines, continental shelf… and you have all the American ships sailing around in maneuvers, what is the risk of accident? What is the risk of then things escalating and becoming very unpredictable?

Gregory Kulacki  

Yeah, that’s, that’s a very serious problem. The more military hardware you park and fly around and exercise and train with, the greater the chances that there’s going to be some sort of accident, like for example, when those two airplanes hit each other back in the early 2000s, during the George Bush administration, and the pilots had to land the plane containing very sensitive US electronic intelligence equipment on an island, of course, the Chinese took the plane apart, and learned everything they could about how it works, as a result of that accident, but the Chinese pilot lost his life. His plane went down. And he was killed. If something like that were to happen today, in the highly charged atmosphere we have now which is much worse than it was in the early 2000s, it’s difficult to predict what would happen — very rarely are wars started with some sort of intent, right? I mean, they, they just start and spiral out of control. With the weaponry … that’s used now, with all these long-range radars, and very quick, semi-automated decision-making processes. escalation could happen very, very rapidly. US war plans call for…, knocking out Chinese anti-satellite launchers deep within Chinese territory with conventional munitions, very early in the start of a conflict, in order to avoid having the United States being… blinded or made deaf. If the Chinese decided to disable or attack US satellites, which we use to govern our forces on the ground so — the pace of a war would be so fast that having… a nuclear element sitting there in the middle of it, with plans to use it, could be catastrophic. The people in the United States, the war planners assume… the Chinese will never respond with nuclear weapons, we can use them first and get away with it. And they assume that because China keeps its nuclear weapons generally off alert, it has no first-use policy. It has only conducted, you know, maybe 10% of the amount of nuclear tests that the United States do, its weapons are cruder, its warheads are larger. And so… the United States thinks they can get away with using tactical weapons. But that’s a very risky assumption to take.

Metta Spencer  

All right, the people are exactly right. The Japanese government’s really afraid of China. I mean, yes, they really are. Yes.

Gregory Kulacki  

… people in Japan see, they know what they went through, in the 1930s. And when they look at the pace of Chinese social and cultural and modern modernization and the development of, of nationalist attitudes in China, they’re looking back and seeing themselves in the 1930s. I don’t think that’s a correct judgment. But I think that’s what people imagine here in Japan, ordinary people. So, the fear of China in Japan… is real, it’s not… imaginary. On the other hand, I think it can be managed through skillful diplomacy. And that’s really what we need, we need politicians, instead of ramping up the fear factor, to be calming everybody down and building bridges and saying, look, we have these disagreements, but we can manage them. And nobody can do that better than an outside party like the United States that can help the two sides. And this is what we were doing, you know, in… the 80s, and the 90s. And even in the early 2000s, but we’ve gotten away from that. And I think we really need to get back to conducting diplomacy instead of military posturing.

Metta Spencer  

Great. Well, you know, that’s, that’s really what makes me wonder, what kind of steps, procedures can you can you foresee going through to move us in that direction?

Gregory Kulacki  

The first thing is, we have to get rid of this notion of that there’s some sort of grand historical contest going on here. Like that China is rising, and we’re falling, and there’s going to be some winner of some titanic battle. This is going back to the same kind of ideological nonsense we had the early days of the Cold War, we need to get rid of that idea. You know, China’s still a poor country… 600 million of China’s 1.4 billion, earn less than 1000 renminbi …less than 200 bucks a month. So, the idea that the China’s, you know, a monster about to pounce on the world with all this tremendous economic prowess is really quite nonsensical. China has enormous internal economic development problems, which leads to the sort of problems they’re having in Xinjiang and Tibet, with, you know, and the fact that they have to repress their own citizenry and control information, they do that because of the tremendous pressures they think are bubbling up at the bottom, that they feel like they have to use these very oppressive and undemocratic means to control. So, it’s not this… challenger to the United States and the international system that it’s that so often depicted as these days,

Metta Spencer  

No, but if the Japanese people are afraid, then I wonder whether he any good Japanese politician could be the skilled diplomat that you’re looking for, in reducing tensions with China. I mean, I frankly think Xi is not a very nice guy. And he, he really is, you know, he’s really doing some bad things.

Gregory Kulacki  

So, no different than his predecessors.

Metta Spencer  

no different. Oh,

Gregory Kulacki  

No. And the Chinese Communist Party is remarkably consistent. It’s a system. It’s not… the individuals. It’s the ideology and the system. They believe… that it’s necessary to exercise this kind of control they have. And what Xi Jinping has done is he’s just done it better than his two predecessors. He’s… been able to marshal more support within the upper echelons of the party around his efforts to… clean up corruption, which he’s done. But he’s also, you know, starting to exercise more control over areas of life that were starting to liberalize under the other two, because they felt they didn’t need to manage them quite as rigidly as Xi does. So it’s a difference of degree, but I don’t think it really is, is a question of personality.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, because I was just thinking just

Gregory Kulacki  

my personal opinion. I mean, it’s hard to know,

Metta Spencer  

You’re an expert… so I will take your opinion as worth a lot. Especially since I haven’t heard anybody else say for a while that Xi is just like all the others. No, I guess I thought, he’s really a turn toward the worse, and that it would be really hard to negotiate with him in, in the way that we’d like to think it’s possible to negotiate, you know, try to find areas of common interests and common ground. And, you know, I mean, I’m concerned about the Uyghurs, for example, how, you know, I can’t separate that out from all the other basket of issues that that we have to deal with. And certainly, you know, it’s a problem, how, let’s say you are the ambassador to China, and you’ve got a whole basket full of goodies that you can deal offer as a deal. What would you…? 

Gregory Kulacki  

— not a question of a basket of goodies… it’s not really a question of a basket of goodies, there’s really nothing that the United States can offer… you wouldn’t be buying them off… it’s a difference in philosophy, governing philosophy. You can call it ideology, if you want… what the Chinese Communist Party wants to be able to do is govern their own country as they see fit. Americans, and people all over the world, find many of the measures they take to do that are repressive and contrary to general basic principles of human rights. So, we have to find a way to have a meaningful discussion about that… The context of some great power competition just makes the Chinese leadership feel like –you’re bringing these things up, because you’re just using this as a stick to beat us with, you don’t care what the Indians are doing to their Muslims, which is just as bad, you don’t care what the Saudis are doing to their citizens, which is just as bad, you’re just using this human-rights thing to… score political points. So, they can see that this actually means something to Americans, that this tells us something about you, that makes it hard to get along with you. If we can have these kinds of these conversations more honestly, outside the context of some great competition between the two countries, then I think the Chinese leadership would be much more willing to listen to what we have to say on human rights.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, I will I will tell Biden that he should appoint you the ambassador to China

Gregory Kulacki  

appointing that guy from Disney, right? No, no, I say skip that. He’s gonna appoint Rahm Emanuel —

Metta Spencer  

no kidding!

Gregory Kulacki  

I read in the papers, and

Metta Spencer  

Rahm Emanuel is the least diplomatic person in the world. I have heard things about Rahm. Well, I guess he’s looking for a tough guy,

Gregory Kulacki  

Right?

Metta Spencer  

Oh, no, no, no, that would not be good. You will not be happy with that. Given your own predilections.

Gregory Kulacki  

I don’t think it’ll work out. Well, no…

Metta Spencer  

Oh, is that really a decision? Because I hadn’t heard that.

Gregory Kulacki  

Well, I read it in the news. I don’t know if it’s final or not.

Metta Spencer  

Oh, boy. Okay. Well, I mean, you know, they’re nice things about Rahm Emanuel. But … tact and his suave style are not among

Gregory Kulacki  

Diplomat, he’s not, yeah.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, this has been fun. Richard, do you want to ask any questions before we wind this up?

Richard Denton  

Oh, no. Wonderful listening to you, Gregory. It’s been very enlightening. Thank you.

Yeah.

Gregory Kulacki  

Well, we very nice to have met you both and to have this conversation.

Metta Spencer  

Hmm. All right. Now you can go back to bed. It’s now to 2.30 or 3am in Tokyo. Is that right? Yes. I’m gonna have lunch and you can go to bed. Okay, thank you very much. Okay.

Thank you. My pleasure.