Hugh White from The Interpreter sketches out in greater detail his argument that in order for Asia’s new order to emerge as a stable one, Japan will have to become a nuclear power. The crux of it is Japan’s concern that as China’s regional influence grows, America’s need to accomodate Peking will begin to take precedence over its strategic guarantees to Japan:
So Japan faces a really tough dilemma. As long as it relies on the US for its security, Japan will understandably feel threatened if the US accords more weight to China. But if the US does not do this, US-China relations will deteriorate, which would likewise be a disaster for Japan, as well as for the rest of us. The only way out seems to be for Japan to cease to rely on the US for its security, and to become itself an equal partner in a concert of great powers in Asia. Only in such a structure can Japan feel comfortable with a closer US-China relationship in which the US concedes strategic space to China’s growing power. And only if that happens can we look forward to a peaceful future in Asia.
For White, only a nuclear deterrent would provide the kind of fundamental security that would ease Japan’s mind.
The strategic logic is clear and convincing. But it also seems like a problem masquerading as a solution, since one man’s nuclear deterrent is another’s nuclear threat. China’s peaceful rise, as White suggests, is perhaps predicated on a strategic status quo that can’t survive Peking’s growing influence. But dramatically upending that strategic status quo will certainly have some downside consequences as well. I’d be curious to see The Interpreter gang sketch out what some of those might be.
Update: Ask and ye shall receive. The Interpreter just posted a reader’s rebuttal to White’s argument.