The Shades of Extended Deterrence

Joe Cirincione had a piece in the Huffington Post recently titled “Will Japan Go Nuclear?” As I’ve argued previously, the idea that if we go to 1,499 deployed strategic warheads or consider getting rid of the TLAM-N Japan automatically flips the “go nuclear” switch seems a bit cavalier and overblown. That said, Cirincione’s argument that because Japanese officials make public statements supporting abolition they therefore "must rebut these false claims" about their desire for extended nuclear deterrence deserves some additional attention.  Of course the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are going to publicly discuss support for the abolition of nuclear weapons given the destruction they caused upon their cities during World War II. It is also not shocking that in the joint statement released Hatoyama embraced Obama’s Prague vision. What would one have expected the statement to say given Japan’s historical aversion to nuclear weapons? Lastly, it is not surprising that Japan, a non-nuclear but important power surrounded by two unfriendly nuclear states in the region, thinks they would be better off if nobody had nukes.

That aside, one of the hardest tasks in extended deterrence discussions is to sort out who said what, who calls the shots, and how big the differences are between public and private statements. Cirincione’s piece has a conspiracy theory-esque tone to it when he notes that “the most important Japanese voices in the United States right now are secret voices” and that conservatives on the “deeply flawed” (which links to a listing of the cons and pros of the report) Strategic Posture Commission “twice brought in Japanese officials to make these claims.” I don’t have any more inside knowledge about the Commission than the next person but am skeptical that this can neatly be pinned on the conservatives of the Commission. The Commission sought to get the input of U.S. allies because as numbers go down extended deterrence concerns go up and one of the left-leaning commissioners told an off the record meeting that he was most surprised at the degree to which our allies care about our capabilities. As I said in the post cited above, there is certainly something to be said for the “leading the witness” phenomenon where the Japanese can be persuaded by anti-reductions scholars that they actually do “need” certain capabilities or systems that they may not. It does not automatically follow, however, that conservatives uniquely hijacked the SPC and have duped some NPR writers to “believe these repeated stories” ergo “Japanese officials must rebut these false claims.” It is not inconceivable that there are key players in Japan, perhaps although by no means certainly limited to the defense establishment, that are worried about the fact that there is a US president intent on boldly making moves towards a world without weapons while at the same time one unfriendly neighbor has recently tested another nuclear weapon and another continues to display some surprisingly impressive capabilities. That does not mean the U.S. needs to have 2200 operationally deployed strategic warheads and a TLAM/N to boot but it does mean that some of the Japanese may think some of the claims about the importance of extended nuclear deterrence are true, at least to a degree. As Keith Payne, who is clearly on the further end of the political spectrum, wrote in the cited article:

Japan supports the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons, but this must be done in a careful, step by step manner that ensures Japanese security throughout the process; this mandates the maintenance of a credible U.S. nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future.

Obviously how Keith Payne, Joe Cirincione, and various Japanese officials answer that question will probably differ widely but figuring out how to reconcile some of those differences should be encouraged as opposed to chalking extended deterrence capabilities needs up to a "myth."