EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: In 2017, Pyongyang’s nuclear threat turned real, and the countries of East Asia – mainly Japan – and the US could be targets. Japan now faces a dilemma over how to deal with the threat: should it count on the US nuclear umbrella, or should it build up an independent military nuclear capability of its own? Japan’s civilian nuclear infrastructure could serve as a springboard for developing nuclear weapons within a year, but the Japanese public – which remembers Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as the devastating accident at the Fukushima reactor – is unenthusiastic about further nuclear development in either its civilian or military aspects.
Henry Kissinger, the legendary American statesman who served as National Security Adviser and Secretary of State during the Ford and Nixon administrations of the last century, warned on January 25, 2018, in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee: “[I]f North Korea still possesses a military nuclear capability in some finite time, the impact on the proliferation of nuclear weapons might be fundamental.” He meant that countries in East Asia, particularly Japan and South Korea, might join the nuclear arms race. This, as he said in an October 2017 interview with The New York Times, would be against the backdrop of North Korea’s intercontinental missile and nuclear tests.