This year’s Hiroshima atomic bombing anniversary saw more demands for the abolition of nuclear weapons. It is a worthy goal. But does it make sense? People genuinely keen to rid the world of nuclear weapons need first do something about the hawks and hardliners whose actions often make nuclear weapons inevitable. Japan would be a good place to start.
The coming 50th anniversary of the notorious U-2 incident should be reminder. The incident involved a U.S. spy plane that crashed deep in the Soviet Union on the eve of the May 1960 four-power talks that could well have seen an end to the Cold War. The Soviets claimed to have shot the plane down, though it flew well above the range of the best Soviet rockets. Others have a more sinister view — that the crash was triggered by a bomb planted in the plane’s rear by CIA hawks determined to disrupt these four-power talks.
Either way, the CIA people who organized the flight must have known it would throw a spanner in the prolonged efforts by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to reach detente with the West, and Japan. Khrushchev tried desperately to get a face-saving apology for the incident from then U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.
But that too was blocked, this time by the Washington hawks. As a result the Cold War was to roll on for another 30 years, forcing Moscow to cling to nuclear weapons for protection and China to develop its own weapons. The hawks and hardliners of both sides have been feeding off the confrontation ever since.
Ironically it is Japan that claims the strongest right to demand the abolition of nuclear weapons amid the most glaring examples of dangerously prolonged hawk-fueled confrontations. One is the Northern Territories dispute with Moscow over ownership of small islands at the southwestern end of the Kuril archipelago.
Khrushchev, in yet another detente-seeking move, had in 1955 promised Tokyo’s negotiators the return of the two territories they long sought — the Habomai and Shikotan islets. Alarmed that this concession could weaken popular support in Japan for Tokyo’s Cold War alliance with Washington, Tokyo conservatives and U.S. hawks colluded arbitrarily to expand Japan’s demand to include two more islands — Kunashiri and Etorofu — even though Tokyo had in an October 1951 Diet statement admitted that those two islands were included in the Kuril Islands over which Japan had renounced all right, claim and title in the San Francisco Peace Treaty just four years earlier.
(The account of these extraordinary moves can be found in the little-known book, “Moscow ni Kakeru Niji” (Rainbow over Moscow), by chief Japanese negotiator Shunichi Matsumoto).
A similar volte-face occurred in the renewed 1956 negotiations on the issue, and for similar reasons. As a result Tokyo-Moscow relations have already remained log-jammed for more than 50 years, and another 50 years seems likely.
The current dispute with North Korea over nuclear and rocket development is yet another example. North Korea has long seemed willing to abandon nuclear ambitions if it can get the recognition and aid from the U.S. and its allies that would make nuclear arms unnecessary. In 1994, an agreement promising all this was finally reached with the Clinton regime, only to be promptly reneged upon by hawks and hardliners in the incoming Bush regime convinced that North Korea was on the point of collapse anyway.
North Korea did not collapse, and went back to nuclear and rocket development.
For a while it seemed as if the six-party talks, with Japan and the U.S. included, would solve the problem. But at several stages, when agreement has seemed possible, U.S. hawks were able to delay or frustrate progress. Now it is Japan’s turn with Tokyo using the abductee issue to impose sanctions and refuse promised oil deliveries. This, in turn, has encouraged North Korea to go back to nuclear and rocket development, which encourages more Japanese sanctions. This deadlock could go on forever.
The similarities with the U-2 affair are strong. Just as Khrushchev had laid the groundwork for the 1960s four-power conference by his 1959 Camp David talks with Eisenhower, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi with his dramatic visit to Pyongyang in 2002 laid the groundwork for a resolution of Japan-North Korea differences with a promise of aid and diplomatic recognition in exchange for freeze on rocket development and a return of five people abducted from Japan back in the ’70s and ’80s.
But even before the ink was dry on the agreement, Japan’s hawks led by then deputy Cabinet secretary, Shinzo Abe, swept into action — breaking promises involved in the return of those five abductees, demanding the return of more alleged abductees and then undertaking what two Western scientific magazines have denounced as a fake DNA test to launch an emotional propaganda campaign claiming that one abductee, Megumi Yokota, said to have died was in fact alive and held forcefully in North Korea. This in turn set up the logjam in relations very similar to that in the Northern Territories dispute.
Each August Japan’s shrinking group of progressive TV directors are allowed to air retrospectives on Japan’s foolish march to war with China and eventual annihilation by the U.S. A constant theme is the ease with which the prewar hawks and militarists could through state power, propaganda and media manipulation mesmerize a nation into self-destruction. The few who would oppose were terrified into silence through the threat of arrests and imprisonment.
Has Japan changed since then? The few who have tried to find compromise solutions to the Northern Territories dispute have been attacked as traitors to the nation, discredited, forced into semi-exile and in some cases indicted on seemingly trivial charges.
Over North Korea, rightwing elements have organized bomb threats against moderates, and character assassination against critics. Tokyo maintains a special 35-person unit with a large budget to organize events and propaganda to keep the abductee issue alive (It does likewise with the Northern Territories issue).
The media and the commentators have been cowed or persuaded into silence. The one influential commentator to publicly throw doubts, Television Asahi’s Soichiro Tahara, was soon sued for damages.
Tokyo now seems to want to use the North Korea issue to create an alleged military threat allowing it to push further for the militarization and even nuclear armaments that Japan’s hawks and conservatives have long sought.
If the Hiroshima organizers really want to abolish nuclear weapons they should start at home by exposing and criticizing the hawks and hardliners in their midst. Ban the hawks, not the bomb, should be the slogan. Determined efforts are needed to stop those hawks from doing even more damage.
This article by Gregory Clark first appeared in the Japan Times and has been republished on this site with the author’s kind permission. Gregory Clark is vice-president of Akita International University and a former member of the Bank of Japan, Expert Consultative Committee.