In a move that has consequences way beyond the region, a Japanese daily Sankei report says that the Japanese government is apparently considering a nuclear warhead as deterrent to North Korean (NK) nuclear weapons program which is being denied by government spokesperson.
Ever since Pyongyang’s nuclear test in October, there has been widespread speculation on how Tokyo will react to NK hardening posture and one theory is that it may modify its Constitution to make nuclear weapons. Initial estimates suggest a 3-5 year gestation period to produce a prototype weapon that could cost anywhere from USD 1.6 billion to USD 2.5 billon and involve hundreds of engineers. None of these are a real problem for Japan which is technically, economically, and scientifically rich. Moreover, Japan has a huge plutonium stockpile from its nuclear power stations which is a concern for many nations (especially China) because of fear that Tokyo may be tempted to develop nuclear weapons and also that they could be targeted by terrorists. However, the Sankei story did not say whether Tokyo had made a decision to develop nuclear weapons but only that such a study was done and estimates had been completed.
As the only country ever attacked with atomic weapons, Japan has for decades adhered to a strict policy of not possessing or developing nuclear weapons and its Constitution, prepared by American occupation forces, do not allow it to develop offensive capabilities. These handicaps severely restrict the Japanese military to a point where it has to rely on Washington for a credible defense.
With increasing belligerent statements and missile tests by Pyongyang targeting Japan, this matter has been in the public forum since the October test. Many law-makers have publicly encouraged discussion and debate on this subject and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that the pacifist Constitution does not preclude nuclear weapons for self-defense but insisted that his government will continue to disallow nuclear weapons on Japanese soil.