Japan Should Reexamine Its Nuclear Weapons Ban, Ruling Party Official Says

Monday, October 16, 2006

TOKYO, Oct. 15 -- Japan needs to discuss whether it should possess nuclear weapons in response to North Korea's claimed nuclear test, the ruling party's policy chief said Sunday.

Shoichi Nakagawa, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party's policy research council, said he believed Japan would adhere to its policy of not arming itself with nuclear weapons but added that debate over whether to go nuclear was necessary.

"We need to find a way to prevent Japan from coming under attack," Nakagawa told a television program, referring to what Tokyo should do following North Korea's reported nuclear test.

"There is argument that nuclear weapons are one such option. I want to make clear that I am not the one saying this, and Japan will stick to its nonnuclear principles, but we need to have active discussions," he said.

Nakagawa also said the constitution does not prohibit the possession of nuclear arms, adding that having such weapons might reduce or remove the risk of being attacked.

Although some analysts have pointed out the possibility that Japan -- the only nation to suffer an atomic bomb attack -- would seek nuclear weapons in response to North Korea's announced test, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has flatly rejected the idea.

Japan has stuck to its self-imposed "three nonnuclear principles" that ban the possession, production and import of nuclear arms, and in the past, politicians who even questioned the ban have faced fierce criticism.

A former defense vice minister resigned in 1999 after suggesting in an interview that Japan should debate the acquisition of nuclear arms.

But faced with the threat of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, the nuclear taboo is easing among the public, and more lawmakers now challenge the ban without receiving the disapproval they would have in the past.

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