So it looks clearer than ever that Donald Trump was right about America’s security strategy in East Asia needing urgently to change – and no one knowing this more than America’s leading allies. And if so, then RealityChek was right to praise the presumptive Republican presidential nominee for accepting the inevitability – and desirability, in relative terms – of Japan and South Korea acquiring nuclear weapons, and virtually the entire U.S. foreign policy establishment and commentariat has been wrong in condemning his position as ignorant and reckless.
We can say this because one of the nation’s best informed observers of the global nuclear weapons scene, Henry Sokolski, has just provided new evidence in a Wall Street Journal article that the Japanese and South Koreans are acting on the same developments rapidly undercutting the credibility of America’s stated strategy in the region that have been identified by Trump and (repeatedly) by me.
A recent RealityChek post described the controversy, its origins, and its implications, but to review quickly: In a March New York Times interview, Trump made headlines for suggesting that if American allies like Japan and South Korea don’t start paying more for their own defense, his administration might pull out U.S. troops even if Tokyo and Seoul were likely to respond by developing their own nuclear forces. When reminded that preventing such weapons proliferation has been a central goal of U.S. alliance policies (including in Europe) since the end of World War II, Trump replied that their nuclear-ization was likely anyway because of eroding faith in American commitments.
As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, including in the above post, Trump is right, and Washington and the voters need to listen, because the increasingly potent nuclear weapons forces of North Korea and China have been raising the risks of the current U.S. strategy past the point of acceptability. Specifically, the North Koreans and Chinese are both moving quickly towards building nuclear weapons that not only can hit the continental United States, but can be launched from platforms, like submarines, that America’s own weapons can’t find and knock out preemptively.
Therefore, the longstanding U.S. pledge to use nuclear arms to protect Asian allies will, before long, expose the American homeland to the risk of cataclysmic attack. To complete the circle, I noted, Japanese and South Koreans understandably find this American promise literally unbelievable. And precisely because they increasingly doubt that an American president would sacrifice Los Angeles or San Francisco (and eventually cities and regions farther east) to save Tokyo and Seoul, the allies are actively contemplating building their own nuclear programs – just as Trump observed.
Sokolski’s new article describes two key developments validating what might be called the Trump-RealityChek view, and exposing the so-called experts (including President Obama) as know-nothings or dreamers. The author reports a recent announcement by the Japanese cabinet that its post-World War II constitution, which sharply limits its military forces, does not forswear possession or use of nuclear weapons by Japan – which of course is history’s only victim so far of nuclear attack.
And Sokolski writes that “South Korea’s ruling-party leaders have urged President Park Geun-hye to stockpile “peaceful” plutonium as a military hedge against its neighbors. A Feb. 19 article in Seoul’s leading conservative daily, the Chosun Ilbo, went so far as to detail how South Korea could use its existing civilian nuclear facilities to build a bomb in 18 months.”
Moreover, lest anyone think that the Japanese declaration was to any degree prompted by Trump’s remarks, Sokolski reinforces a point made in my post that Tokyo has long maintained the nuclear fuel and the capacity to make weapons quickly.
Unfortunately, Sokolski’s article doesn’t propose any realistic American responses to these moves – or to the North Korean and Chinese nuclear progress that’s prompted them. But his piece strengthens the case that, although Trump’s foreign policy inexperience is still cause for major concern, at least comparable threats to U.S. national security are being posed by political leaders and candidates clinging to strategies that could soon turn literally suicidal.