Japan is afraid, the US is tired, and NATO is old

Japan is one of the signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is based on three sound principles (disarmament, non-proliferation, and peaceful nuclear applications), but… The “but” in question is tied to the fact that Japan currently holds more plutonium that Russia or the United States. To be exact, we’re talking about 47.8 tons of separated plutonium—in addition to 1,200 kg of enriched uranium. Experts estimate these quantities to be sufficient to produce a thousand nuclear warheads! Essentially, these amounts far surpass the country’s real “peaceful nuclear” needs. Inevitably, these amounts shape a serious risk for global security: in any case, it is also worth noting that Japan’s “peaceful nuclear” program produced the Fukushima disaster. These numbers also reinforce tensions with other nations, like, for example, Turkey and Egypt that demand equal rights to produce identical fuel for their reactors.

“From the NPT’s perspective, Japan is a respectable country,” says James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “but it sets a bad example because if another country started to accumulate plutonium or enriched uranium, it could refer to Japan’s precedent.”

Even Russia and China—who both possess quite a few nuclear bombs—are worried. And South Korea, like China, still remembers the Japanese invasion seventy years ago, and both countries ask why Japan needs so much plutonium.

With the arrival of Shinzo Abe’s conservative government in 2012, research on renewable energies diminished and discussions regarding the reopening of certain nuclear power plants in line with new standards were rehashed. But, Fukushima and the difficult management of the disaster and its consequences turned more than 60% of public opinion against the idea. At the beginning of 2016, Otsu’s district court hindered the prime minister, ordering the closure of two nuclear reactors in Takahama in northern Osaka, despite the plant’s having received the green light from the Nuclear Security Agency (it was the first time that a court ruled negatively after receiving the agency’s blessing). That said, the question that arises spontaneously is: is Japan really that cold or is it just afraid of being invaded by larger powers?

Overseas, in the 2016 US presidential race, the issue of global security has been handled contemptuously. The republican, Donald Trump, declared that NATO is obsolete and too expensive. The democrat, Hillary Clinton, reacted by saying that such an affirmation is “a message that contradicts decades of the US political leadership’s collaboration and sends a very dangerous message to friends and enemies.” Later, in a discussion at Stanford University, Clinton added that turning your back on NATO partners would work in favor of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that NATO was one of the best investments the US ever made.

Trump’s position, however, represents the thoughts and convictions of a large segment of the US population. It’s a new cynicism that’s contaminating the US. Trump interpreted a fairly diffuse opinion: “why should we continue to spend money to protect countries that refuse to act and defend themselves?” It’s a discussion that applies to Europe and Japan as well (even if article five of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the US and Japan provides that in case of an attack on Japanese territory, the US will intervene on its behalf). The world has changed and so has the US. Republicans synthesize these new positions with these questions: for which reasons does the US have to be the guarantor of a global order that countries like China exploit? Why does the US have to defend countries like England and France, who are “free riders and always travel for free?” Also: why do we continue to let our soldiers die without concluding anything in the Middle East? Why did we have to attack Serbia during the war in Kosovo when Europe is right there? Why do we have to get involved in Ukraine? Let’s let Putin deal with Europe alone and Asia can cope by itself!

In conclusion, the US—or a part of the US—is tired. That much is clear. The primary concern is some kind of quagmire between “dutiful” military intervention and leaving countries to their troubles. Regardless of US electoral propaganda, we need to get used to a world with more Russia and China, and less America.

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