Letting Japan have nukes might have been a good idea. And acting as if we might let them have nukes was definitely a good idea. But Secretary Rice obviously had other ideas. Visiting Tokyo yesterday she said:
The United States has the will and the capability to meet the full range — and I underscore full range — of its deterrent and security commitments to Japan.
This bold-sounding statement unfortunately is not aimed at North Korea. Rather, it is intended to relax the Chinese by relaxing the Japanese, by reconfirming that Japan remains within the American nuclear umbrella and doesn’t need nukes of its own.
It will be interesting to note whether she says anything similar in Seoul. I doubt it.
What’s important here is that in North Korean diplomatic parlance, a “non-nuclear Korean peninsula” has nothing to do with the presence of nuclear weapons on the peninsula (the U.S. removed all of its nukes long ago). Rather, it means that no part of the peninsula is under a nuclear umbrella such as that offered by the United States. In other words, the reaffirmation of our security guarantees to South Korea will be seen by Pyongyang as evidence of America’s ”hostile policy” and “further provocation” — as the South Koreans are likely to explain to Ms. Rice in asking that she please water-down her comments.
As I wrote Monday, 40% of South Koreans think the United States is the big danger in the nuclear standoff, whereas only 30% think it is the North.