Monday, November 06, 2006

Japan Holds Nuclear Weapons Debate

Japanese ruling party lawmakers sparred over whether the country should hold a debate on acquiring nuclear weapons in a row triggered by North Korea's test of a nuclear device last month. The head of policy at the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said Japan should at least discuss its self-imposed ban on nuclear weapons, an opinion which is controversial in the only country to have experienced nuclear attacks. "We should hold a debate, including on what should be done if a nuclear missile comes flying towards us," Shoichi Nakagawa told a discussion programme broadcast by Fuji TV. Japan watched nervously as North Korea fired off a series of ballistic missiles in July and tested a nuclear device last month. As the only country to have suffered nuclear attacks, on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Japan is highly sensitive about nuclear issues and even suggestions the country hold a debate about having nuclear weapons has created a controversy.Nakagawa said he was not suggesting Japan acquire nuclear weapons. "I have never said that we should debate this on the premise that we should have nuclear weapons," he said. But his comments drew criticism from Toshihiro Nikai, another senior member of the ruling party who opposed any debate over nuclear weapons. "Of course one has the right to freedom of expression as a member of parliament. But freedom of expression doesn't mean you should just say anything you like," Nikai told reporters. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last month the country would not lift its decades-old ban on nuclear weapons and denied the topic was up for discussion after his foreign and defence ministers clashed over the issue. Foreign Minister Taro Aso called for a discussion on nuclear weapons while Defence Minister Fumio Kyuma said raising the issue at a time of high regional tension would be unwise. Nikai said comments by Aso and Nakagawa could prove embarrassing for Abe. "If they repeatedly issue statements that could be misleading, it may result in calls for the one who appointed them to take responsibility," Nikai told national broadcaster NHK. Japan, with high technological standards and a stockpile of plutonium from its nuclear power industry, is widely thought capable of producing nuclear weapons relatively quickly, but many analysts say it is highly unlikely to do so, given internal opposition and the risk of raising regional tensions.