Jeffrey Lewis on Japan and Nuclear WeaponsPosted: June 30, 2014
I’ve just gotten around to reading Jeffrey Lewis’ most recent FP piece on Japan and the periodic worries about Japan’s potential interest in, and capability to build, a nuclear weapons arsenal of its own.
I don’t have any particular problem with his analysis in the piece. I suspect he’s right in his conclusion that Japan will not decide to build their own nuclear weapons arsenal anytime soon, for the cultural and political reasons on which he mostly relies. He observes that most of the pro-NW rhetoric in Japan is politically marginal, that public sentiment in Japan is not in favor of nuclear weaponization, given particularly Japan’s terrible history as a victim of nuclear weapons use. And he gives Japan the benefit of the doubt that if they ever do decide to build nuclear weapons, they’ll do so in an open and transparent way. (Just like they did at Pearl Harbor.)
I just wanted to comment quickly on how different this holistic and circumspect analysis is from Lewis’ own analysis, and from that of many of his buddies in the US nonproliferation “expert” establishment (e.g. David Albright), on the potential for other countries to decide to construct their own nuclear weapons arsenals, and in particular Iran. See, for example, Lewis’ other recent FP piece on why we shouldn’t focus on “breakout time” on the basis of known centrifuge capability in Iran, as a meaningful indication of whether and when Iran might “go nuclear.” With regard to Iran’s potential future decision to build a nuclear weapons arsenal Lewis says:
What Khamenei is more likely to do, if he decides that nuclear weapons are no longer un-Islamic, is to order the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to build a covert facility with technology from the civil program. You know, like Iran did at Natanz before 2002, and near Qom before 2010. A covert facility would provide Iran with a significant and steady supply of highly enriched uranium. With a little luck for the Iranians, this approach would present the United States and its partners with a fait accompli — one where we don’t know how much highly enriched uranium they have or where it’s made. That’s what the North Koreans are doing now, having wised up about the limited value of a plutonium production infrastructure housed in very large reactors and a reprocessing building that are easily identified and targeted.
Let me put this simply: Even if the Iranians build a bomb, they are likely to pretend for a prolonged time that they haven’t. Imposing limits on the number, capability, or operation of Iran’s centrifuges is a fool’s errand. It is far more important to win concessions on verification and access to Iran’s nuclear program.
Do you see a difference in tone and assumptions here? No holistic analysis of Iran’s history as a victim of WMD use itself, or of its relations with the West and its neighbors, and why it did not disclose the Natanz and Qom facilities. No consideration of internal Iranian politics in a circumspect way. No thoughtful analysis of the international relations calculus that Iran will likely rationally make.
The analysis is superficial and suspicious. The assumption is that Iran wants nuclear weapons, and will likely be devious in obtaining them.
This double standard of analysis and assumption just really stood out to me in this instance. But it’s a thread running through most of the rhetoric concerning Iran’s nuclear program in Washington DC, and through the writings of the US nonproliferation expert community. It’s so ingrained by now, I’m not sure they even see it anymore.