On March 7, the top articles on the front pages of the morning papers were all about the release of former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn. This topic has very little value as news, but newspapers and TV programs reported on Ghosn’s disguise wearing a hat and work clothes. If he claims he is innocent, he should step out boldly. This was a total tactical mistake, and there is no need for the media to cover it. In Japan today, I find it odd that no one speaks against the mass media that uniformly prints such information without questioning.
For instance, the Sankei Shimbun newspaper’s top article should have been “North Korea Rebuilds Launch Site,” which was run underneath the piece on Ghosn’s release. The article said buildings are being reconstructed at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, which Kim Jong Un promised last year to dismantle. Negotiations broke down at the second United States-North Korea summit meeting at the end of February, and it seems North Korea is therefore taking steps to rebuild the launching station as a means of intimidation.
Also on March 7, The Yomiuri Shimbun printed a statement by former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman in the “Interview U.S.-North Korea” column. Entitled “North Korea Has no Intention of Abandoning Nuclear Weapons,” it read:
During the Trump presidency, this was achieved because U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Nikki Haley drew in China and Russia and gained their agreement at the UN Security Council. I think Trump feels strongly that this forced “embargo” is the core of the sanctions on North Korea.
I visited North Korea in December 2017 as the UN under-secretary-general for political affairs. At that time the risk of war was growing, including the sixth nuclear test in September and the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch test in November.
In North Korea, I conveyed the message of how very risky their strategy is. Discussions at that time had been cut off between North Korea and the U.S. and South Korea, and the “New York channel” (communications through the North Korean mission to the UN) was also closed.
I told North Korea it was possible it could go over the American “red line” without intending to, and that nuclear nonproliferation is a global issue. Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong Ho declared that the nuclear program is for self-defense. I appealed to them by saying the concept of self-defense is putting North Korea at risk, but they did not accept this.
I believe the results of the summit indicate that North Korea’s thinking from 2017 is unchanged, and that it has no intention of giving up nuclear weapons.
I agree with Feltman’s views. I have already written in detail on the topic of North Korea not abandoning nuclear weapons in my book Unreported Modern History: Postwar History is a Clash Over Nuclear Weapons, published in April 2008. I will site from the first chapter, entitled, “We Must be on Guard Against North Korea:”
Nuclear testing declared North Korea’s presence to countries across the world, including Japan, South Korea, the U.S., and other UN members. It was the perfect timing to convey this message. And as I mentioned before, the biggest result of this test was that it caused an about-face in the American policies on North Korea and East Asia and changed the traditional American thinking that it would not deal with North Korea, which led it to firmly decline any bilateral talks. I will describe this in more detail later, but to Japan, this event also reminded one of the ping-pong diplomacy of the 1970s that resulted in closer relations between the U.S. and China.
Nuclear weapons have controlled the state of the world during the more than 60 years since the end of World War II. Postwar history began when the U.S. developed the world’s first atomic bombs (nuclear weapons) and dropped them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. I will not enumerate the many examples that back this up, but to give a general outline, a nuclear domino effect occurred in which the American atomic bombs led to the Soviet Union gaining nuclear bombs. The United Kingdom and France then developed their own nuclear weapons. China desperately started a nuclear program because it wanted to somehow break free from the yoke of the nuclear Soviet Union. China’s successful development led to the nuclear program in India, another country it shared border conflicts with. Pakistan then developed nuclear weapons to guard against India. Israel is also a nuclear weapons state. It has remained vague in official announcements, but global military experts estimate that it possesses 200 nuclear weapons, which is more than the UK.
These nuclear states all share a determination to never give up their nuclear weapons. Some may protest that South Africa did abandon its successful nuclear program, but this was before 1994, when Apartheid ended and the government was transitioning from the whites to blacks. The white government did not want to hand over its nuclear weapons to the black government, so it gave them up for self-protection.
To return to the topic at hand, let us take a look at the North Korean nuclear tests, the global situation they brought about, and the American change of heart that resulted. During the era of President George W. Bush, the U.S. continually turned down bilateral discussions with North Korea based on the painful experience of North Korea unilaterally overturning the Geneva agreement. This framework was concluded in 1994 during the Bill Clinton administration, when North Korea agreed to stop its nuclear program in exchange for fuel oil and light-water reactors from the U.S. But after North Korea forcibly carried out its nuclear test, the U.S. started making concessions to North Korea at an astoundingly fast speed. This perplexed not only Japan (which was dealing with the abduction issue), but also the six other countries taking part in the conference. This indicates the immeasurably vast threat brought by nuclear weapons.
Kim Jong Il had visited China five times in total, starting with his first trip in 1983 after he was named the successor. He rode on a special train each time. Why did he take trains instead of airplanes, to Russia as well as China? The answer is not only that airplanes posed a high risk of terrorism – some theorize that he begged for extensive “souvenirs” in China that were transported back on connected transport cars. This episode illustrates how Kim Jong Il was totally devoted to gain, without any concern for others or past debts of gratitude.
Each time he went to China, Kim Jong Il viewed the drastically transforming cities and industrial zones. He always praised China, saying that economic reform had achieved great success and highly evaluating the reforms that led to these astounding changes. However, he made an about face when he returned home, including his statement, “One can live without candy, but one cannot live without bullets.” He persistently carried out military expansion rather than economic reform, and was so fixated on nuclear development that we can regard it as an obsession. An incident occurred in April 2004, when Kim Jong Il was on the way home from his fourth trip to China, that was a decisive moment for North Korea’s nuclear program and seeming stance of viewing China as an enemy.
During the short three-day trip, Kim Jong Il visited Beijing and Shanghai and met for the first time with Hu Jintao, the brand-new president. Jiang Zemin had passed this position to Hu, but he remained general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, and was working to maintain his behind-the-scenes influence and restore his power through “cloistered rule.” Jiang schemed to establish a pro-Chinese puppet regime in North Korea, which would make his name go down in history like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. This was hindered by Kim Jong Il, who was not only trying to maintain distance with China, but was also attempting to take a stand against China by developing his own nuclear weapons. One theory says that Jiang plotted to assassinate Kim Jong Il by instigating the anti-Kim Jong Il faction through the People’s Liberation Army. Apparently, it was a large-scale plan that involved blowing up Kim Jong Il with massive amounts of explosives as he traveled home via special train.
An incident actually occurred at Ryongchon Station near the North Korean border with China. The official reports said it was a collision between two trains, a fuel tank train and freight train carrying ammonium nitrate to make fertilizer, that topped a utility pole. The power line shorted and caused a fire resulting in a major explosion. However, I have seen images online showing that the mark from the explosion had an acute angle. The blast must have happened underground, not aboveground as the news reports said. An aboveground explosion would leave a U-shaped mark. Powerful explosives (800 tons of TNT) were placed under the irrigation channel along the main line in advance, and then set off when the train passed through. The elementary school students who gathered at the station to welcome Kim Jong Il, many of whom were victims of the incident, serve as proof. The explosion was timed to the train’s passage, but it was a decoy train with a body double of the supreme leader. My conclusion is that American or Russian intelligence agencies must have gained knowledge of this plan in advance, and leaked information to the Kim Jong Il camp, by which he barely escaped with his life.
After this incident, Kim Jong Il further stepped up nuclear development because he was more convinced than ever that nuclear weapons were the only way to guard against China. The first nuclear test took place in October 2006, and I believe we should see it as directed at China rather than the U.S. or Japan. The bomb in this single test was not miniaturized, and it lacked high performance. It could not be equipped on a missile for remote attacks, but it provided first-rate deterrence against an attack by the Chinese army if deployed at the border as a gigantic land mine. If North Korea could create miniature bombs to install on bombers, it would gain the ability to attack Beijing and other major Chinese cities.
At the start, I described how a person involved in Chinese military affairs said the Chinese army would invade North Korea in the event of an emergency there. It makes sense if that is connected to this incident.
In this way, North Korea’s nuclear weapons have been directed at China since the start. North Korea will not abandon them as long as the geopolitical relationship remains unchanged.
Kim Jong Un has not balked at using any method to maintain the North Korean structure. In February 2017, he had two women assassinate his half-brother Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia by smearing VX nerve agent on his face. Kim Jong Un had his uncle Jang Song Thaek executed by machine-gun fire in 2013, and Jang’s corpse was burned with a flamethrower. Although no official announcement has been made, many high officials have been executed since directly after Jang’s death, and the purge is apparently still underway. Kim Jong Un failed at having the economic sanctions relaxed at the second summit in February. It is clear he will bend if the economic sanctions remain in place, as long as his number-one goal is to maintain the system.
Before the summit, Trump seemed likely to allow North Korea to continue nuclear testing as long as it got rid of its ICBMs, and to permit North Korea becoming a latent nuclear power by concealing some of its nuclear weapons. However, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, who takes a hard line on North Korea, would not permit Trump to concede, and the discussions ended with no agreement. I think we can say this lack of compromise was good news for Japan. However, now it seems much less realistic that North Korea will abandon its nuclear weapons. The only method remaining is to carry out a decapitation strike, which has been practiced in simulations.
I have stated for more than 10 years that North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons. Due to the expanding China and presence of North Korea, East Asia is now the region with the highest risk of war breaking out, and it is highly probable that Japan will be the target of a third nuclear attack after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To prevent this, Japan must work to maintain a nuclear balance of power. The U.S. will not allow Japan to develop its own nuclear weapons, but a balance could be achieved if Japan abolished the Three Non-Nuclear Principles and concluded a nuclear sharing agreement with the U.S. like that with the four North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries. I think this could be accomplished in negotiations with Trump, who referred to the possibility of Japan’s nuclear armament during his presidential campaign. If he wins re-election in 2020, Trump will be in office until 2024, which I see as the last year for Japan to achieve these things.
Meanwhile, Japan is also facing the challenge of constitutional reform. This must be done in two stages to create a decent constitution, first by clearly specifying the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) and then removing the second clause of Article 9 to handle them as a regular army. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s term of office is until 2021, but that is not enough time to introduce a nuclear sharing arrangement and complete two constitutional amendments. I believe the Liberal Democratic Party must once again revise its party regulations to allow four presidential terms so Abe’s time in office can be extended until 2024.
It is essential that many Japanese people understand the circumstances in East Asia and feel a sense of crisis about them. Abe and Trump could work together to achieve constitutional change and resolve other challenges to create a new, independent Japan. This is Japan’s only path to survival, and it would also fulfill the expectations of many Asian countries.
March 15 (Friday), 7:00 p.m.