Japan is often considered one of the best Asian allies the US has. Together with Taiwan, South Korea and even The Philippines the group forms an alliance that the US has maintained as friends in order to defend itself from a possible future Chinese outburst.
Of all these, Japan is of course the peculiar one. Occupied by the USA after the second world war, Japan was given a peaceful constitution written by American lawyers in order to best serve the interests of US-Japan trade.
And of course this arrangement has served Japan well in the past. You will remember that during the 1980s Japan experienced an economic miracle boom, helped in part by the fact that not having an attacking army releases a considerable amount of GDP you can invest in your own population.
All that may come to a screeching halt due to the recent developments in North Korea.
Japan has a three point non-nuclear principle written in its constitution that commits it not to possess, manufacture or allow nuclear weapons on its territory.
A senior defense policy maker now says: “Perhaps it’s time for our three principles to become two,” referring to a possibility of Japan to arm itself with nukes that it would obtain from the USA.
And there are more indications that this could happen, as reporters are trying to figure out what President Trump meant when he tweeted that: “I am allowing Japan & South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States.”
Guesses range from THAAD missile systems to aircraft carriers, but for Japan’s government of Shinzo Abe, buying a few nuclear missiles to be able to retaliate against North Korea would certainly be on the table as well.
The only direct problem is that allowing for example a nuclear-armed U.S. submarine to operate from one of the U.S. Navy bases in Japan, and to be directly steered by Japan, is a move that will most likely infuriate China.
It is possible that the North Korean madman has simply started a renewed arms race in Asia.