3. Japan could seek the bomb
All of the 12 parties contesting the upcoming election are committed to reducing Japan's dependence on nuclear power -- a legacy of the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, which leaked radiation and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents. But just how far Japan will go in weaning itself from nuclear power remains in question.
Before the Fukushima disaster, Tokyo had hoped to increase the country's reliance on nuclear power. The expansion of nuclear power generation was projected to fulfill half of the country's energy needs, and play a huge role in fulfilling Japan's ambitious carbon emissions reduction targets. Japan's new allergy to nuclear power generation is now playing havoc with its international climate change commitments and significantly affecting global hydrocarbon markets.
Even as Japan cools toward civilian nuclear power, it is warming toward the idea of acquiring a nuclear arsenal -- and this election could lay the groundwork for a historic shift. Ishihara talks openly of the need for Japan to study the development and deployment of an independent nuclear deterrent.
Though it could never be publicly discussed in the only country to have suffered from a nuclear attack, the development of civilian nuclear power in Japan has always had a security component. The government coyly denies this, saying only that Japan's anti-war constitution did not forbid Japan from possessing nuclear weapons as long as they were for defense only.
For the first time, however, the government has acknowledged that civilian nuclear power is indivisible from security. The law controlling nuclear power has been ambiguously amended, now saying that nuclear power is vital because it has a security component. The official government interpretation -- that "security" means only energy security -- is a transparent but necessary lie. Ishihara and others have drawn direct lines between Japan's civilian nuclear power industry and its ability to defend itself in a region where three of its four closest neighbors possess nuclear weapons.
Japan's pursuit of nuclear weapons would trigger a cascade of regional upheaval -- the collapse of the world's nonproliferation regime, international sanctions on Japan, the end of the Japan-U.S. alliance, a nuclear arms race in East Asia. That would seem to preclude Tokyo from taking such a step -- but nonetheless, Ishihara's open discussion of the nuclear option, along with and similar musings by LDP leaders, indicate that Japan's allergy to nuclear weapons is fading.