Asia in Nuclear Race: Japanese, South Korean “Bombs in the Basement.” India, Pakistan Upgrade

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump dropped another controversial bomb – this one nuclear – when he told a campaign rally in Wisconsin on April 2 that South Korea and Japan should have their own nuclear weapons for their protection.
(Three days later, Trump himself was bombed in the Wisconsin primary).
America cannot police the world’s conflicts, he argued. “I would rather have them not armed, but I’m not going to continue to lose this tremendous amount of money.”
He was also talking about the cost of maintaining 28,500 US troops in South Korea and 54,000 in Japan.
President Barack Obama issued a stinging rebuttal. Winding up a two-day nuclear security summit in Washington with over 50 world leaders, he said, without mentioning Trump by name: “The person who made the statements doesn’t know much about foreign policy, nuclear policy or the Korean Peninsula, or the world generally.
The US president preferred to ignore a couple of disquieting facts.
As the experts know full well, Japan already has a “bomb in the basement” – namely the means and materials for assembling an atomic bomb within months. South Korea too is heading fast towards a nuclear capability.
In other words, a nuclear arms race is already underway in the nether regions of the Asian continent, with the existing nuclear powers, North Korea, India and Pakistan, deep in intense efforts to top up their programs.
The Republican contender went on to argue that if Tokyo and Seoul nonetheless want to keep their nuclear capabilities under wraps out of domestic considerations – fine, but they should pay for US military protection.
Trump spoke from the perspective of a businessman, who has a hard time understanding why the US should have to bear the cost and responsibility for the permanent presence of 82,500 troops in Asia, when Japan and South Korea are able to produce nuclear weapons for their own defense at short notice.
At last week’s nuclear summit in Washington, President Obama addressed the topic of nuclear policy for the Korean Peninsula only in general terms. He preferred to avoid baring the real state of the nuclear race in full spate in Asia.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources touch the high points:
1. Japan has managed to convince North Korea and China that it has a nuclear bomb. Beijing swallowed this line and publicly called on Tokyo to abandon plans to build a breeder reactor and to dispose of its huge stockpile of plutonium.
Japan has indeed stockpiled 46 tons of the radioactive material, including 35 tons stored in the UK and France, as well as 1.5 tons of enriched uranium.
The experts say Japan has enough raw plutonium to build a bomb at just four-to-six months notice from the moment of a decision. A senior US official recently confirmed that a six-month production timeline made sense given Japan’s high-quality nuclear engineering infrastructure.
2. Japan is currently reprocessing plutonium from spent nuclear reactor fuel by means of its fast-breeder plutonium reactors.
Assistant US Secretary of State Thomas Countryman asserted on March 31 that such activity had little economic justification and was raising security concerns in Asia. “I would be happy to see all countries get out of the plutonium reprocessing business,” he said at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
That wish is unrealistic, our sources say, when India, Pakistan and both Koreas are working to upgrade their nuclear capabilities.
3. The consensus taking shape in both Tokyo and Seoul is that the policy of relying on the US nuclear umbrella is antiquated and no longer meets the exigencies of the nuclear arms race overtaking the region. The time has come, therefore, to turn to independent nuclear deterrents.
This sentiment was voiced last week by Won Yoo-cheol, floor leader of the ruling Saenuri party in South Korea’s National Assembly: “We cannot borrow an umbrella from a neighbor every time it rains. We need to have a raincoat and wear it ourselves,” he said in a speech.
4. The Obama administration tried and failed to convince India to halt its construction of a top-secret complex for producing thermonuclear weapons. The Americans were also unsuccessful in persuading Pakistan to halt or scale down its development of nuclear weapon delivery systems, such as cruise missiles and close-range missiles, to supplement its ballistic missile arsenal.

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