US to reaffirm nuclear umbrella over Japan
Top officials aim to send message to emboldened North Korea at upcoming meeting
TOKYO -- The top diplomats and defense officials of Japan and the U.S. will meet Thursday to discuss North Korea as Washington seeks to demonstrate its determination to defend its ally by any means necessary, including nuclear weapons if need be.
This will mark the first meeting of the Security Consultative Committee -- also known as the "two plus two" format -- since April 2015 after a planned meeting last month was postponed. The talks in Washington will be attended by Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis representing the U.S.
Affirming the U.S. commitment to extended deterrence will be high on the agenda after North Korea's recent threat to fire missiles over Japan and into waters near the American territory of Guam.
Extended deterrence refers to a pledge to protect allies and retaliate if they are attacked. The U.S. has offered such assurances to Japan and South Korea, among others, promising to defend them even if that means using nuclear weapons -- the so-called nuclear umbrella.
Washington aims to reiterate this commitment at the two-plus-two meeting and convince a seemingly skeptical North Korea that it will not shy away from military action if necessary. A joint statement on the matter will be issued after the talks.
If North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "does anything with respect to Guam or anyplace else that's an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it and he will regret it fast," President Donald Trump declared Friday.
This will not be the first time the topic has been addressed under Trump. A joint statement issued after a February summit stated that "the U.S. commitment to defend Japan through the full range of U.S. military capabilities, both nuclear and conventional, is unwavering." This marked the first appearance of the word "nuclear" in this context in an official Japan-U.S. document in some four decades, according to Japan's Foreign Ministry.
But some have argued that the growing threat from North Korea could make the nuclear umbrella a riskier proposition for the U.S. Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month, and American intelligence officials have concluded that the country has developed a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit on a ballistic missile.
Speculation since the start of Trump's administration that the president could use force against North Korea had been expected by some to serve as a deterrent on its own. But this has proved not to be the case. Trump has so far largely taken the same path as his predecessors on the issue, relying on a recalcitrant China to take action. Deflating Pyongyang's growing confidence will require a change of course.