Abstract: Throughout the Cold War, Japanese leaders and policymakers have generally been careful to reflect the public’s firm opposition to anti-nuclear sentiment. However, the turn of the 21st century has witnessed a remarkable shift in the political debate, with élites alluding to a nuclear option for Japan. This sudden proliferation of nuclear statements among Japanese élites in 2002 has been directly linked by Japan watchers to the breakout of the second North Korean nuclear crisis and the rapid buildup of China’s military capabilities. Is the Japanese perception of this double military threat in Northeast Asia really the main factor that triggered this shift in the nuclear debate? This paper argues that Japanese élites’ behavior rather indicates that the new threats in the regional strategic context is merely used as a pretext to solve a more deep-rooted and long-standing anxiety that stems from Japan’s own unsuccessful quest for a less reactive, and more proactive post-Cold War identity.
About the speaker: Sayuri Romei is a Nuclear Security Predoctoral Fellow at CISAC for 2016-2017 and a doctoral candidate in international relations at Roma Tre University in Rome, Italy. Her dissertation focuses on the evolution of Japanese élites’ nuclear mentality in the postwar era, looking at its ambivalent nuclear history and exploring how the country’s nuclear latency was seen by the United States throughout the Cold War. She holds a BA in English Language and Literature from the University of Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris III, a BA in international relations from the University of Roma La Sapienza, and an MA in international relations from Roma Tre University. Her fellowship at CISAC is sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation.