By Markus Wauran
There were many controversial statements made by Donald Trump during the United States Presidential Election, making many parties underestimate Trump’s chance to victory towards the White House. One of Trump’s controversial statements was during an exclusive interview with the New York Times on Sunday, 20 March 2016. Trump said if he is elected as US President, he would be open to Japan and South Korea producing their nuclear deterrent. They should not always be depending on the US military to protect themselves from North Korea and China. The US military would not be able to protect Japan and South Korea for a long period of time. He argued that the US cannot always be the policemen of the world.
Trump also asserted that there will be a point where the US could not be able to do all that anymore. North Korea probably has their nuclear arsenal, so he would rather have Japan and South Korea having a nuclear capability too, as we are living in a nuclear world right now.
This controversial statement alarmed the world and received a strong reaction from various sides. President Obama, during the sidelines of Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on Friday, 1 April 2016, stated that, ‘all this time the US involvement in the Asia-Pacific region has been important. Because it is also the safeguard key that maintain the peace between the US and countries in that region up until now. Having US presence is very important to withstand any conflicts between each other.’ Therefore, Obama continued, ‘the person (Donald Trump) who made such comments does not know much about policies, as well as nuclear policy, or the Korean peninsula, or even about the world in general. Japan and South Korea has been considered important as the pillars of US presence in Asia Pacific, as it advantaged the US quite substantially on the trade side, and prevent nuclear escalation and conflict.’
Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fumio Kishida, as quoted by CNN, reacted by expressing his disagreement with Trump’s proposal, saying ‘it is impossible for Japan to build a nuclear capability. Japan is the only country that has experienced a nuclear attack, and if they follow Trump’s proposal, there will be a chance that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki tragedy can happen again.’
Jonathan Cristal, a professor and observer from a think-thank agency, the World Policy Institute in New York, also said that Trump’s proposal is contrary to the government’s commitment to strengthen the alliance with various countries like Japan and South Korea, the two strongest allies in Southeast Asia. Cristal stated that Japan and South Korea will consider various options if true that the US is no longer protecting them. First option, Japan and South Korea will pay a protection fee to the US, similar to the way Estonia contributed 2% of their GDP to NATO for protection. Second option, Japan and South Korea will develop their own nuclear weapon. Cristal concluded his statement by saying if Trump ignored the US alliance in Asia and triggered Japan and South Korea to produce nuclear weapon, there will be a domino effect following to happen to other countries.
Trump’s statements is in fact denying international convention, which regulated in the NPT (Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty) set by the United Nations on 12 June 1968 in New York, and effective from 5 March 1950, and which the US ratified. Basically, the NPT consists of three pillars, namely: first, non-proliferation, i.e. nuclear-weapon states pledge not to add and must reduce as well as revoke/separate their nuclear warheads; second, disarmament, i.e. nuclear weapons eradication which non-nuclear-weapon states pledge not to acquire and manufacture nuclear weapons; third, peaceful use, that is nuclear energy serve only for peaceful purposes. As a matter of fact, the NPT was inspired by President Eisenhower, one of Donald Trump’s predecessors (also from the Republic Party), from his speech in the UN General Assembly session, 18 December 1953, entitled “Atom for Peace”.
Almost all states ratified the NPT except India, Pakistan, and Israel. North Korea ratified the NPT on 20 December 1985 and withdrawn from the treaty on 10 April 2003. On the other hand, after the NPT signing, there are only five states recognized as nuclear-weapon states, namely US, Russia, UK, France, and China.
We can have a different opinion with the above statement from Trump. But as the new US leader, Trump will do his best for the people of the US, to make US great again as promised in his campaign. Trump’s statement is probably due to some of the following. First, US reducing the burden as a country that has been a guarantor of the security of Japan and South Korea if attacked by other countries, and the focus right now came from China and North Korea; Second, renegotiating the terms of payment to be received by the US from having their troops on the ground, as many as 54.000 in Japan and 28.500 in South Korea, in which Japan paid USD 1.6 billion and South Korea USD 866 million annually; Third, creating a balance of power among nuclear-weapon states in East Asia, which is currently being monopolized by China and followed by North Korea; Fourth, if there is a nuclear race, triggered by Japan and South Korea, the US will be very much advantaged as the main supplier, although it would violate the NPT, which the US is one of the signatories. The US weapon industry is allegedly influenced by sympathizers of the Republican Party and many prominent figures from the Party are known to be belligerent. For example when President Nixon, the Vietnam War happened, President Reagan with his Star Wars concept and the bombing of Muammar Kaddafi’s residence, the leader of Libya, President Bush (senior and junior) the Afghanistan War and Iraq War broke out.
Fifth, diverting or creating East Asia as the new crisis region beside the Middle East, whereas the US will be benefited economically, politically, and militarily; sixth, balancing the military/arms advancement of China as well as to counter the aggressiveness of North Korea.
After the statement and announcement of Donald Trump as the winner of the US Presidential election, there is an interesting development that can be analyzed further. The development is the signing of a nuclear agreement/treaty between PM Shinzo Abe from Japan and PM Narendra Modi from India on 11 November 2016, in Tokyo. The content of the agreement/treaty is that for Japan companies to be able to export nuclear technologies to India. We know that the India and China relation has been hostile for a long time, and just recently the dispute and tension over Senkaku Island is also escalated. The Japan-India nuclear agreement gave a strong indication that both countries are on their way to creating an alliance, in parallel with strengthening the longstanding strategic alliances between the US, Japan and South Korea, to counter the expansive behavior of China and the aggressiveness North Korea. To neutralize the agreement and as not to arouse any suspicions based from Trump’s statement, PM Shinzo Abe stated that the agreement constitutes a legal framework to ensure that India is using its nuclear energy responsibly.
After the Donald Trump’s upcoming inauguration as the President of the US in 20 January 2017, it is hoped that Trump’s statement will not become his policy. The role of the UN to reassure Trump to comply with the NPT is very much needed, similarly to Japan and South Korea as member states of the Treaty, to adhere with the NPT and not to produce a nuclear weapon. As we know that Japan and South Korea are very advanced and have their grip on nuclear technology, so it will not be hard for both countries to produce a nuclear weapon.
If Trump remains on his stance and Japan and South Korea implement the idea, it will create a domino effect where other states in the Asia region will not stay idle. They will definitely take measures to keep and defend their sovereignty. There may be an ASEAN state that will extricate itself from the joint commitment of SEANWFZ (South East Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone) Treaty, putting its national interest above all else. On the other hand, China and North Korea will keep on competing to enhance their nuclear capabilities. As a result, the East Asia region, including ASEAN, will be a hot zone and it is not impossible that a Nuclear War may well be started from East Asia.
Markus Wauran was a member of the House of Representatives of Indonesia (DPR/MPR-RI) 1987-1999,and Chairman of Committee X, covering Science and Technology, Environment and National Development Planning (1988-1997).