Japan's Two-Track North Korea Policy in Shambles

Commentary | March 14, 2016

Japan's two-track approach toward North Korea is risky and has failed, writes Jonathan Miller for Al Jazeera. Miller—EWI's Fellow for the China, East Asia and U.S. Program—argues that Japan should instead employ one strict policy on both the issues of their abducted nationals and Pyongyang's controversial nuclear program.

Last week, North Korea delivered another shock to the international community with its release of photographs, through its state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper, claiming that it has perfected the process of miniaturising nuclear warheads to be placed on its ballistic missiles.

If accurate, such claims would effectively provide the North with short to medium-range capabilities to deliver a nuclear strike aimed at either South Korea or Japan. Pyongyang has long maintained the capability to strike Japan conventionally with its missiles, but these new developments would prove to be a game changer—not only for Tokyo but for the region more broadly.

North Korea's somewhat predictable cycle of provocations—underscored by its announcement of miniaturisation, along with its recent nuclear and missile tests—has jolted the United States, South Korea and Japan to look at ways to bolster their deterrent to further aggression from Pyongyang.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Security Council—under heavy pressure from Washington, Seoul and Tokyo—unanimously adopted the toughest set of sanctions against the North in years.

There is also renewed talk of potentially deploying a more sophisticated—and controversial—anti-ballistic missile system to the Korean peninsula to deter Pyongyang from attempting to leverage its technological advances for "nuclear blackmail".

But while the North's isolation—both regional and international—continues, there is another glaring defeat for the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Since his election in late 2012, Abe has stressed the importance of resolving the long-running unresolved saga of kidnapped Japanese nationals brought to North Korea. During the 1970s and 1980s, several Japanese nationals were abducted from coastal areas of Japan and other parts of the world.

As tensions continue to increase on the Korean peninsula, it is time now for Abe to cut his losses and maintain a united front alongside the U.S. and South Korea in deterring the Kim Jong-un regime.

Despite repeated efforts to resolve the matter, Tokyo has been unable to achieve much traction. The closest Japan has come to closure on the matter was the return of five children from the abductees, which followed former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's landmark meeting with Kim Jong-il in 2002.

To read the entire article on Al Jazeera, click here