by Mercedes Trent
Earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said he favored placing conventional intermediate-range missiles in Asia following the demise of the INF treaty. While Secretary Esper did not indicate where the missiles might be deployed, many security experts believe Japan to be the most likely candidate. The tight U.S.-Japan security alliance built from the American Occupation has historically set up Japan as an ideal staging ground for U.S. weapons systems. Though Secretary Esper and most proposals for intermediate-range missiles in Asia refer to conventional weapons, because of their strategic importance, many Japanese are likely to read these proposals as part of a long and politically fractious history of US weapons deployments to Japanese territory that included nuclear weapons.
Japan’s strategic location in the Pacific coupled with the heavy American influence on the emerging democracy made it an attractive option to host U.S. nuclear weapons during the Cold War. U.S. control of Japan’s southern island chain presented a strategic opportunity to forward deploy tactical nuclear weapons into an increasingly volatile Pacific region where war planners anticipated their increased military utility as they planned force postures to respond to the aftermath of the Korean War and the Chinese Civil War.