A WIDER nuclear-arms race could explode in the region if the two Koreas unite - and opt to retain the nuclear capability that North Korea has developed.
Japan will then likely forge its own nuclear deterrent, a new United States congressional study has concluded - a move believed to be within Tokyo's technical capabilities.
This is because Japan may well consider a united Korea even more of a threat than the reclusive Northern regime.
"Any eventual reunification of the Korean Peninsula could further induce Japan to reconsider its nuclear stance," the report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) was quoted as saying.
"If the two Koreas unify while North Korea still holds nuclear weapons and the new state opts to keep a nuclear arsenal, Japan may face a different calculation."
The report, dated Jan 19 and entitled Japan's Nuclear Future: Policy Debate, Prospects And US Interests, cites some Japanese analysts as describing a nuclear-armed unified Korea as "more of a threat than a nuclear- armed North Korea".
With North and South no longer fixated with each other, nationalist sentiments may burgeon outwards: Many Koreans still harbour resentment against Japan over its colonisation of the Korean Peninsula for nearly four decades from 1910.
Hundreds of thousands of Korean women became sex slaves for Japanese soldiers and millions of Koreans entered forced-labour camps.
Currently, Japan is effectively a quasi-nuclear weapons state: "Japan's technological advancement in the nuclear field, combined with its stocks of separated plutonium, have contributed to the conventional wisdom that Japan could produce nuclear weapons in a short period of time," the CRS report said.
The Pyongyang regime staged an underground nuclear test in 2006. Intense efforts to get the North to surrender its nuclear arms have so far been a failure.
Recently, regional tensions have spiked as Pyongyang prepares for what analysts believe is a disguised test of a nuclear-capable, long-distance missile.
Japan and the US have both suggested they may shoot down what the North insists is a peaceful satellite launch.
In a new twist, Pyongyang may even have developed a sea-based missile system that could pose a threat to the US, another CRS report concluded.
It postulates that Pyongyang may have produced missiles patterned on Soviet R-27 submarine-launched ballistic missile technology. North Korea owns several decommissioned Russian submarines - though "it is also possible...that North Korea might attempt to incorporate this launch technology into a merchant ship".
-Korea Herald/Asia News Network