Japan's government is saying it is legal for it to possess nuclear weapons. But it is reiterating its long-held stance that it will not violate its non-nuclear principles.
Japan's Cabinet on Tuesday issued a position paper stating that there are no legal barriers to the country having nuclear weapons.
The paper was released after an independent lawmaker had demanded that the government clarify the legal background on the issue.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Tomohiko Taniguchi says the position paper addresses the once-taboo issue purely from a legal standpoint.
"Japan's government, as a state, is entitled to possess a minimum capacity of nuclear weaponry, legally speaking," he explained. "But that legal position has been countered by many institutionalized elements."
Those elements include Japan's basic nuclear law and its ratification of the nuclear test ban treaty.
Since North Korea launched test missiles in July and conducted its first nuclear detonation last month, conservative politicians here have encouraged public debate on whether Japan should have a nuclear defense capability.
The issue had been largely taboo since 1945 when Japan surrendered in World War II after the United States dropped atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States has long vowed to protect Japan, a leading ally, with its nuclear arsenal.
Japan for decades has followed what it calls its "three non-nuclear principles." They ban the possession, production and import of nuclear arms.