It seems to me that, with his conservative national security credentials, Shinzo Abe’s election was a mixed blessing because the prime minister is confronted with a national security challenge made very difficult by China.
This election, and more broadly the challenge from China, come at a time when the domestic politics of Japan’s national security have not been resolved-- whether the Constitution should be revised; whether the right to collective self-defense should be authorized; and to what extent there should be real, meaningful military integration with the United States, which has never been achieved before.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a news conference in Tokyo on Dec. 26 2012 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
Abe is seen in some quarters as radically conservative, and this is a disadvantage for him in relations with China and South Korea. Based on history, Beijing uses Japan’s unresolved security dilemma as a whip or a club to strike Japan as a political weapon. In contrast, South Korea uses history as a “hair shirt,” a constant and unpleasant reminder of Japan’s past aggression. So, the prime minister has a very difficult problem on his hands: how to deal with the history question--and not make it worse--while responding to China’s military build up and aggressive behavior.
At a time when raising the history issue will only make matters worse, the prime minister might consider taking the advice of President Teddy Roosevelt: “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”
Let me be clear--I support additional military capabilities for Japan. However, in the meantime, the prime minister can speak softly on the history issue, but “carry a big stick” by making many necessary military changes that cost relatively little and require few additional ships or airplanes.
For instance, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance are terribly important, both internally to the Self-Defense Forces and externally, between the United States and Japan. These are capabilities that have some cost but are relatively inexpensive, and provide great strategic and operational advantage.
Between military services, and between allies, these are areas of great intimacy, typically resisted because of professional and cultural misgivings. Also, because they represent “thinking” more than “doing,” C4ISR platforms and organizational structures are typically underfunded despite being in constant high demand by military commanders. (C4ISR refers to command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.)
In the alliance, successful integration would bring tremendous strategic and operational benefits. There is no question that we have to get to this point of intimacy, where the United States and Japan can work much more closely together and confidently share the most precious secrets.
I don’t think it is necessary to amend the Japanese Constitution. In terms of security, Japan is doing so much more than the Constitution originally envisioned anyway.
In the last 20 years, Japan has changed many laws and administrative policies regarding national security. This is the reality--the untold story of the transformation of Japanese defense.
In fact, the implications of changing the Constitution are so negative that Japan should do everything possible without changing the Constitution. Revising the Constitution will impose great cost on Japan’s international stature. This is the meaning of “speaking softly.”
The Constitution notwithstanding, I urge the prime minister to consider the strong merits of collective self-defense as necessary for effective alliance solidarity and operational integrity. The time may have come to consider revising Articles 5 and 6 of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security (http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/area/usa/sfa/pdfs/fulltext.pdf).
As for national security politics in Japan, Abe is seen in some quarters as having very radical notions of the history of the 1930s and 1940s. Politically, this only helps with those Japanese who are constituents of the prime minister and who have misinterpreted the history of that period. Everywhere else, throughout Asia and including in the United States, this hurts the prime minister and all of Japan. Insisting on revisionist history is to “speak loudly” and is at best counterproductive.
Of course, these constituents expect the prime minister to support their view, so Abe is in a difficult position. Nevertheless, it is quite obvious that the last thing that any of us should want to do now is to give China a propaganda victory. Of course, China has and will continue to use this reinterpretation of history against Japan, and by proxy, against the United States.
Apart from being blamed by association by China, it is quite clear that the reinterpretation of history also causes a real problem in the United States. Speaking only for myself, and very frankly, it makes me very upset when Japanese historians, pressmen or politicians want to challenge my view of what happened before and during World War II.
My view of prewar history is that Japanese behavior and militarism was completely unacceptable, and that the United States took actions to change Japanese behavior. Washington was faced with the fact that not only was Japan’s behavior in China and Korea outrageous, but that Japanese militarists were intent upon disrupting the strategic balance of power. Rather than bending, Japan became stiffer and stiffer, and finally lashed out in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
December 7, 1941, was as thoughtless as the behavior that preceded it, because the attack on Pearl Harbor--just as the preceding behavior itself--was a disaster for Japan, and there is no way to change that reality.
Did the United States put Japan in a difficult position? Yes, and President Franklin Roosevelt meant to do so. This does not mean, however, that Washington maneuvered Japan into a war or wanted a war with Japan.
This history is incomplete if we do not include postwar events. The story of Japan--and not least its relationship with the United States--is one of forgiveness and redemption. Japan rose from the ashes, and has been welcomed as a contrite and earnest leader of international society.
Despite this marvelous and inspiring achievement, some in Japan continue to say, “We didn’t do anything wrong except lose the war,” or “Our behavior was fine.” Even right-minded neighbors naturally ask, “If Japan did not learn its lesson after so much suffering, then what will happen when Japan becomes ‘normal’ again?” This is precisely why there is so much skepticism in the region about Japan changing its Constitution.
This sort of wrong-headed historical revisionism is a good example of “speaking loudly”--something that does not accomplish much but has a terrible negative cost.
Concerning the current international security environment, my view is that we are in a great peril. There are very strong parallels between the present situation in East Asia and that of Europe exactly 100 years ago, on the eve of the Great War that began the process that virtually swept away European civilization. 1913 was a time when everyone expected war, but almost no one anticipated the immensity of its horrors or outcomes.
I recommend a recent article on these historical parallels that appeared recently on the Foreign Policy Magazine website: “Eve of Disaster--Why 2013 eerily looks like the world of 1913, on the cusp of the Great War,” by Charles Emmerson (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/01/04/why_2013_looks_a_lot_like_1913?page=full).
I always have been convinced that the United States and Japan have many reasons to work together, but because of these present dangers, there is no more compelling reason to do so than the militarized emergence of China. This is why we cannot afford pointless political distractions, or to hand Beijing propaganda opportunities to criticize or make fun of us. Equally important, Japan has to strengthen its ties with South Korea. Because solidarity against China is going to be especially important, Japan will need all the good friends it can get and cannot afford to be isolated.
Regarding alliance relations, I believe that the approach of the United States regarding China has changed over time, but that as concerns grew in Washington, they were shared with Tokyo, and the posture and strategy of the alliance have changed consistent with China’s behavior.
From what I can tell, there is no light between the views of the United States and Japan on China, although we are just starting to respond tangibly. For his part, Prime Minister Abe has proposed a review of the Defense Guidelines, which will be a major step forward.
The United States, at this point, is hoping for the best, in other words hoping that we can find ways to improve relations with China. But at the same time, we “hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”
So, in “hoping for the best,” any American leader would say that we want Japan to have good relations with China. This is as important for us as good Sino-American ties.
It is undeniable that we look for every opportunity to improve relations with China, but at the same time we are taking prudent measures--including military precautions--with regard to China. I admit, and want to clarify, that in no case does taking prudent measures equate to “planning for the worst.” Doing so does, however, recognize that there is a problem and means taking appropriate steps in long range planning and capability development.
This dual approach toward China is quite consistent with our strategic alliance with Japan, which is a front-line state and our key Asian ally.
It is correct and obvious that good relations between Japan and China are key to American Pacific strategy. At the same time, especially because of China’s behavior, the United States is urging Japan to do more in terms of its own defense, alliance solidarity and regional security. This is not because the United States is pushing Japan forward in its place, while Washington improves relations with Beijing. We want Japan to help us stay forward and leverage American power in the Pacific for the purposes of peace and stability.
There are debates in Washington, just as there are debates in Japan--and for that matter in Beijing--about Chinese intentions and capabilities. I think that it is fair to say that no one is quite sure what China has in mind, and that no one is prepared to believe the worst – not least because worst outcomes with China could be very bad, indeed, and it is hard to face that.
With few exceptions, we have not gotten to the point yet where anyone is prepared to believe in worst outcomes. As I said earlier, we are hoping for the best, but we are starting to plan for the worst.
In my view, it is time to take prudent precautions, what I meant by “carrying a big stick.” Prudent precautions would include integrating the Self-Defense Forces, developing new JSDF capabilities and operational doctrines and continuing to integrate the JSDF with U.S. forces. These measures are under way, but they started late, and they are not proceeding quickly enough.
I am a strategic planner, and served in the U.S. Navy, and think about these matters constantly. Normal people, to their credit, don’t like to think about these things or bother themselves with it. But they should want the prime minister to “speak softly but carry a big stick.”
In other words, Prime Minister Abe is going to have to resist the temptation to incite Asian anger and distrust, while using his leadership to make prudent military precautions and build necessary political bridges to friends and allies.
After all, these developments are being driven by Beijing, which has only itself to blame for prudent precautions by Washington and Tokyo.
(This article is based on an interview by Hiroshi Matsubara, AJW staff writer.)
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