Monday, July 10, 2006

Examining the Options

Deeply concerned over last week's North Korean missile tests, the Japanese government is reportedly studying its own constitution, to determine if a pre-emptive strike against Pyongyang's missile sites would violate Japanese law, which bars the use of force in settling international disuptes.

Rattled by North Korea's recent launch of seven missiles, several Japanese officials have openly discussed measures for improving the nation's defense, including creation of a legal framework that would allow pre-emptive attacks against DPRK missile facilities. As Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe recently observed:

"If we accept that there is no other option to prevent an attack ... there is the view that attacking the launch base of the guided missiles is within the constitutional right of self-defense. We need to deepen discussion," he observed.

Obviously, such talk will generate renewed concern among Japan's neighbors, who suffered greatly at the hands of Tokyo's military forces during World War II. But such fears are exaggerated, at the very least. The Japan of today bears no resemblance to the militaristic society of the 1930s and 40s. Japan's post-war constitution, partially drafted by General Douglas MacArthur's JAG staff, contains strict limitations on the nation's military, including the prohibition on offensive attacks.

These legal measures, coupled with Japan's own war experiences, have created a strong pacifist streak within Japanese society that is reflected in its military. Tokyo has mounted only one troop deployment since World War II, a small, support mission to Iraq that will end in the coming months. The deployment was largely unpopular with segments of the Japanese public, which viewed it as inconsistent with the post-war constitution. Japanese military units are referred to as "self-defense" forces, and their equipment and doctrine reflects a true defensive orientation. Development of even a modest offensive capability would require several years, an investment of billions of dollars--and convincing the Japanese public to support such a plan.

Still, Japan's mere willingness to examine potential "offensive options" underscores Tokyo's growing frustration with the North Korean missile tests, and a perceived lack of support from its neighbors in the region. China and Russia are unwilling to back draft UN resolutions on the missile issue, and South Korea (in a nod to domestic politics) has accused Tokyo of inflaming the situation.

That, of course, leaves the U.S. in a difficult position. The Bush Administration has been trying to develop a regional consensus on the issue, and Tokyo's support has been both valued and welcome. But increasingly, the U.S. and Japan find themselves isolated on the issue, with little tangible support from Moscow, Beijing or Seoul. If North Korea continues its missile and WMD programs, Japan has every right to expand its military forces and consider potential offensive options--a prospect that will clearly infuriate the Chinese, South Koreans and Russians. In that scenario, what would President Bush (or more likely, his successor) do? Undermine a critical alliance with Japan, or risk antagonizing key trading partners in the region?

While Japan weighs its military options for the future, the missile episode has (if nothing else) provided a dramatic wake-up call for Tokyo. Facing a growing missile threat from North Korea (and China's own, massive military build-up), Japan has come to the sobering realization that it lives in an increasingly dangerous part of the world, and responsibility for its defense begins not in Washington, but in Tokyo. The Chinese, Russians and South Koreans won't be happy, but Japan (and the U.S.) will be more secure if Tokyo improves its military capabilites to deal with regional threats.


Mrs. Davis said...

Japan is not a key trading partner in the region? China may be about to find out how easily low cost labor can be replaced. If it reacts too negatively to Japanese rearmament it starts to look like the high risk area. If the investment slows doen, China's got a domestic problem, too.

Mrs. Davis said...

And the UN might want to ask itself, "What do the US and Japan have in common?" They each contribute one quarter of the UN budget.

CatoRenasci said...

I am not as sanguine as you seem to be about Japanese rearmament. While Japan's national interests and ours are currently congruent in the Korean peninsula, and in much of East Asia generally, there is no guarantee our interests will not diverge in the future.

Further, I don't think a generation or even two of post-WWII pacificism has so transformed the Japanese mind that one should not be at least concerned about resurgent militarism in Japan. The Chinese are under no illusions about Japanese ruthlessness based on their experiences before 1945, we should not be under any illusions either.

The downsides of our doing most of the defense in Asia and Europe are (1) cost and (2) ungrateful clients. The upside is we make the key decisions.

The upsides of our 'allies' in Asia and Europe signficantly increasing their own defense capabilities are (1) short run reduced cost and (2) perhaps more realistic allies. The downsides are (1) we don't always make the major decisions - which means they may not go our way - and (2) our erstwhile allies may become dangerous adversaries should our interests diverge, in which case we'd have to spend more to defend ourselves than we are even now.

Bottom line I'd rather the US be in control.

Unknown said...

I believe we can still be the dominant voice, because (a) we will remain the dominant military power, and (b) we control the technology that Japan needs to expand its military arsenal.

Additionally, I believe that Japan has changed fundamentally since WWII. In 1945, there were genuine doubts as to whether democracy would work in Japan. The past 50 years has removed those doubts, IMO.

As for China, there is no doubt that nation suffered horribly at the hands of the Japanese. But the Chinese people have suffered even more at the hands of the communists; the bloodbath of the Cultural Revolution makes the Rape of Nanking look almost tame by comparison.

Looking past the NK problem, China will be the dominant threat in the region. We could certainly use partners that will work with us in providing a hedge against China's growing military power. Taiwan is nothing more than a tripwire, and post-reunification Korea will be focused inward, trying to absorb the staggering cost of rebuilding the former North Korea. Russia is unreliable, so that leaves Japan.

A stronger U.S.-Japanese military alliance makes a great deal of sense, for at least the next 20-40 years, IMO, at least until we have permanent regime change in the PRC.

Epaminondas said...

I am not terribly worried about Japan and the future if they decide to rearm.

There - we have too much in common, and only a change of government form there can disturb that.

In fact I wish they would start talking about the FACT that given the current lack of Chinese firmness regarding NK and nukes, there is a cae to be made for Japan having it's own modest strategic deterrent.

Nations like China and russia have decided that rogue states having nuclear weapons is prefereable to either instability via american and UN sanctions or US action. After all, what is the ultimate price to them if 1 or 2 nukes make it to US soil?


Under such a set of circumstances I see no reason not to have them contemplate a scrotum tightening world with Japanese, South Korean, Australian and Taiwanese deterrent forces.

The 'great game' doesn't exist anymore, and China and Russia need to be reminded of this.

CatoRenasci said...

Given the size of our economy, I agree we will remain the senior partner in any alliance with Japan (or Korea or Taiwan for that matter), but given Japanese technical and scientific prowess, I'm not so certain we will remain so technologically dominant if the Japanese turn their efforts seriously to military technology. And, of course, even if we're the senior partner, our position is secure only so long as the partnership lasts - which means as long as our interests remain congruent.

On the point of a fundamental change in the Japanese character, we have to respectfully differ. I've studied Japan and Japanese history with people one would consider seasoned Japan hands - including the great grandson of one of Perry's officers who spoke fluent Japanese and taught for a year at Wasada U - as well as studying Chinese history with Immanuel Hsu. Over the past 20 years, I've also done business in Japan and with the Japanese, representing both Japanese clients and American clients dealing with the Japanese. I like the Japanese and in many ways admire them - but I am under no illusions that the Japanese character remains thoroughly ruthless.

Your point that the Chinese people have suffered from their own more than they did from the Japanese is true, but I would be willing to bet that most Chinese, if they think about it, don't bear the animus towards other Chinese that they do towards the Japanese. It's visceral, in my experience.

On the larger question of the major threat in the Pacific, there is no question China represents out most likely and most dangerous adversary for the forseeable horizon - say the next 20-30 years - and that a close alliance with the Japanese is in our interests, and congruent with Japanese interests, for that same period.

Remember, however, that at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, when China as not yet completely eliminated as a power and Russia was a serious Pacific power with a Far Eastern battle fleet and the ability to reinforce it almost around the world (until Tsushima), Japan was allied more or less closely with England and the US, then the preeminent naval powers. Today's ally may well be tomorrow's adversary.

Making The Wheels Turn said...

About four years ago, a very good friend who has done extensive business in Japan for a very long time, and has all sorts of contacts told me to wait because he said that wtithin 5 years, the DPRK (North Korea) would push Japan's buttons and to pay real attention if (once) Japan started to buildup their "blue water" navy, particularly if it turned into a Cruiser (Light/heavy) force.

He also suggested that Japan was paying great attention to the early developments comming out of the US Navy's Littoral Combat Ship program, and a rapid implementation of this sort of shipbuilding program would be a very good indicator that Japan had finally had enough and didn't trust either China or the ROK to resolve the DPRK issues.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

Japan is on the verge of the world's first population impolosion. Far from being the threat it was in the Thirties it is in grave danger of being able to survive. China, which is as we speak waging information warfare against the United States, is going to be the primary threat to the United States for the next century. Provided we survive that long.

M. Simon said...

I just found out that Japan provides UN Peacekeepers in the Golan.

A Japanese Military angle to the ME war.

I think Israel will be in Syria by Wednesday. Especially now that Iran has offered to support Syria. I believe that is an offer Israel and America can't refuse.

I do not believe Israel will go through the Golan.