"Japan's Self-Defense Defense" by Joseph S. Nye
CAMBRIDGE – Since the end of World War II, Japan has been ruled by an American-written “peace constitution,” Article 9 of which prohibits war and limits Japanese forces to self-defense. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now seeking legislation to enable Japan to reinterpret the constitution to include “collective self-defense,” whereby the country would enhance its security cooperation with other countries, particularly its closest ally, the United States.
Critics view this as a radical departure from seven decades of pacifism. But Abe’s central objectives – improving Japan’s ability to respond to threats that do not amount to armed attack; enabling Japan to participate more effectively in international peacekeeping activities; and redefining measures for self-defense permitted under Article 9 – are actually relatively modest.
Fears that the move would lead to Japanese involvement in distant US wars are similarly overblown. Indeed, the rules have been carefully crafted to prohibit such adventures, while allowing Japan to work more closely with the US on direct threats to Japanese security.
It is not difficult to see why Abe is pursuing broader rights to self-defense. Japan lies in a dangerous region, in which deep-rooted tensions threaten to erupt at any moment.
Given that East Asia, unlike Europe after 1945, never experienced full reconciliation among rivals, or established strong regional institutions, it has been forced to depend on the US-Japan Security Treaty to underpin regional stability. When US President Barack Obama’s administration announced its “rebalancing” toward Asia in 2011, it reaffirmed the 1996 Clinton-Hashimoto Declaration, which cited the US-Japan security alliance as the foundation for stability – a prerequisite for continued economic progress – in Asia.
That declaration served the larger goal of establishing a stable, albeit uneven, triangular relationship among the US, Japan, and China. Subsequent US administrations have upheld this approach, and opinion polls show that it retains broad acceptance in Japan – not least owing to close cooperation on disaster relief following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011.
But Japan remains extremely vulnerable. The most immediate regional threat is North Korea, whose unpredictable dictatorship has invested its meager economic resources in nuclear and missile technology.
A longer-term concern is the rise of China – an economic and demographic powerhouse whose expanding military capacity has enabled it to take an increasingly assertive stance in territorial disputes, including with Japan in the East China Sea. China’s territorial ambitions are also fueling tensions in the South China Sea, where sea-lanes that are vital to Japanese trade are located.
Complicating matters further is the fact that China’s political evolution has failed to keep pace with its economic progress. If the Chinese Communist Party feels threatened by a public frustrated with insufficient political participation and enduring social repression, it could slip into competitive nationalism, upending the already-delicate regional status quo.
Of course, if China becomes aggressive, Asian countries like India and Australia – which are already disturbed by China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea – will join Japan in the effort to offset China’s power. But, as things stand, a strategy of containment would be a mistake. After all, the best way to engender enmity is to treat China as an enemy.
A more effective approach, spearheaded by the US and Japan, would focus on integration, with a hedge against uncertainty. American and Japanese leaders must shape the regional environment in such a way that China has incentives to act responsibly, including by maintaining strong defense capabilities.
Meanwhile, the US and Japan must rethink the structure of their alliance. While the expected revisions to Japan’s defense framework are a positive development, many Japanese still resent the lack of symmetry in the alliance obligations. Others chafe at the burden of US bases, particularly on the island of Okinawa.
A longer-term goal should thus be for the US gradually to transfer its bases to Japanese control, leaving American forces to rotate among them. In fact, some bases – notably, Misawa Air Base north of Tokyo – already fly Japan’s flag, while hosting American units.
But the process must be handled carefully. As China invests in advanced ballistic missiles, the fixed bases on Okinawa become increasingly vulnerable. To avoid the perception that the US decided to turn the bases over to Japan just when their military benefits were diminishing, and to ensure that the move represented America’s recommitment to the alliance, a joint commission would have to be established to manage the transfer.
For Japan, becoming an equal partner in its alliance with the US is essential to securing its regional and global standing. To this end, Abe’s modest step toward collective self-defense is a step in the right direction.
"Abe's Asian Gambit" by Gareth Evans
CANBERRA – With the world producing more history than most of us can consume right now, it is easy to lose sight of recent developments that could have even greater consequences for long-term peace and stability than recent alarming events in eastern Ukraine, Gaza, and Syria-Iraq. The outcome of the nuclear negotiations with Iran, the change of leadership in India and Indonesia – two of the world’s three largest democracies – and the re-energizing of the BRICS group of major non-Western states (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) may all be such game-changers.
But Japan’s international muscle-flexing under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may be even more significant. Unless it is very carefully managed by all concerned, including the United States and Japan’s other closest Asia-Pacific allies, Abe’s makeover of Japanese foreign policy could undermine the fragile power balances that have so far kept the Sino-American rivalry in check.
Japan is right to be concerned about China’s new regional assertiveness, and Abe’s recent diplomatic push to strengthen Japan’s relations in Southeast Asia, and with Australia and India, is understandable in that context. Nor is it inherently unreasonable – despite opposition at home and abroad – for his government to seek to reinterpret Article 9 of Japan’s “peace constitution” to permit wider engagement in collective self-defense operations and military cooperation with allies and partners.
But the risks in all of this must be openly acknowledged. Opposition to any perceived revival of Japanese militarism is hard-wired in Northeast Asia. Abe is an intensely conservative nationalist, still deeply reluctant to accept the extent of Japan’s World War II guilt (even when acknowledging, as he did in Australia recently, “the horrors of the past century’s history” and offering gracious condolences for “the many souls who lost their lives”).
His refusal to rule out future visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, with its war-glorifying Yushukan Museum alongside, fuels hardline skepticism in China. It also makes common cause with South Korea much more difficult, and heightens the risk of maritime territorial disputes becoming explosive.
Less noticed, but possibly more important in the long term, have been Japan’s efforts to reshape regional security arrangements, which for many years have had three key elements. First, there have been the hub-and-spoke alliances of the US with Japan, South Korea, and Australia (and more loosely with Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines). These alliances are accepted and well understood, if not loved, by China.
Second, there are national defense efforts, encouraged by the US, increasingly aimed at greater self-reliance in the event that China’s rise becomes a military threat. This, too, has been accepted reasonably calmly, if not always quietly, by China, and has not undermined the continuing growth in bilateral economic relationships that every country in the region is developing with China.
Finally, there have been multilateral security dialogues – the ASEAN Regional Forum and now the East Asia Summit the most prominent among them – designed to be vehicles for confidence building, and conflict prevention and management. These mechanisms have so far promised more than they have delivered, though not for want of continuing efforts to give them more clout.
For all of the hype that has accompanied the US “pivot” to Asia – announced by President Barack Obama in the Australian Parliament in November 2011 – the delicate balances involved in this basic architecture have changed little for decades. But now Japan, with overt support from Australia in particular, seems determined to change the balance by establishing, as a counterweight to China, a much denser alliance-type relationship with selected partners.
Abe spoke repeatedly in the Australian Parliament earlier this month of Japan’s new “special relationship” with Australia – terminology normally associated only with the strongest of alliance partnerships – and followed his address by signing an agreement for the transfer of defense equipment and technology.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who earlier this year described Japan as both our “best friend in Asia” and a “strong ally,” has warmly embraced the “special relationship” language. He consummated the love-in by expressing his admiration for “the skill and sense of honor” of the Japanese submariners who died attacking Sydney Harbor in 1942, while saying of Japan’s waging of aggressive war and wartime atrocities only that “we disagreed with what they did.”
We have not yet seen any renewed attempt to re-establish the “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue,” comprising Japan, Australia, the US, and India, which conducted joint military exercises in 2007 and was seen by China as a hostile containment enterprise. But it is not hard to imagine that this is still very much on Abe’s wish list.
The dangers should not be exaggerated. But, with strategic competition between the US and China as delicately poised as it is, and with the economic interests of Australia, Japan, and many others in the region bound up just as intensely with China as their security interests are with the US, rocking the boat carries serious risks.
Countries like ours should take a clear stand when China overreaches externally (as it has in the South China Sea with its indefensible “nine-dashed line” asserting historical rights with no known justification in international law). The same applies when China does not behave like a good international citizen on the UN Security Council, or should it commit egregious human-rights violations at home.
But we should be cautious about moving beyond taking stands to taking sides in the region to a greater extent than has been the norm for decades. Kishore Mahbubani has argued recently that we need to recognize that in China, as elsewhere, a significant internal contest between hard- and softer-liners is taking place. To the extent that this is the case, it is smart policy for every state in the region to speak and act in a way that helps the doves and gives no encouragement to the hawks.