Saturday, September 04, 2010

Japan: Testing the waters to see exactly how much belligerence Japan’s pacifist public is ready to take

Two mock-soldiers in front of JSDF Base, Naha, Japan

A report drafted by the government-nominated ‘advisory council on security and defense capabilities’ envisions a bit of a change in the nature and quality of Tokyo’s military policies and posture, Axel Berkofsky comments for ISN Security Watch.

By Axel Berkofsky for ISN Security Watch

It is not the first time that a panel made up of private government-nominated Japanese citizens (this time headed by Keihan Electric Railway chief executive Shigetaka Sato, someone not exactly known for his expertise in defense and security matters) has sought to shoot down Japan’s constitutionally prescribed pacifism.

Similar reports have been drafted in the past, and given the radical nature of the proposals featuring in the August report, one cannot avoid the suspicion that Tokyo again charged others with saying what itself is afraid to. It would seem that Tokyo is testing the waters to see exactly how much belligerence Japan’s pacifist public is ready to take in employing a group of ‘useful idiots.’

The report, intended to serve as the basis for the revision of Japan’s current so-called National Defense Program Guidelines (described by the report as “no longer efficient and a thing of the past”) is suggesting that Japan get rid of the very fundamentals of its defense-oriented military and defense policies.

The report’s self-declared experts urge Tokyo to revise its decade-old self-imposed rule allowing the country to maintain only minimum defense and military capabilities as opposed to maintaining capabilities able to project regional military power.

Japan, the authors recommend, should not only continue to invest into jointly developing a regional missile defense system with the US, but also consider equipping itself with offensive ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets outside of Japan (read: North Korea and even China).

Additional navy power projection capabilities (such as minesweeping and anti-submarine warfare) are needed, due to the rapid development of Chinese submarine capabilities and Beijing’s ambitions to build aircraft carriers, the report says.

And there is more of how the council hopes to turn Japan from officially pacifist, equipped with a war-renouncing constitution (and an Article 9 not allowing Tokyo to maintain its armed forces worth $42 billion), to (at least potentially) belligerent.

The draft report calls for a revision of Japan’s three ‘Non-Nuclear Principles’, adopted by the Japanese parliament in 1971. The principles ban Japan from possessing, manufacturing and introducing nuclear weapons into Japan.

The report finds that banning Washington a priori from transporting nuclear arms through Japanese territory is “not necessarily wise,” not least because it has happened in the past at any rate. Authorized by the US-Japan ‘secret agreements,’ US Navy ships equipped with nuclear weapons called on Japanese ports on numerous occasions since the late 1960s, a fact that was (again) leaked to the Japanese press last December.

Three months later, a Foreign Ministry panel nominated by then-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama panel predictably ‘discovered’ what Japanese governments had known (and staunchly denied) for decades: There indeed existed three ‘not-so-secret’ US-Japan agreements: One to allow US naval vessels to carry nuclear weapons into Japanese ports, another one to permit the US military to use bases in Japan without prior consultation in the event of war on the Korean Peninsula, and a third to allow US nuclear weapons into Okinawa in “times of emergency.”

And the council’s wish-list goes on: It calls for a “relaxation” (read: abolishment) of Japan’s ban on exporting weapons and weapons technology dating back to the 1960s.
Lifting the ban, the council says, would finally allow Japanese companies to take part in global development, production and most importantly the sale of military equipment.

Nippon Keidanren, Japan’s largest business lobby, has for years requested the ban be scrapped. And indeed, it was de-facto scrapped (at least partly) back in 2004. Then, Mitsubishi and Kawasaki Heavy Industries were allowed to cooperate with US defense contractors selling nose cones, motors and other components for the sea-based part of the envisioned US-Japan missile defense system.

This could be bad news for Japan’s concerned neighbors, in general, and regional military bully-in-chief and wannabe-nuclear-power North Korea, in particular.

The decisively good news is that Tokyo will not take any of the council’s radical suggestions onboard, meaning that Japan is not on the brink of going nuclear, revising its self-imposed ban to export weapons, or clash with the Chinese navy and bomb North Korean missile and nuclear sites with ballistic missiles any time soon.

Instead, Prime Minister Kan plans to embed Japan’s non-nuclear principles into a legal framework, leaving the dreaming up of Japan as a great military power to parts of the defense establishment and other local hotheads.

Professor Axel Berkofsky is Gianni Mazzocchi Fellow at the University of Pavia, Italy and Senior Associate Research Fellow at the Milan-based Istituto per Gli Studi di Politica Internazionale (ISPI).

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not the International Relations and Security Network (ISN).