Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Koizumi: America's Marcos for the 21st Century

In an April 19, 2005 article entitled Japan Emerges as America’s New Deputy Sheriff in the Pacific, the Guardian reports on Japan’s deepening role as America’s key military ally—a development that has been largely ignored by the media in the U.S.:

Japan appears destined to supplant Australia as Washington's "deputy sheriff" in the Asia-Pacific region and become a pillar of America's 21st-century security architecture.

Among other things, the article reports that the command post for the U.S. Army’s 1st Corp., responsible for Asian, Indian Ocean, and Middle East operations, will be moved from the United States to Camp Zama, near Yokohama, Japan. Furthermore, the U.S. has proposed that command operations for the 13th Air Force, in charge of bombing missions as far away as the Middle East, currently on Guam, be moved to Yokata Air Base near Tokyo.

So think of Japan stepping up to take the Qatar role in the North Pacific, hosting the physical infrastructure the U.S. military needs to project power in the region.

Or, finally providing America with the successors to Subic Bay and Clark Field that the U.S. has been seeking so eagerly since being kicked out of the Philippines.

Let’s go to the pundits:

"The basic idea is that the US will gradually withdraw from the Eurasian landmass while assigning the two island nations at the east and west of Eurasia, Japan and Britain, even greater importance as strategic bases to ensure stability in Europe and Asia," Professor Sakamoto writes in the current issue of Japan Echo magazine.

And:

"The ramifications of this would be that Japan would essentially serve as a frontline US command post for the Asia-Pacific and beyond," said Christopher Hughes of Warwick University in a paper published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Not going to make the Chinese happy, as the article points out.

I think the article errs in stating that “escalating tensions” with China are “pressur[ing]” Japan into this alliance. Koizumi started it.

Koizumi made his bed with the Americans by identifying Taiwan as a shared security concern. Now he’s going to have to sleep in it.

It will be interesting to find out if Koizumi was really that eager to stick his finger repeatedly in China’s eye. Maybe he was looking for a dignified FDR and Churchill (well, Blair and Bush) style of partnership and didn’t realize that signing on with Bush would mean getting U.S. bases and doctrine shoved down his throat and massive anti-Japanese demonstrations throughout China.

The U.S. military, of course, realizes that U.S. basing can get pretty unpopular in Japan and perhaps made the callous calculation that, since Koizumi had let the camel’s nose in the tent, they might as well go for as much as they could as fast as they could, in defiance of Chinese or Japanese sensibilities, before Japanese voters give Koizumi the boot.

As the Philippine precedent shows, it’s easier to keep bases out. Once they’re in, it takes a traumatic expression of national will to defy the U.S. and domestic economic interests to get them out. Fomenting this sort of national division will put Koizumi squarely in the Bush camp of leaders who govern polarized nations with thin majorities—a political style the proverbially consensus-loving Japanese may have trouble adjusting to.

The prestige of a permanent Security Council seat might be an empty consolation for Japan, if it means facing the implacable hatred of fellow veto-holder China at every session.

And Koizumi may end up being remembered as the Marcos of the 21st century, America’s despised proxy, instead of the leader of democratic Asia.

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