Saturday, September 19, 2015

Rising Sun, Setting Sun: Japan, the United States, and the Security Laws




The passage of the collective self defense bills-- enabling Japanese participation in military activities beyond its home territory under restrictions that appear to be rather elastic--

In case Japan faces “a survival-threatening situation,” in which the United States and other countries that have close ties with the nation come under an armed attack by a third country and that poses a threat to the existence of Japan and the livelihoods of Japanese people, Japan now can use minimum necessary force.

--had a feeling of inevitability to me.

They give more freedom of movement to the Japanese government in its security policy, more leverage in its foreign relations, and more gravy to the corporate sector.  These are opportunities that most modern governments, especially a right-wing government like Abe’s, would be eager to exploit.

And I think it’s accurate to describe them as a “normalization” of Japan’s international status, especially if “the norm” is understood to be a downgrade from the Japan’s previous condition, in other words a decline from the idealistic, pacifist aspirations of Japan’s US-imposed constitution to ordinary government-business-and-media driven war-grubbing.

The Japanese people as a whole appear to be more at home with these aspirations—which they grew up with—than the Abe ambition to restore Japan as a regional security player despite the risk it poses to Japanese lives, treasure, and honor.

Abe had to abandon his plans to revise the constitution to make “collective self defense” legal, and ignore the fact that an overwhelming majority of constitutional lawyers regarded his Plan B—“reinterpretation” of Article 9—as BS.  Then he had to turn his back on massive demonstration against the bills to push them through the legislature.

It was ugly.  And Japan’s somewhat less special now.

The temptation is to blame rising, scary China and the PRC’s messing with the Senkakus.

However, Abe’s been pushing an anti-PRC containment “diamond” ever since his first administration in 2007, when the PRC was not yet officially “scary”.

Abe has always wanted his “normalized” “remilitarized” “no more apologies” Japan and he got it…with an assist from the United States.

The United States under President Obama decided to take the plunge and openly commit to a China containment strategy keystoned on Japanese participation.

Even as many Asian nations—not just the PRC—expressed ambivalence over the re-emergence of Japan as a potential regional military force—US strategists have enthusiastically promoted the process, doing their best to dismiss popular opposition, the violence done to the constitution, and to the grotesquely counterproductive effort to force the Futenma base plan down the throats of the Okinawans.

The feeling, I suppose, is that all this shall pass—or can be managed—and we’ll have a capable, willing ally ready to help us execute our China strategy and toeing the US line thanks to the  restraints imposed by the constitution and the security legislation.

US Asian-natsec strategists are, I believe, delusional. 

I predict we’re not going to get Japan as our “UK in the Pacific” i.e. a slavishly obedient ally that has decided, as a fundamental national principle, to join itself to the hip to the United States in security policy.

We’re going to get something more like our “Israel in the Pacific”, an occasional, contentious, and conditional partner advancing its own agenda, an agenda that may well turn out to be more reckless and confrontational than it would be otherwise thanks to the moral hazard of strong US backing.

A while back I wrote in Asia Times Online:

Japan, the linchpin of the US pivot strategy —  and a source of orgasmic pleasure to US China hawks when it revised its defense guidelines to permit joint military operations in East Asia with the United States — already plays its own hand in Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Myanmar, as well as the Philippines.

Historically inclined readers might note 1) these are all countries that Japan invaded and/or occupied as a matter of national interest in World War II and 2) Japan is run by the spiritual heirs—or in the case of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the direct heirs — of people who ran Japan back then and implemented that policy until the United States defeated them.

When you anoint Japan as a theater-wide anti-PRC military ally, you’re not getting the same ally you had when Japan’s main job was hosting US bases and poking around in its own territorial waters and airspace.

And the ability of the United States to “manage” Japan and “lead” Asia is on a downward trajectory:

[T]he pivot to Asia is, in my mind, fundamentally flawed because it is built upon the premise of US leadership in Asian security, and ‘US leadership’ looks to be a wasting asset.

It’s not just the PRC.  Everybody’s getting bigger, and the US’s relative share is shrinking.


PricewaterhouseCoopers took the IMF’s 2014 GDP numbers and worked the spreadsheet magic using projected growth rates.


In 2050, here’s how they see the GDP horserace playing out, in trillions: China 61; India 42; USA 41; Indonesia 12; Brazil 9; Mexico 8; Japan 7.9; Russia 7.5; Nigeria 7.3 and Germany 6.3. Poodlicious Euro-allies UK, Italy, and France will be out of the top ten in 2050.  Australia drops from 19th place to 28th.

Put it another way, the US will have 14 percent of the world’s GDP and Asia, the region we’re purporting to lead, will have 50 percent.

America’s Pacific Century…is not going to be pushing around overmatched, grateful, and anxious allies like the UK, Poland, and Germany while trampling on small borderline failed states in the Middle East.  It’s going to be contending with half a dozen rising Asian nations, all with experiences of empire and aspirations to at least local hegemony…and on top of them, there’s China.

I think Asia is robust enough to accommodate and restrain the ambitions of the PRC…and resist US attempts to “lead” it.

Ditto for Japan.

I wouldn’t be surprised if historians look back at the passage of the Japanese security bills and regard them as a milestone in the decline of American influence in Asia…one that was eagerly and shortsightedly celebrated by US strategists at the time.

Maybe we’ll be saying September 19, 2015 didn't just mark the end of Japanese pacifism. We’ll say that the sun began to set on America’s Pacific Century…before it even had a chance to rise.



25 comments:

Xinxi said...

With a massive negative population growth, Japan doesn't scare her neighbors, does she? And actually everybody in East Asia has the same problems. The main difference being that China, Japan, and Korea don't have to cope with massive immigr..., eh, numbers of asylum applications. Greying societies don't wage wares. Just look at Germany.

Jack z said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
De-li Wei said...

Actually Peter, what the US will be getting is a Japan in the Pacific. ;-)>

Japan is at a juncture that as you say was inevitable in so many ways. Among my friends in Japan, most of whom I meet at university in the States I'm sure they will view this negatively. Most are completely sold on the US led narrative while oblivious to the dislike and hatred of their neighbours. A few -- an ex-Defense Force member among them will welcome this but not because they are eager to play a role in the US schemes. They want a normal and fully sovereign nation. If like minded people led then Japan would have a very robust defense but de-coupled from US "leadership."

Currently Japan is terribly exposed and endangered by its association with the fading power of the US. And it is not a vigorous nation at all anymore like Taiwan. So it will likely never aspire to either the idealism imposed nor the true sovereignty. But a certain game must be played so that the Japanese can maintain their dignity. Shoving base deals down their throats is one way to alienate the nation.

Japan, like Taiwan, needs a neutrality pact and to come to terms with a sometime officially, and culturally always well-trained to be, hostile China. That would be the best way forward for all involved.

Wei De-li

Robert Lee said...

Great, now the PRC will have ample opportunity to test their DF21D, DF26 ASBMs and other anti-ship missiles.

Don Bacon said...

No, not Japan as "UK in the Pacific," rather think of it as "Australia North" -- a country to be used and abused for US strategic and economic purposes. In fact we now have a trilateral axis in the western Pacific, US/Japan/Australia with one of its first "do what I say" obedience lessons, and that is for Australia to procure a Japanese submarine despite the fact that some European models might be superior.

So no, Japan won't become more reckless, it will become more a slave to US (declining) fortunes.

(The possible fly in the ointment of this construction is that the new Australia PM Turnbull is reportedly a Sinophile -- how much damage might that do?

Nanson Hwa said...

The overall sentiment of East Asian peoples seem to one admiration for Western industry, science and technology but Western leadership is faltering since the impression is US political leaders care more about the welfare of corporate America and special interest groups than the American people when we examine student debt and the shrinking middle class and the record income for the top two percent of the US population.

chios said...

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D. George said...

In 1968, an American filmmaker predicted events of 2001: A Space Odyssey. How wrong he was. Do you think PWC's prediction for 35 years down the line will do any better?

Arius said...

The US is inflated by an immense power drive. It doesn't care about the future peace and prosperity of the world except that it is the top dog.

This tells me that the US is willing to sacrifice many more millions of lives to hold onto its position.

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chios said...

Ending hour-long joint news conference, Pres Obama and Xi shake hands. Obama walks Xi to his car. A limo, not a Fiat.

What, no rickshaw? I tweeted in reply.


"...JUST refflecting the sky's tinge,
and heard the five score nightingales aimlessly songing...."

somethng that comes out of the translations of ancient poems by Ezra pound.

"China "in the age of xi"!!!!!!











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