Japan from the inside out

A more muscular Japan?

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, August 8, 2007

THE BOSTON GLOBE HAS PUBLISHED AN OP-ED called A More Muscular Japan that combines a discussion of Japan’s growing military strength and the country’s relations with North Korea.

Some newspapers, such as the New York Times, print articles about Japan that seem deliberately malicious. That is not the case with the Globe article. It is largely a collection of superficial, mundane observations obvious to any layman, combined with a dollop of incoherence.

For example:

After decades of North Korean military provocations, Kim Jong Il now has a big problem on his hands, as the Japan of old is transforming into an increasingly more muscular nation, one less hesitant to use force.

Japan is less hesitant to use force? How do we know this? The author doesn’t say, nor does he provide any argument to support this assertion.

Japan did send a contingent of troops to Iraq, but they weren’t involved in combat operations. The Japanese did exchange fire with and damage a North Korean vessel designed for covert operations of some sort five years ago, which ended when the Koreans scuttled their own craft. (For some reason, the Telegraph article linked here did not see fit to mention the missile the North Koreans fired at the Japanese. BBC TV at the time broadcast film of the battle, and ended it abruptly without showing the missile being fired. But I digress.)

And why does Kim Jong-il suddenly have a problem? All he has to do is stop his “decades of military provocations” and his problems disappear. (Which the Japanese sinking of the North Korean ship seems to have achieved.)

Relations between the two countries have long been contentious and mutually distrustful. From Pyongyang’s perspective, Japan’s military alliance with the United States and its history of harsh colonial rule have remained impediments to normal relations. From Tokyo’s perspective, North Korea’s brazen abduction of Japanese nationals during the late 1970s and early 1980s, its repressive authoritarianism, and its flagrant militarism make North Korea a repellent neighbor.

Why should anyone particularly care about Pyeongyang’s perspective? Japan isn’t causing any problems with the North Koreans. The “history of harsh colonial rule” isn’t an impediment to relations with South Korea.

The author has one thing right—it is a repellent country because of its repressive authoritarianism and flagrant militarism. So why should the perspective of a peaceful, free-market democracy be compared to that of the repellent country in a way that suggests they have equal standing or interests?

Unlike China, where the business community acts as a brake on a Japanese hard line, businesses are largely indifferent to relations with North Korea.

Nowhere in the article is support provided for the implicit suggestion that Japan would take a “hard line” against China if the business community weren’t against it. And what form would this hard line take? The article is about a Japan whose military might is growing. Does that mean the author thinks Japan would be rattling sabers in the direction of Beijing? I hope not, as that would be a very tenuous assertion indeed.

The Japanese do chase away the occasional Chinese submarine that tests its territorial waters, but there is no sign of any serious military dispute on the horizon. Japan holds some islands in the East China Sea that China claims, but China would have to initiate military action for the Japanese to even consider taking up arms. The Chinese have indulged in bellicose rhetoric similar to that of Kim Jong-il, but they haven’t fired any missiles in Tokyo’s direction.

Perhaps that’s because the Chinese business community–which is also its political community and military community–acts as a brake on its more irresponsible elements.

…it appears that diplomacy has, at least temporarily, stemmed the tide of nuclear ambitions in North Korea. Yet, the question remains: When and where will this tide rise again? All bets are off, but you can count on one thing: The next time Japan will be walking taller, and it may be carrying a bigger stick.

Help me out here, somebody. The North Korean tide of nuclear ambitions might be stemmed, but the question remains where it will rise again? Just what is this supposed to mean? There is a specific place that nuclear ambitions rise? The North Koreans would threaten to use nuclear weapons somewhere they haven’t already threatened to do so?

Then we get the dire warning, “all bets are off, but you can count on one thing”. If all bets are off, you can’t count on anything, can you? And those are two things the author is counting on, not one.

“The next time Japan will be walking taller”. What is this “next time” supposed to mean? The next time North Korea has nuclear ambitions? But that would mean Pyeongyang hadn’t really given them up, wouldn’t it? And how will these ambitions be manifest? Will they be accompanied by new threats against Japan? If so, why?

And how will Japan be “walking taller”? Will it have amended its Constitution? (That process will take a few years yet, at the minimum–assuming attempts to amend it are successful.)

“You can count on one thing: The next time Japan…may be carrying a bigger stick.” May be? How can we count on something that may happen…or may not happen?

I am astonished that an American newspaper would publish this slapdash recitation of poorly written banalities. Who could have been responsible for it?

Richard J. Samuels is director of the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His book, Securing Japan: Tokyo’s Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia, will be published next week.

This man was able to convince a publisher to bring out a whole book’s worth of this sort of prose? And the title! How is the part before the colon related to the part after the colon? Tokyo’s grand strategy is to secure Japan?

I wonder who would read this to the end—other than the MIT grad students who have it forced on them when they take his courses.

No wonder American policymakers responsible for Japan are wandering around in the dark and bumping into walls.

6 Responses to “A more muscular Japan?”

  1. infimum said

    Who could have been responsible for it?

    You can find more or less likely-minded people here:
    including Jay “I wrote the preface to Ozawa’s book, Nihon Kaizou keikaku” Rockefeller.

  2. ponta said

    Japan’s Emerging Grand Strategy*
    Richard J. Samuels

    China’s current strategic thinking about the region over the coming five
    to ten years assumes that the PRC itself will be stronger and more important,
    that cultivating good ties with the ROK is fundamental to almost all potential
    futures, that avoiding a major break with the United States will remain in
    Beijing’s interest for more than a decade to come, and that the two major wild
    cards are the future actions of both Japan and North Korea.

    Click to access AP3_NEASecRT.pdf

    It might be that the new administration will take measures based on his view.

  3. KokuRyu said

    The articles like the one analyzed in this blog post are pretty depressing, especially when most observers essentially lump Japan in with its East Asian neighbours, instead of pointing out that it is the oldest democracy in the region (South Korea has only really been a democracy since 1992), sharing similar ideals and ambitions with other G7 democracies.

    Although Japan has one of the largest defense budgets in the world, its military does not have an offensive capability. Japan has no bombers. It cannot support an expeditionary force necessary to invade or occupy another country. It has no ballistic missiles or nuclear capability. Japan will not even be eligible to receive the Raptor fighter, and will have to make due for the time being with its aging fleet of interceptors.

    Probably the most controversial new military capability Japan has is its acquisition of the Aegis ballistic missile defense system. But this is a defensive capability deployed in response to what could really be called a clear and present danger, the threat of nuclear attack by North Korea.

    I suppose what people are most concerned about is the movement to change Japan’s Constitution to allow the country to become a “normal” or “regular” country that can resort to war in certain situations.

    Personally, I’m disappointed that the current Japanese government has chosen to do this. Why not continue to renounce war? Japan is already a leader in the fight to combat climate change. Why not be a leader in the effort to promote peace?

  4. MTC said

    Ampontan –

    1) There is no Japanese Navy. The naval force is called the Maritime Self Defense Forces.

    2) The MSDF did not sink the North Korean ship. It was the Japan Coast Guard.

  5. Aceface said

    And JCG did not sink the NK boat.It was self exploded.

  6. […] Here is a list of the 20 most popular English webpages in Japan.- A more muscular Japan?- Just another example of Japanese militarism, Japanese UN peacekeepers may soon be able to use […]

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