Meanwhile in Japan…

 

1072px-Flag_of_JSDF.svgFrom today’s New York Times, the world continues to be… interesting:

TOKYO — The lower house of Japan’s Parliament passed legislation on Thursday that would give the country’s military limited powers to fight in foreign conflicts. […] The bills represent a break from the strictly defensive stance maintained by Japan in the decades since the war, under which it would fight only if directly attacked. Critics, including a majority of Japanese constitutional specialists, say the legislation violates the country’s postwar charter, which renounces war.

More:

[Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe has spent considerable political capital pushing the bills through. Voters oppose them by a ratio of roughly two to one, according to numerous surveys, and the government’s once-high support ratings fell to around 40 percent in several polls taken this month.

Mr. Abe has presented the package as an unavoidable response to new threats facing Japan, in particular the growing military power of China. He seized on the murder of two Japanese hostages by the Islamic State militant group in January as an example of why Japan needs to loosen restrictions on its military, suggesting that the military might have rescued them had it been free to act.

I’m a little torn on this. On the one hand, Japan is an enormous power whose strategic interests are largely in sync with our own. In much the same way that many of us — self included — are frustrated by Europe’s reliance on the United States for protection and would like to see NATO turn into something closer to an actual alliance than a protectorate, the same could be said of Japan. If you like the Pax Americana, be willing to fight for it.

On the other hand, as our own Victor Davis Hanson has pointed out, it’s impossible to discount the importance that Germany and Japan’s abandonment of martial life has played in the relative peace of the past 70 years. Moreover, Japan’s continuing refusal to speak plainly and honestly about the atrocities its army conducted — which really did give the Nazis a run for their money — makes it all the more worrisome. I don’t exactly think we’re on the verge of another Rape of Nanking, but I can hardly blame the Chinese or Koreans for being concerned.

(Side note: Have we been complicit in this, albeit for our own, likely PC, reasons? There may well be an exception or two I don’t know about, but the Imperial Japanese military are more likely to be portrayed in American popular media as reluctant but honorbound — think of Toshiro Mifune as Admiral Yamamoto in Tora, Tora, Tora! or Ken Wantanabe as General Kuribayashi in Letters From Iwo Jima — than as the monsters they so often were. Even Colonel Saito from Bridge Over The River Kwai is portrayed more as a desperate brute than anything else. If General Tojo has ever been meaningfully portrayed in American film, it’s escaped my notice).

So, are we seeing the rise of a new, powerful military ally or the early awakenings of a sleeping giant?

Published in Foreign Policy, General
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  1. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Aaron Miller: Is Japanese culture not still today exceptionally ethnocentric; even racist? I have often read that immigrants cannot become Japanese as one might become an American or even a Frenchman. And the population remains 98.5% Japanese ethnically.

    Dirty secret of the modern world is that most of it is incredibly racist. Spend a week traveling through Europe if you doubt this.

    • #31
  2. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Aaron Miller: If this legislation was generally supported by Japanese citizens, I’d say it’s probably a good development.

    It isn’t, if polls can be trusted (see Greek, Scottish pre-referendum polls, though).  However, sometimes, leaders have to lead, rather than just get out in front of the crowd, wherever it may be headed.

    It’ll be interesting to see whether Abe can sell this for the intermediate term, and useful if he can.

    Eric Hines

    • #32
  3. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @IWalton

    The Japanese do not know where this will lead so certainly we cannot.  Many Japanese are afraid of themselves but also want the tools and symbols of full sovereignty.   They are right to be concerned but also to want a larger security role and capacity.  Once headed in a new direction Japanese tend not to stop until they run into a brick wall, several times, several walls.   No people have greater focus nor greater reluctance to change that focus once achieved nor to build greater momentum as a whole people.  They are formidable and they are currently our allies.   Our Pacific presence is complex with every Asian nation welcoming it for their own reasons and insecurities.   The security relationship with Japan isn’t broken but we should not play an important role either inhibiting it nor urging its expansion.  We will adjust as the Japanese expand their security regime, but not our presence nor our role.    The South China Sea is the immediate issue. We must be there sailing about, protecting the lanes, helping resolve disputes, always in force, always peaceful, never in threatening postures or appearing to be encircling China.  That means we should not delegate that role or any part of it.  So far all nations there, I’m told, are comfortable with our presence, used to it  and that’s good but extraordinarily difficult to reestablish were we to lose it. 

    • #33
  4. user_2967 Inactive
    user_2967
    @MatthewGilley

    For anyone interested and with a Lexis password:https://litigation-essentials.lexisnexis.com/webcd/app?action=DocumentDisplay&crawlid=1&doctype=cite&docid=14+Emory+Int'l+L.+Rev.+1681&srctype=smi&srcid=3B15&key=119a982d93c065546d72e8f50114de15

    • #34
  5. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    John Penfold: never in threatening postures or appearing to be encircling China.

    I have no problem encircling the PRC.  They’re a dangerous enemy that needs careful circumscription.

    Eric Hines

    • #35
  6. user_27438 Inactive
    user_27438
    @ForrestCox

    Frank Soto:I’m not remotely concerned about this. Japanese culture doesn’t even resemble it’s 1940′s self. This is a positive development as it acts as a check on future Chinese aggression.

    Good for Japan.

    To believe this is to not understand, at all, the undercurrent of jingoism that still pervades very large parts of Japanese (particularly male) culture and society.  It is to also misunderstand Japan’s unique role as scapegoat for nearly every other regional government’s bad actions vis a vis its own citizenry and vis a vis its neighbors (China is, of course, the best example, and if you think this will cause that country to back down in any way, in any proportion to any Japanese military buildup, ever, then I have a truckload of shares in a toll road in Hokkaido to sell to you).  And it is to also forget that the path from pathogenesis to metastasis can take decades – but once you’ve let disease take root, any number of unexpected events / disruptions can lead to breakthrough.

    No one should be happy about this.  No one.

    • #36
  7. user_27438 Inactive
    user_27438
    @ForrestCox

    Aaron Miller:Is Japanese culture not still today exceptionally ethnocentric; even racist?

    Yes, however it’s far more to do with Japanese men than with Japanese women (a not insubstantial number of whom prefer doing just about everything with non-Japanese men).

    A Japanese military is necessary to counter-balance the Chinese.

    I don’t think this is true.  Furthermore, Japan has a declining, rapidly aging population, unsustainably high levels of debt, falling productivity, chronic loss of faith in public institutions, a capital flight problem and an outward migration problem.  Not sure granting any country in such a state the ability to arm itself – in any capacity, much less to the hilt – is such a good idea…

    And I don’t doubt Stu’s claim that the Japanese have largely lost their martial culture, having been infantilized by affluence like its Western trading partners.

    …Which brings us to the next point, which is that the above just isn’t as true as we’d like it to be – take a look at what’s going on in Osaka, politically, or just try to concentrate while in close proximity to any of the major Asian foreign embassies when the fascists roll by with their megaphones blaring (you can’t believe some of the stuff these dudes shout).

    But we shouldn’t be complacent about the growing strength of a tribal nation that looks on rival peoples with disdain.

    Hear, hear.

    • #37
  8. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @IWalton

    Eric Hines:

    John Penfold: never in threatening postures or appearing to be encircling China.

    I have no problem encircling the PRC. They’re a dangerous enemy that needs careful circumscription.

    Eric Hines

    Well, yes.  If we’re there sailing around in force we’re  on all sides, with good friends who are building ports for us to use, so we don’t have to act or sound belligerent, or make all our relationships explicitly military alliances.  We want to inhibit the Chinese because  we are there, belong there, are part of the landscape, not expanding or threatening.  Just a good solid presence that everyone is used to and welcomes.  That’s what we’ve been and the longer we keep it that way the better we’ll all be.

    • #38
  9. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Paul A. Rahe:

    Valiuth:I think this is all smoke and mirrors. I will care when they triple their military budget and revive their navy. It one thing to say you will go fight, but if you don’t have the weapons to do it it doesn’t make a difference.

    Japan has a very large military already. You have not been following things.

    Really? My wikipedia search on this came up with numbers that don’t seem all that large to me. Roughly 250,000 soldiers, 700 tanks, and a Navy that is basically all destroyers, with some subs. I’m sure their stuff is high end (probably bought from us), but still they aren’t France, heck form what I’ve seen on Wikipedia South Korea is way better prepared.

    • #39
  10. Stu In Tokyo Inactive
    Stu In Tokyo
    @StuInTokyo

    I live about 1 Km from the National HQ of the SDF, let me tell you something about the majority of people who make up the SDF, they are the bottom of the barrel, they are the people who cannot make it in a company setting or even as a public officer working for some local government. The SDF personnel have an earned reputation of being the stupidest members of society. It is a dead end job, but it is secure, you put your time in and you get a steady pay day, you get a pension. My sister in law was married to one of these guys he was an officer too, and he was as dumb as a sack of hammers. We interacted with him and his fellow SDF members on several occasions, myself and my wife came away utterly unimpressed. For sure there are good people in the SDF but if you think they are a “Fighting Force” you are sadly mistaken, they are a bunch of very stupid uneducated public workers running around in green jump suits. Heck they don’t even allow the guards at the gates of the HQ of the SDF to be armed, they carry around long guns without a clip in them.

    Japan is no threat.

    • #40
  11. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    I’ve read the comments–lots of people with lots of clever, relevant facts, but how do we make sense of the contradictions we’re building up?

    Japan is both a large country with a large economy & an aging country (average age over 45?) with really bad, seemingly irreversible demographics.

    It is both a democracy with some form of party government & a deeply undemocratic society with features strange to the European-American examples of society.

    It has benefited from the American invasion, conquest, rule, & constitution-making, but it has thus avoided its awful past.

    The population & politics are pacifist, but there are signs in the culture of a kind of affection for ultra-violence.

    The society has lots of conventions & habits to order people, but is suffering from all sorts of alienation–problems with suicide, lack of marriages & children, & difficulties with even the more natural forms of association.

    The economy has been stagnant for a generation, & yet people neither vote for nor are promised significant change.

    PM Abe seems to want an American alliance in which Japan takes up a serious role as the center of the anti-Chinese alliance, but at the same time he visited the shrine where the war dead are buried–including the monsters who terrorized Asia.

    Finally, everyone in Southeast Asia who is not China can only hope for freedom in a Japanese alliance, & yet no one is as hated in the region as Japan.

    How do we understand these difficulties? What changes are necessary?

    • #41
  12. Snirtler Inactive
    Snirtler
    @Snirtler

    Instugator:The view in East Asia is much, much different. Go to the Phillipines, Thailand, Malaysia, S. Korea and ask who they are more afraid of – the answer, unequivocally is that they fear a resurgent Japan and not a currently belligerent China.

    Shocking, I know – I actually had to look into this because it was unbelievable to me.

    This Pew 2014 survey doesn’t entirely square with your claim above. Do you have better or more recent sources on this subject?

    Pew Asians

    It appears true that Malaysia considers China its best ally, but only a little more than 25% actually think so. In Thailand, less than a third consider China to be the country’s best ally.

    A better picture emerges when we look at other data. There’s plenty of concern about the threat China poses among the countries you cited.

    Pew China threat

    • #42
  13. Snirtler Inactive
    Snirtler
    @Snirtler

    Still on the claim made by Instugator (and Titus), a table showing how favorable views are toward China and Japan (and others) among various Asian countries.

    Pew Asians2

    • #43
  14. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Thanks for the data. Glad to see I’m proved wrong about Japan being widely hated. Of the relevant countries, it seems only Vietnam & the Philippines  prefer Japan to China by a big margin; then again, South Korea is the other way–& they really seem to hate PM Abe…

    Why is not Taiwan on the list?

    • #44
  15. Snirtler Inactive
    Snirtler
    @Snirtler

    Titus Techera:Thanks for the data. Glad to see I’m proved wrong about Japan being widely hated. Of the relevant countries, it seems only Vietnam & the Philippines prefer Japan to China by a big margin; then again, South Korea is the other way–& they really seem to hate PM Abe …

    The countries of east and southeast Asia all have some lingering bitterness toward Japan because of WWII. South Korea is different in that its bitterness goes back further by three decades to the period of Japanese colonialism. There’s a bit more bad history to overcome in the Korean case.

    Why is not Taiwan on the list?

    Good question. Looks like Pew doesn’t include Taiwan in its global attitudes polling.

    • #45
  16. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Korea has reasons to hate the Japanese invaders that go back 500 years. The question is, will they get around those grievances to form an alliance & will Japan look like it’s capable of leading it? If you cannot persuade Korea that Japan will go to war in Korea against China, there is no way this is going to add up, as it seems to me. What do you think?

    • #46
  17. Snirtler Inactive
    Snirtler
    @Snirtler

    Titus Techera:Korea has reasons to hate the Japanese invaders that go back 500 years.

    Heh, fair enough. I did bring up the subject of long memories.

    • #47
  18. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Snirtler:

    Titus Techera:Korea has reasons to hate the Japanese invaders that go back 500 years.

    Heh, fair enough. I did bring up the subject of long memories.

    Well, it’s long memories & long knives–& we’re asking these people to get longer knives. I do think Japan needs to arm, but I am deeply unsatisfied with accounts of Japan as just another peaceful liberal democracy.

    • #48
  19. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Snirtler:

    Instugator:The view in East Asia is much, much different. Go to the Phillipines, Thailand, Malaysia, S. Korea and ask who they are more afraid of – the answer, unequivocally is that they fear a resurgent Japan and not a currently belligerent China.

    Shocking, I know – I actually had to look into this because it was unbelievable to me.

    This Pew 2014 survey doesn’t entirely square with your claim above. Do you have better or more recent sources on this subject?

    No. It was an observation from my more recent visits to Asia.

    But the questions asked by Pew while aren’t the one I mentioned – When you ask people to pick which they fear most, China or Japan, they pick Japan.

    • #49
  20. Stu In Tokyo Inactive
    Stu In Tokyo
    @StuInTokyo

    On a non-governmental level most Koreans and Japanese get along just fine.

    • #50
  21. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    John Penfold:

    Eric Hines:

    John Penfold: never in threatening postures or appearing to be encircling China.

    I have no problem encircling the PRC. They’re a dangerous enemy that needs careful circumscription.

    Eric Hines

    Well, yes. If we’re there sailing around in force we’re on all sides, with good friends who are building ports for us to use, so we don’t have to act or sound belligerent, or make all our relationships explicitly military alliances. We want to inhibit the Chinese because we are there, belong there, are part of the landscape, not expanding or threatening. Just a good solid presence that everyone is used to and welcomes. That’s what we’ve been and the longer we keep it that way the better we’ll all be.

    Such a technique is highly useful, sure.  It’s also wholly ineffective absent a strong military presence, acting and sounding as belligerent as suits us and our allies, without regard to what suits the PRC.

    Eric Hines

    • #51
  22. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Valiuth:

    Paul A. Rahe:

    Valiuth:I think this is all smoke and mirrors. I will care when they triple their military budget and revive their navy. It one thing to say you will go fight, but if you don’t have the weapons to do it it doesn’t make a difference.

    Japan has a very large military already. You have not been following things.

    Really? My wikipedia search on this came up with numbers that don’t seem all that large to me. Roughly 250,000 soldiers, 700 tanks, and a Navy that is basically all destroyers, with some subs. I’m sure their stuff is high end (probably bought from us), but still they aren’t France, heck form what I’ve seen on Wikipedia South Korea is way better prepared.

    Accepting Wikipedia’s numbers as reasonable, who in the area besides the PRC and the RoK (whose forces are occupied at present by a murderous enemy* six air minutes away from Seoul) can challenge that force?  Seems pretty sizable to me.

    Eric Hines

    *It’s entirely possible that northern Korea’s forces are inadequate to the task, excpet for their nukes, and Baby Kim is all hot air.  But were I in the Blue House, I wouldn’t bet my people’s lives on it.  Especially given those nukes.

    • #52
  23. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Titus Techera: Why is not Taiwan on the list?

    Probably because the pollsters don’t want to offend the PRC, the UN, or the US.

    The Republic of China lost its independence when we were complicit in expelling them from the UN Security Council and from the UN in favor of the PRC.  The Chinese since haven’t been helping their cause with their split view of how far they want to press their independence and the reasons for their reluctance.

    Eric Hines

    • #53
  24. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Here’s Mr. Dan Drezner in the washpo, writing about the surprising fact that young South Koreans really like America much better than China. This guy’s the pol.sci guy you might want to read now & again. He’s good & he annoys my conservative opinions…

    • #54
  25. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Tedley

    Tom, I expect it to be a major and positive thing.  To be truthful, the legislation doesn’t include as much as the U.S. really wants, but it’s a big improvement over existing legislative authorities.  It expands what they can do with our military along the spectrum from peace to war, and allows Japan to militarily partner with other nations.  It answers several desires the U.S. government has been voicing for decades.

    Regarding the comments comparing the relative military capabilities of Japan with other nations in the Far East, it’s important to remember that Japan hasn’t been able to procure offensive capabilities due to their constitution.  While their interpretation of their constitution allows them to procure defensive capabilities, offensive capabilities (such as strike weapons) have been proscribed.  However, what Japan lacks in offensive capacity is balanced by what the U.S. has in the region or can deploy quickly–our treaty guarantees that we’ll protect Japan.  One way to do this is to strike threats before they hit Japan, if possible.  And the capabilities they possess are very effective.  Some of them are better than what anyone else in the region has.

    • #55
  26. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Tedley

    Instugator:

    Snirtler:

    Instugator:The view in East Asia is much, much different. Go to the Phillipines, Thailand, Malaysia, S. Korea and ask who they are more afraid of – the answer, unequivocally is that they fear a resurgent Japan and not a currently belligerent China.

    Shocking, I know – I actually had to look into this because it was unbelievable to me.

    This Pew 2014 survey doesn’t entirely square with your claim above. Do you have better or more recent sources on this subject?

    No. It was an observation from my more recent visits to Asia.

    But the questions asked by Pew while aren’t the one I mentioned – When you ask people to pick which they fear most, China or Japan, they pick Japan.

    Instugator, what types of people are you hearing these opinions from (i.e., young/old, business acquaintances/people sitting in bars/college students)?  Japan has provided official development assistance to all of those countries for decades, and continues to do so, which on balance should ameliorate some of the negativity from WWII.  Now, I wouldn’t doubt that individual Koreans would say such things now.  But, if China continues to act as aggressively as it has recently, other Asians won’t continue to think that way.

    • #56
  27. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Tedley

    Titus Techera:Korea has reasons to hate the Japanese invaders that go back 500 years. The question is, will they get around those grievances to form an alliance & will Japan look like it’s capable of leading it? If you cannot persuade Korea that Japan will go to war in Korea against China, there is no way this is going to add up, as it seems to me. What do you think?

    Yes, they have a long history, and Japan was an aggressor in Korea as well as China.  That said, it would be prudent for Japan and the ROK to get beyond the historical issues, if only to be ready for attack by North Korea.  North Korea is a threat to both countries, but many South Koreans don’t perceive the threat from the North (let alone China) like the Japanese and U.S.

    As much as the U.S. government has prompted them over many years to work together to prepare for this threat, it won’t happen with the current ROK president.  The Japanese military has attempted to work with the ROK military, but, from what I’ve heard, most every effort has been closed off by the ROKs due to political concerns.  Just like politicians everywhere else, ROK politicians have resorted to anti-Japanese actions when their popularity was down, while Japanese politicians have said things which fed the anti-Japan fire in the neighboring countries.

    • #57
  28. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Yeah. But ultimately, the alliance means, will Japan fight in Korea against China? If that’s a no, then they must all eventually fall, no?

    • #58
  29. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Tedley

    Titus Techera:How do we understand these difficulties? What changes are necessary?

    Regarding demographics, in the ROK it’s just as bad, and their suicide rate is much higher than that in Japan.  China will be heading down the same path at an even faster rate in 10-15 years, although with over 1.3 billion people, they have a long time before they need to worry much.

    Japan has benefited from the U.S.-Japan alliance, which allowed them to allocate most of their resources to business and welfare.  Now that the U.S. is weakening militarily, Japan is spending more on its military and implementing legislation so as to be prepared to do things they haven’t had to worry about in 70 years.

    The Japanese public is still mostly pacifistic, which is one reason I believe the public doesn’t support the legislation.  I think many probably don’t even understand what Abe is talking about.

    In regards to “what changes are necessary”, I mentioned in a previous reply that since WWII, Japan has provided a lot of development assistance to the countries of Southeast Asia, and built factories there too.  This should help improve their reputation somewhat.  While the memories of WWII will never truly fade, the anger is slowly subsiding, as demonstrated in recent polls.  And so long as China continues to act like a bully to its neighbors, Japan’s reputation will get even better.

    • #59
  30. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Tedley

    Titus Techera:Yeah. But ultimately, the alliance means, will Japan fight in Korea against China? If that’s a no, then they must all eventually fall, no?

    So long as North Korea exists, the scenario you describe is implausible.  Should North Korea fall, I expect South Korean politicians to be realists–they’ll determine how much support they want from Japan based on the threat.  As it currently stands, I don’t perceive that Japan would hesitate to come to South Korea’s aid, but it will depend upon many factors which cannot be predicted in advance.

    • #60
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