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.
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.
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.
Peter Lee runs the China Matters blog. He writes on the intersection of US policy with Asian and world affairs.
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