Thursday, January 29, 2015

An Excuse to Rearm?

 While leaders around the globe strongly condemned the beheading of the Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa and the threat to do the same to a second Japanese hostage, China’s reaction to the whole crisis was extraordinarily grudging.
While offering pro-forma condolences for the dead hostage, the official press quickly used the crisis as an excuse to pummel their favorite target, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as a war monger.

“The killing is the price that Japan has paid for its support of Washington [war on terror]”, said the China Daily, the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party. It went on to speculate that Abe will eventually use the crisis as an excuse to repeal the country’s pacifistic constitution
The Global Times, a newspaper published by the communist party but aimed at international readers, predicted that the crisis would be a new excuse for Japan to relax the restrictions now imposed on its armed forces. “Abe is more concerned about promoting rightest policies than rescuing hostages.”

Of course, it is hardly news that relations between China and Japan are in the pits these days, or that Beijing holds a special animas for Japan’s prime minister or that everything Tokyo does these days is automatically seen as a march toward “remilitarization.”
Tokyo supports the international coalition against the Islamic State, organized by Washington. It’s most concrete contribution, is a $200 million package of nonmilitary aid for coping with refugees that Abe announced in Cairo during a trip to the Middle East.

The Islamic State promptly latched on to that figure and turned it into a ransom demand that they soon dropped after killing Yukawa and substituted new demands for releasing a convicted terror bomber now in Jordanian custody.
Abe has talked a lot about wanting to raise Japan’ profile in international affairs, yet it would be misleading to say that this effort raised Japan’s profile to a higher level. After all, Tokyo contributed billions of dollars to the coalition formed in 1991 to retake Kuwait and was shocked at how little thanks it got.

So when the second Iraq War came around in 2003, Tokyo was determined to send at least some “boots on the ground” in the form of a construction battalion that operated under severe restrictions to conform with the constitution. Japanese navy oilers also refueled coalition ships supporting the war in Afghanistan.
The latter two actions required special legislation. The Abe government is currently considering a series of new amendments to the Self Defense Forces Act to enable even closer military cooperation between Japan and the United States and possibly other “allies.”

So it is not wrong to speculate on how the hostage crisis, once it is resolved, will impact Japan’s future defense posture. There have, after all,  been plenty of signs that Abe’s government wants to enhance the country’s military, such as has increasing defense spending in a modest way since taking power two years ago.
In July the cabinet issued a statement “re-interpreting” the constitution to allow for “collective defense”, which mainly means working in concert with it main ally, the United States, and potentially other countries with which it has a close relationship.

Even as the hostage crisis unfolded. Japan’s defense minister Gen Nakatani and foreign minister Fumio Kishida were in London discussing closer cooperation on jointly developing new armaments. Tokyo last year relaxed its traditional ban on weapons’ exports.
Before collective defense can go into effect, however, the Japanese parliament has to pass a bunch of new laws and amendments to the Self-Defense Act. This was to have been accomplished in the last session, but the Abe administration pulled the bills rather than have this divisive issue become part of the snap election last month.

The new parliament, elected late last year, went into session this past week, will be called on to pass those laws. Opinion polls have shown the public about equally divided on the issue. There has been no new polling on this issue since the hostage crisis broke out.
The hostage crisis cuts two ways. In one sense it raises long-standing fears among the Japanese public that their country will be dragged into Middle East conflicts as part of American-led coalitions. In that respect, many fear any weakening of the constitution’s prohibition on using force to resolve international disagreements.

The call for collective defense is primarily motivated by perceived growing threats from China and North Korea. China and Japan are involved in a heated dispute over ownership of several islands in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Daioyu in China.
But some of the proposed amendments could impact the Middle East, such as provisions allowing the Japanese navy to sweep mines in the Persian Gulf, for example. Japan is entirely dependent on the region for petroleum imports.

On the other hand, the crisis adds to Japan’s current sense of impotence and helplessness to defend its citizens in danger. It is deeply humiliating to Japan’s leaders that they have essentially had to out-source the handling of the hostage crisis to Jordan.
The same sense of impotence was felt in an earlier hostage crisis that took place in Algeria just one month after Abe took office in December, 2012. Militants took over an oil refinery in a remote part of Algeria. Ten Japanese hostages died when the Algerian Army stormed the site.

The Japanese killed in that incident were not adventurers like Yukata, drawn to danger, but ordinary engineers working on an international infrastructure project in a presumably safe country like thousands of other soldiers for Japan Inc.
The incident shattered the illusion that Japan was largely immune to international terrorism from radical Muslims. Having to depend on the special forces of another country was especially galling. There were no Japanese forces trained in these kinds of operations and no legal grounds for Tokyo to use them even if they existed.

Todd Crowell is the author of The Coming War between China and Japan







Blogger Unknown said...

Are you related to George and Penny Crowell. My husband's commanding officer in California, 1960's, was George Crowell. If so I actually met you once. Your mom brought you over to our apartment.

Mrs. David A Swenson (Donna)

August 3, 2015 at 6:51 AM  

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