Monday, August 18, 2008

The Indian Ocean—Where Hawk and Dove Pass Each Other in the Night

The headline from the 17 August Asahi says it all:
“Extend Refueling” Even If Revote Override Must Be Used, Emphasizes Mr. Yamazaki of the LDP

The Ruling coalition is getting the jitters over the re-extension of the law authorizing counterterrorist refueling operations by the Maritime Self-Defense Force in the Indian Ocean. Pushing the bill through the Lower House is easy, if still time-consuming, but the bill will stall in the Upper House, where the opposition jointly holds a majority will refuse to vote on it. That means that the ruling coalition will have to cool its heels there for an extra sixty days before it can use it Lower House supermajority to enact the extension. That means a long extraordinary Diet session—including an inevitable extension—in the 90-day neighborhood. The Komeito has only reluctantly supported the refueling operations. More importantly, for reasons that I’ll try to explain as part of a bigger Komeito story, it desperately wants to avoid a long Diet. Since the refueling operations are not popular with a majority/plurality of the electorate in the first place, some LDP figures have not been shying away from looking at alternatives that may meet the approval of the DPJ and thus may be able to avoid a Lower House override. So it is surprising to see notable dove Taku Yakamazaki—favorite target of tabloid allegations of sucking up to North Korea and China—standing firm behind the bill. Not so Taro Aso, Secretary-General of the LDP and war-mongering scourge to casual liberal observers of the West, who was spotted thinking out loud in a widely reported comment from a 5 August press briefing:
“If refueling can’t (be allowed) under any circumstances, we have to think something else, such as escorting Japanese transport ships.”

Never mind the international scorn that would befall Japan if JMSDF patrol boats putt-putt by escorting Japanese tankers and cargo ships while all the other participating naval forces are performing non-discriminatory areal operations; it is highly unlikely in the first place that JMSDF forces that can be spared from their normal national security operations would be able to cover anything more than a small fraction of the Japanese ships traversing the Indian Ocean. It would be both symbolically embarrassing and embarrassingly symbolic. Having said that, Mr. Aso’s idea is understandable as partly outreach to Komeito, partly a reflection of a genuine rapport with the junior coalition partner. But it is also a measure of the surprisingly eclectic approach that Mr. Aso takes with regard to hot-button issues on the supposed dove/hawk divide.

In case you’re wondering, I still think that the LDP will be able to coax Komeito into supporting a supermajority revote. But I have little more than my hunch to back me up on this, and few ideas on how the issue will unfold.

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