Sunday, March 01, 2009

Some Ozawa Issues Regarding National Security

The hardcopy Yomiuri has been carrying summaries of Ichiro Ozawa’s comments to reporters regarding the Japan-U.S. security relationship. I’ve translated them here:
(Feb. 24)
Q. The bill to authorize the agreement for the transfer of the U.S. troops in Okinawa to Guam is about to be submitted to the Diet…
A. Concerning the realignment of U.S. troops, we should not submissively follow the U.S. by doing as they say, but instead should have our own global strategy; and at least with regard to matters concerning Japan, Japan itself should take on more of a role. If we do that, the U.S. role will diminish. In these days, there is no need for the U.S. to maintain forces on the frontlines. From a military strategy point of view, the Seventh Fleet is here, so that’s enough of a U.S. presence in the Far East. Beyond that, we can deal with matters by Japan playing a solid role in the Far East.

(Feb. 25)
Q. Does that mean that we don’t need the U.S. Air Force in Japan?
A. I’m not saying that we don’t need it; I meant that Japan should first talk to the U.S. regarding global strategies, assume its role, and fulfill its responsibilities even more than it does now. (February 25)

(Feb. 27)
There is no possibility of (the Self-Defense Force) participating in another country’s emergency (response). If there are parts of the role of the U.S. troops in Japan that concern the defense of Japan, if Japan comes to fulfill those roles, the burden on the U.S. troops will decrease. Then, the United States will also be able to lighten the burden of spreading its troops in distant places.
I am not (a member) of the government, so I won’t know until we take the reins of the government and ask (the United States) in detail, but can’t we just do the things that the Self-Defense Force is capable of doing? If the burden on the U.S. is lightened, won’t it be okay if there are fewer U.S. troops in Japan?
Say what you will, Ichiro Ozawa has been remarkably consistent throughout his political career about his emphasis on self-reliance as far as Japan’s national security is concerned. He supports the Japan-U.S. alliance, but he resents the presence of what he sees as an overweening protector and is consequently willing to see Japan’s military take on a greater role in Japan’s defense. In that respect, he is closer to LDP nationalist-conservatives than to Mizuho Fukushima and her socialist minions or even the increasingly pacifist Shizuka Kamei and his PNP kinfolk. But he also insists on a purely defensive role for Japan’s military, refusing to lift a finger to defend Japan’s most important ally the United States. That does not endear him to national security conservatives, be they LDP or DPJ. He also supports the overseas projection of Japanese troops—so far, so good as far as nationalist-conservatives are concerned—but only under the UN flag—not so good. I’ll wager that this also happens to be a position that has something to dissatisfy most people in the DPJ at both ends of its ideological spectrum.

The real problem with Ozawa’s position is that, as the February 25 question from a reporter implied, the day that the Air Self-Defense Force can make do without its U.S. counterparts is a long way off. There is no assurance either that the United States will agree to maintain its nuclear umbrella over Japan in exchange for berthing rights at Yokosuka alone. There’s a plausible argument to be made without having to go to SDP extremes that Japan doesn’t need either, but we aren’t quite there with China, and certainly not with North Korea, as far as the Japanese public is concerned.

This should blow over in the very near future as far as the upcoming Lower House election is concerned though. (Sankei and to a lesser extent Yomiuri will milk it for what it’s worth.) It is unlikely that national security will be a major concern in the upcoming Lower House election. Besides, Ozawa’s opening bid to the United States is essentially let’s talk, so there is no cause for immediate alarm. Nevertheless, staking out a position that is unlikely to gain much traction with the Japanese public—expanding the JSDF—while annoying the Obama administration—on top of likely conflict over U.S. troop realignment—is not a good way to prepare for a takeover.


Janne Morén said...

"Nevertheless, staking out a position that is unlikely to gain much traction with the Japanese public—expanding the JSDF—while annoying the Obama administration—on top of likely conflict over U.S. troop realignment—is not a good way to prepare for a takeover. "

There is the little detail that his position is sensible and cautious, in line with the Japanese constitution, and probably good for both US and Japanese interests over time. Of course, nobody said that being right will make you popular...

Jun Okumura said...

I agree that his statements are 100% constitutional. As for “cautious and sensible” and being “right”, Ozawa will be happy hear you say that, since nobody but his closest associates appears to be willing to defend him. In the meantime, claims are no substitute for facts.

Bryce said...

"nobody but his closest associates appears to be willing to defend him."

Oddly though, his position is more or less in line with public opinion = The SDF should only be used for defense or overseas deployment, not collective defence or "forwarding the national interests". With the exception of perhaps increasing the size of the LDP (a corollary of expanding its international role) this is what the polls say that "the people" want. And this position is actually will probably be quite complementary to Obama's internationalist approach.

Jun Okumura said...

Bryce: In Japanese opinion polls, a majority or plurality has usually opposed assuming collective defense obligations. However, the numbers are fluid and can shift substantially according to how a) the questions are formulated; and b) the Japanese public perceives threats to its own security. My tentative conclusion is that the views of a substantial portion of the Japanese public on collective defense are vague and inchoate and will shift considerably according to the perception of the threats, actual and potential, from North Korea and China, both per se and in the context of the Japan-U.S. bilateral alliance. Thus, it was not Ozawa’s views on collective defense as an abstract concept but its apparent implications that had people alarmed across a wide political spectrum.

Something similar can be said of Ozawa’s activist position on the overseas projection of the Japanese military under the UN flag. I’ll try to elaborate on this and the preceding paragraph in a post of their own that will address the implications for the relationship between an Ozawa administration and the Obama White House. But this is all that I have time for now.

Janne Morén said...

I think I need to "modulate" or "clarify" my statement.

What I hear Ozawa saying is, more or less:

1) if you want a lesser role for US in Japanese defense, it will have to come with a corresponding increase in the Japanese role;

2) if you care about results rather than planting flags, there's more than one way to support foreign engagements. Using your resources to free other nations' resources for such use is as effective as allocating your resources directly;

3) Japan is long overdue to talk openly about all of this before making any decisions, without declaring any subjects out of bounds.

I may misread all of this horribly (quite probable, true), but to the extent that my statements above reflect what he's been saying I don't really see any problem with them. None are factually incorrect as far as I can understand.

Jun Okumura said...

You could not state the implications of his statements any better. However, significant portions of the Japanese public are not ready to face up to one or more of your three points. In any case, he appears to be taking sides on the first two points and is not clear on the third, so it’s not as if he is actually saying those things.

Another way of saying this is that you’re smarter than Ozawa.