(Feb. 24)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.
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.
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)
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?
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.