Wednesday, February 11, 2015

On ABC NewsRadio, Yes, around the ISIL Murders

Here it is, “the first episode,” I’ve been told.

I’ll have to trust that the producer did not edit it completely out of context, since there are few things that I dislike more than watching/hearing myself talk. My crib sheet, as usual, though it only went loosely scripted.

(1) Japan's past record on paying ransom money, (2) the international pressure Japan faces while negotiating with captors and (3) whether aid spending in the Middle East and the recent reinterpretation of Article 9 in the constitution might provoke IS to capture more Japanese nationals in the future.

(1) There is one occasion on which the Japanese government is known to have paid a ransom to private-sector terrorists. That was in 1977, when it paid a 6 million USD ransom to terrorists who hijacked a plane in Dacca that was carrying142 passengers including the five terrorists and 14 crew members, and also freed six men and women criminally convicted or charged with acts of terrorism. As you can see, the circumstances were very different. Then there are the state-sponsored terrorists—the return of the abductees and their families from North Korea in return for cash. Prime Minister Koizumi didn’t get enough credit for that in my view.

(2) There was no meaningful international pressure at all. Japan stated at the outset that it would not pay ransom money, just as all Western European countries and the United States have always claimed. But all the known Continental European hostages of Islam state have returned safely except one, who is still in ISIL hands, while all the known American and British hostages are dead except one, who is still in ISIL hands. Go figure.

But once ISIL went public with their 200 million USD demand, negotiating over a cash payment became extremely difficult for two reasons. First, backdoor negotiations became problematic. Second and more important, ISIL almost surely made the announcement to send a message, not to cut a deal. I hoped against hope that I was wrong, but subsequent developments bore it out.

(3) On the first point, about aid spending, for two reasons, I don’t think that the risks to Japanese assets have increased noticeably. First, it remains very difficult to strike at targets in Japan for tactical and logistical reasons. Second, attacks on soft Japanese targets overseas are nowhere near as effective for propaganda and recruitment purposes as attacks on similarly soft West European and American targets. That said, the more Japanese aid workers and other personnel there are in the neighborhood, the more likely it is that there will be an attack that impacts Japanese individuals, just from a statistical perspective. On the second point, about collective self-defense, which is the point of the Article 9 reinterpretation, I think that Western liberals and all South Koreans should leave the obsessing to China. But I digress. Now, maybe Mr. Abe wants to put troops on the ground in the Middle East combat zone, maybe he doesn’t. He says that he doesn’t, I don’t think he should, but I’m not worried in any case, because Komeito, the pacifist coalition partner, will make sure that it won’t happen. So, until Mr. Abe changes his mind and Komeito turns nuts, ISIL will have more important things to worry about than Japanese troops on the ground there. 

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