Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The LDP Accommodates New Komeitō on Refueling Extension. Will It Try to Go for Two for Two with the DPJ?

The LDP reportedly has acceded to New Komeitō and will seek a one-year extension for the JMSDF refueling activities under the Maritime Interception Operations instead of the two years that it had originally intended. New Komeitō wants to enhance the role of the Diet and the LDP has decided to assuage the New Komeitō, whose leadership is under fire from its rank and file for having been too accommodative of the Abe administration and suffering the consequences at the polls in the July House of Councilors general election. On the other side, Ichiro Ozawa seems to be softening on his push for a (presumably) JDSF role in ISAF, as the DPJ appears to be moving towards a legislative proposal that will focus on reconstruction and development tasks and/or humanitarian efforts, in contrast to the more conflict-oriented security activities.

I suspect that it must be tempting to the soft-sell Fukuda administration to offer to add the eventual DPJ proposal to its own package. I doubt that the DPJ would accept it, given Mr. Ozawa's uncompromising stand on the unconstitutionality of the refueling activities. But it would make great political theater and help the LDP cast itself as the more reasonable and responsible of the two. The LDP would also hope that this would reopen internal fissures that the DPJ will have papered over with its proposal.

Whether it would work in practice is another matter. Japan already does provide considerable development assistance to Afghanistan through JICA, which has a good number of shoes on the ground as technical and engineering experts. There are also a number of Japanese NGOs active there. These brave men and women reportedly have been free from harm so far. Thus, it seems at first glance that, if we could find the right people - the money should not be a problem - we could repackage and expand these activities under the ISAF brand.

However, placing Japanese activities under the ISAF umbrella carries the risk of bringing Japan under the suspicion of insurgents and terrorists as enemy combatants. And this is not Samawa. At a minimum, it would carry added security risks that require protection that the other ISAF participants will be loathe to provide. Moreover, reconstruction and development activities are a terrible fit in a piece of extraordinary legislation that nominally expires in a year.

This does not mean that the Fukuda administration should reject such an idea altogether. It could push it as a new and improved, reconstruction and development package of mid- to long-term assistance with more substantive but still civilian presence as the development, attacking-the-roots side of our efforts to bring peace and prosperity to the region, or something of the sort. Human resource constraints will put a practical limit on the speed and extent of its implementation. There are only so many qualified and competent Japanese who will be willing to go and work under prevailing conditions. Still, with judicious use of non-Japanese actors, the Japanese government actually might be able to do something useful that does not increase the risks to the individuals already engaged in our activities there. And, back home, it could still be sold politically as constructive engagement with the opposition.

ADD: I don't believe in synchronicity (actually, he put his post up much earlier), but it looks like Tobias Harris and I have similar takes on the situation. I note that he has more on the domestic political background, though I'm sure that everyone reading this also goes to the Japan Observer and everyone is already aware of the fact. The main difference seems to be my own skepticism about forcing ourselves on the other ISAF participants. Under current political and practical constraints, Japanese activities should maintain a certain distance from ISAF, even if that limits their scope.

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