Thursday, October 04, 2007

Will the DPJ Push Mr. Ozawa's Legal Argument and Normal Country Inclinations to Their Ultimate Conclusion?

There is no difference of opinion between the LDP and the DPJ over the basic legal prerequisites for Japanese involvement in military operations in and around Afghanistan. Both parties believe that such operations must be authorized by UNSG resolutions. However, the two parties differ when it comes to the specific application of this legal principle. The LDP is of the view that both a) the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and its activities and b) what the US named Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF; actually, OEF in Afghanistan in this post, as commonly accepted) and its participants have received such authorization, while the DPF asserts that only ISAF has done so. So, as far as the Constitution is concerned, the LDP position is that the Japanese Self-Defense Forces may engage in both activities, while the DPJ, with the victorious Ichiro Ozawa imposing his will on internal dissidents, allows to participation in ISAF only.

As a practical matter though, the LDP deems ISAF operations too dangerous and therefore has limited Japanese presence to OEF, where the JMSDF is undertaking the relatively safe, refueling operations on the open seas. On the other hand, the DPJ, prodded by Mr. Ozawa's openness to Japanese participation in ISAF - Mr. Ozawa has in the past shown a strong-pro US streak, and was the original proponent of "normal country" status for Japan, a concept that is more often associated with hawkish LDP politicians - is considering the matter, albeit with reluctance in many quarters. (Former party leader Seiji Maehara is one name that springs immediately to mind.) Thus, we have the intriguing situation where the LDP for practical reasons is limiting Japanese participation to modest proportions, while the DPJ is considering accepting the conclusions of its legal position (which has some force, if not quite a slam-dunk argument) and leapfrogging the LDP to the more dangerous phase of the operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. (There are reportedly DPJ voices calling for limiting participation to medical assistance and other civilian activities. It remains to be seen, though, if other nations with soldiers in Afghanistan will be willing, or even able, to baby-sit another gaggle of Japanese civilians and possibly lightly armed JSDF personnel.)

How will these legal and practical considerations play with the Japanese public?

OEF and the activities of ISAF in theory address different phases, or aspects of the war on terror; i.e. the former the continuing war against terror, and the latter the post-warfare stage "to assist the Afghan Interim Authority in the maintenance of security in Kabul and its surrounding areas, so that the Afghan Interim Authority as well as the personnel of the United Nations can operate in a secure environment" UNSC Res.1386 (2001). But both activities are directed against Al Qaeda and its protectors the Taliban (if at least in the case of ISAF by no means exclusively so). Thus, for all practical purposes, they end up serving the same objective. In fact, until the whole controversy blew up over the extension of the anti-terrorism act, I confess that I was not aware of this distinction, and I hazard to guess that the Japanese public in general did not know much better either.

Remember that a plurality of the Japanese public has been coming around to an admittedly underwhelming support for the continuation of refueling activities. And it's the same theater against the same opponents; one operation is safe, the other is hazardous (and, by itself, might not even be welcomed).

I think that the practical consideration will prevail with the safety-first Japanese public. Unless the 800,000 gallon controversy spills over into operations beyond USS Kitty Hawk, or even the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I believe that the LDP position will prevail in the court of public opinion. A limited extension of two years for refueling operations only is definitely in the works, and, unless the potential budgetary repercussions of the ensuing delay of the next general Diet session become an overriding concern (I am now forced to add this caveat), will be passed within the year by a Lower House coalition supermajority revote. At least the Yomiuri editorial board seems to think so.

(Note) The Asahi editorial board is disappointed with Prime Minister Fukuda's answers in yesterday's Diet plenary, but officially remains agnostic. Mainichi is even more non-committal. The Sankei editorials no longer seem to be available after it replaced Mainichi as MSN's online news partner of choice. WTF?

Nikkei, Yomiuri and Asahi are collaborating on a joint website, joint distribution, and joint emergency production. Other newspapers are also welcome to join the party. At the same time, MSN has ditched Mainichi (or is it the other way around?) for Sankei. Whatever. Just give the world a deeper archive, so I won't have to keep copying the articles to my hard disk.


Anonymous said...

Your entire article is exceptionally well written and explains the situation quite well.

You state:
"I think that the practical consideration will prevail with the safety-first Japanese public. Unless the 800,000 gallon controversy spills over into operations beyond USS Kitty Hawk, or even the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I believe that the LDP position will prevail in the court of public opinion."

I don't want to force an opinion out of you, but I'll give you my own (flawed and fallible) opinion.

In a world where constitutions were actually respected, Japan wouldn't be involved at all. (Or would be because they'd have changed the constitution by now.)

However, given that we are not in such a world and we have to work with the strange arguments we're given over what is constitutional and not, I would think Ozawa's position is far superior to that offered by the LDP.

It's not only based on principles, but it allows Japan to sort of snub both the LDP and America, thus showing their independence, yet at the same time to actually up the ante so to speak, to show more commitment and not less. Even those who lean towards the so called "left" support the UN, don't they?

Now whether involvement with UN peacekeeping missions is a good idea, and whether helping out in Afghanistan is a good idea or not, well that's a whole other cup of tea ...

... thank you for a great post.

Jun Okumura said...

Matt: It's always good to hear from you, and I swear it's not because you have such nice things to say about me.

"In a world where constitutions were actually respected, Japan wouldn't be involved at all. (Or would be because they'd have changed the constitution by now.)"

As an ex-bureaucrat and fan of Lewis Carroll, I am eminently qualified simultaneously to agree and disagree with this statement. As an obsessive-compulsive, I am compelled to tell you why. (Skip the rest if you know post-WW II Japanese history.)

A singular mixture of idealism and fear on the part of the Occupational authorities gave Japan the most unusual Peace Constitution (1947), and the majority of the Japanese population welcomed it for more or less the same reasons. But the Cold War arrived, giving the U.S. second thoughts about the efficacy of the new arrangement, a sentiment shared, if in many cases for other reasons by Japanese conservatives. The resultant distance from almost the very beginning between the text and the need/desire to rearm has continued to widen over the years, and this has led to a willingness on the part of what is now a majority or a very large plurality (depending on when, and by whom, the question is asked) of the Japanese people to "consider in a forward-looking manner" amendment of Article 9. However, I hazard to guess that only a small portion of the Japanese public will accept as the consequence of any new formulation for Article 9, say, the kind of role that the German military plays in (admittedly) NATO-focused operations beyond its borders. Barring any dramatic changes in Japan's national security profile – say, a catastrophic military situation in the Middle East that threatens to cut off for years a significant flow of oil from that region – changes have been and will continue to be painfully incremental.

Thus, Japan has evolved a Peace Constitution woven out of text and custom that is every bit as clear and consistent, and respected in practice, as the written form to which the modern world has become so accustomed. It is a constitution, a consensus of sorts, that even Shoichi Nakagawa, were he to become Prime Minister, would be hard put to alter substantially.

Is this state of affairs restrictive? Yes. Is it odd? Most certainly. And it does confine to the smallest of increments changes in Japan's approach to the external projection of military power. But is it bad for Japan? I've become more inclined to reserve my judgment on that, particularly in light of the experience of the post-Cold War years and even more clearly this millennium, when the global community has so often been ineffectual, ineffective, or even counterproductive in that respect.

As for the rest of your agreement, I have great respect for what Mr. Ozawa is doing, since his words and actions appears to be consistent with his past pronouncements and revealed inclinations, and not merely something adopted for political expedience; this is more than seikyoku (the political game) to him. But you can understand from the above argument why I believe that the LDP position is not necessarily inferior constitution- or otherwise than Mr. Ozawa's. And as a political move, you can tell from my original post that I don't think that it will work out as well for the DPJ as they hoped for when they staked out that position. At best, I do not believe that it will do much to hasten the timing of the next Lower House general election.