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Japan brings out the big guns to sell remilitarization in U.S.

by Debito Arudou

Last month in Hawaii I attended a speech titled “Japan’s New National Security Strategy in the Making” by a Dr. Shinichi Kitaoka. A scholar and university president, Dr. Kitaoka is deputy chairman of the “Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security” within the Shinzo Abe administration.

I sat in because I wanted to see how a representative of Japan’s government would explain away Abe’s militaristic views to an American audience.

Kitaoka did not disappoint. He was smooth. In impeccable English, to a packed room including numerous members of Hawaii’s military brass, he sold a vision of a remilitarizing Japan without a return to a prewar militarized Japan. (You can see the entire speech at vimeo.com/77183187.)

He laid out how Japan would get around its ban on having a military beyond a “self-defense force,” i.e., one that could project power beyond its borders. It would be the same way Japan got around its constitutional ban on having any standing military at all: Japan would once again reinterpret the wording of the Constitution.

His logic: If Japan has a sovereign right to “individual self-defense” (i.e., the right to attack back if attacked), it also has an inherent sovereign right to “collective self-defense” (i.e., the right to support Japan’s allies if they are attacked). A reinterpretation must happen because, inconveniently, it is too difficult to reform the Constitution itself.

That legal legerdemain to undermine a national constitution should have raised eyebrows. But Kitaoka was culturally sensitive to what his American audience wanted to hear: that the ends justify the means. He immediately couched Japan’s freer hand as a way to better engage in the U.S.-Japan security alliance, as well as participate more equally and effectively in United Nations peacekeeping operations. Japan could now assist the world in “human security” through a “proactive peace policy.”

As further reassurance, he gave five reasons why Japan could not return to 1930s-style fascism. Back then, 1) Japan needed more territory, resources and markets, which were being denied them by economic blocs formed during the Great Depression (conveniently omitting the entire “liberating Asians from white imperialism” narrative that underpinned Japan’s “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”); 2) there was hubris on the part of Japan’s military, convinced that neighboring territories were weak and easy targets; 3) the international community had little economic integration or punitive sanctioning power; 4) the military was not under civilian control; and 5) Japan lacked freedom of speech.

Then his rhetoric entered what I call “perpetual wolf-at-the-door territory,” reflecting the typical ideological polarization of a trained geopolitical security analyst. They see the world only in terms of power, potential threats and allies vs. enemies. (That’s why I stopped studying security issues as an undergrad at Cornell.)

Kitaoka sold China as the polar opposite of Japan. Japan is a “peace-loving” society with a “peace Constitution” and capped military expenditure, while China is a nuclear power with an enormous and expanding military budget. Japan has, if anything, “too much” freedom of speech, unlike China, where dissidents are jailed. Japan has no territorial designs abroad (not even the constant threat of invasion from the Korean Peninsula is worrisome anymore — the U.S. has it covered), while China is claiming islands and expanding into markets as far away as Africa! If Japan steps out of line, it would be hurt by international sanctions, as it is fully integrated into and dependent on the world economy, while China . . . isn’t. China is safeguarding its national security and enhancing its prestige through a nationalism that is “obsessed with national glory” while Japan . . . isn’t.

In fact, Kitaoka managed to trace just about every problem in his speech back to China. His conclusion in a Yomiuri Shimbun column on Sept. 22 was stark: “We should now take the place of the (prewar) Republic of China, which was invaded by Japan, and think about how to defend ourselves from unjustified aggression, and consider what should be done to defend ourselves more aggressively.” History, to Kitaoka, has come full circle.

So, in order to maintain regional security and balance of power, Kitaoka announced that Japan would adopt two measures by the end of 2013: 1) A comprehensive “national security strategy,” the first in Japan’s history, integrating foreign and defense policy; and 2) a new “outline of defense planning” through the establishment of an official “National Security Council.”

This would be led by a PM Abe unfettered by the “cancer of sectionalism” between “pro-Western” and “pro-Socialist” camps in Japan’s bureaucracy. Abe’s strong executive leadership would break the hold of Japan’s leftists (whom Kitaoka dismissed as “vocal minorities”) and give the “majority” their proper hand in policymaking.

Then Kitaoka felt he was in a position to make guarantees to the audience. He told them not to worry, for there was “zero possibility” of Japan intervening in the Koreas, including over the Takeshima/Dokdo disputed rocks, “without a request from you.” Japan would also not go nuclear, because nukes are unnecessary in a land so “narrow and densely populated” with no place to put them!

What about Japan’s ability to project power at sea? Despite the recent unveiling of the Izumo (one of three SDF “helicopter-carrying destroyers”; see “Watching Japan and China square off in East China Sea,” BBC News, Nov. 12, 2012), Kitaoka says Japan has “no use” for them. After all, the whole archipelago is full of “unsinkable aircraft carriers” — the Japanese islands themselves. So pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

My favorite part of Kitaoka’s speech (other than when he defied his doctorate training by calling Koreans an “emotional people,” and dismissed several counter-opinions as “stupid”) was when he blamed the putative ineffectiveness of the U.N. Security Council on a struggle between democratic and undemocratic member states, with China and Russia getting in the way. The U.N. would be more effective if more democratic countries were allowed into the UNSC — India, Germany, Brazil and . . . Japan, naturally.

Nice segue. Told you he was smooth.

This is why I am devoting a whole column to this event: The Abe administration is clearly on a charm offensive, sending out an articulate “gaijin handler” with an elite pedigree (Kitaoka is president of the International University of Japan, professor emeritus at Tokyo University, a former ambassador and U.N. representative, and a member of several major think tanks) on a whistle-stop U.S. tour to reassure American power brokers that they can relax their grip over Japan’s security.

After all, that seems to be what the U.S. wants. The schizophrenic U.S.-Japan security relationship has demanded for decades that Japan make more contributions to the geopolitical order, while making sure U.S. bases underpin Japan’s regional security and stop regional worries about a resurgent militarist Japan. As Maj. Gen. Henry Stackpole, former commander of the U.S. Marines in Japan, put it in 1990, the U.S. is the “cork in the bottle.” Thus, Kitaoka is softening up the crowd for Abe to uncork Japan’s military potential.

Now it all makes sense. This is why Abe is making so much noise recently in places like the Wall Street Journal and domestic media about Chinese aggression and regional security.

Abe has a timetable to meet. His national security council is due this month. The defense planning outline is due in December. It’s time to rile up the Japanese public once again about the Chinese wolf at the door, and get them ready to sign off on Japan’s remilitarization.

Look, when Japan’s gross domestic product fell behind China’s in 2011, we all knew there would be blowback in terms of Japan’s national pride. But so much so quickly? Who would have thought that a troublemaking Tokyo governor could create such geopolitical mayhem by threatening to buy some specks in the ocean outside his prefecture, throw Japan’s left-leaning government into chaos and get Japan’s most right-leaning government in generations elected by the end of 2012?

Then again, it’s not so surprising. Watching Kitaoka’s speech, I realized again just how smooth Japan’s elites are. They know whose hands to shake, whose ears to bend, and how to behave as public campaigners in the diplomatic community. Hey, that’s how they somehow got the 2020 Olympics! They know how to say what people want to hear. That is the training of a lifetime of tatemae (pretenses masking true intentions).

Sit back, folks. We’re going to get an official and resurgent Japanese military. With a probable nod and a wink from the Americans, there’s not a lot we can do but watch Abe’s military machinations march to fruition. In 10 years, let’s see how many of Kitaoka’s public promises about a peaceful, internationally cooperative Japan hold.

More discussion of the Kitaoka speech at www.debito.org/?p=11896. Debito Arudou’s updated “Guidebook for Relocation and Assimilation into Japan” is now available as a downloadable e-book on Amazon. See www.debito.org/handbook.html. Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Thursday Community page of the month. Send your comments on these issues and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp.

  • Danny

    A stronger Japan would be a huge positive to the free, democratic world.

    In the least, Japan should have the means and resources necessary to defend its nation, its people and it’s territories.
    A stronger armed forces would serve that purpose and several more.

    • Peter McArthur

      Japan already has about a quarter of a million active military personnel. Is that strong enough?

    • Christopher Glen

      An economically stronger Japan, yes. And I`d even support Japan expanding its military if they did a couple of things. (1) Stop teaching revisionist history in schools. (2) Fully acknowledge and compensate world war 2 sex slaves

      • Danny

        Yet, the 1965 Treaty of Basic Relations already completed the compensation matters. By signing the treaty both Japan and Korea acknowledge that all request for compensation shall thereby falls on the Republic of Korea responsibilities. Yet ROK did not upheld that treaty as promised and shrug off it’s responsiblities to it’s own citizens. It was not Japan’s fault that ROK failed to provide adequate compensation but instead used it to fund it’s developing economy. This money, along with the grants and loans from Japan is what is now called the Miracle of the Han River. By using the money acquired from Japan govt and the technology from Japanese companies, ROK has grown to what it is now.

    • Michael Williams

      I agree. I do not see why Japan should not have a military that can not only defend itself, but also participate with the UN and the US. The opinions stated above would hold true, if Japan were to use it’s military in inappropriate means, there would be no doubt that the repercussions from the US and other global powers.

      China is making aggressive moves to consolidate it’s interests, and it does not help that China keeps poking at both Japan and the US, with threats of war and nuclear obliteration.

      It seems like the primary issue is over revisionist history, which is used to downplay Japan’s blemished past. While it is understandable that Chinese and Koreans are bothered by this, it is hypocritical in my eyes that they feel that they can use their educational system to foster their nationalism and anti-Japanese sentiments; it is literally the meaning behind the idiom of ‘the pot calling the kettle black’.

  • iago

    “That is the training of a lifetime of tatemae (pretenses masking true intentions).”
    That’s not what that word actually means, of course, but I suppose it is a convenient “reinterpretation”.

  • Starviking

    It seems that Kitaoka has little or no understanding on naval matters. The new ‘helicopter-carrying destroyers’ are very useful. They are an integral part of the JMSDF’s anti-submarine fleet. The fact that Japan is ‘an unsinkable aircraft carrier’ cuts no ice when the subs you want to either dissuade or target are out of range of land-based aircraft.

    • IAF101

      Of course he knows they are useful. If they weren’t useful the Japanese would never have built them and used “helicopter destroyers” for so long.

      Kitaoka is selling a narrative about Japanese foreign policy that seeks to address his audience and their fears. The fact that Japan could theoretically deploy military forces on expeditionary operations with these things has always been the case. The US military knows this and does the JSDF. However, politically nobody sells the worst case scenario when detailing furture plans – only the best case scenario.

  • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

    “(China has) never waged war against its neighbors after the end of Cold War.”

    True, but that’s not for lack of trying…

  • Danny

    Japan SDF should also seriously considers building and operating Hospital Ships to enchance it’s abilities to help those during disasters and also as a way to boost it’s soft power. Just like how Japan sent medical and search and rescue teams to the Philippines as well as 1,000 SDF troops to help the Filipinos in the Typhoon Haiyan disaster, 1 or 2 Hospital Ships would greatly boost their capabilities to help those in grave need.

    • Peter McArthur

      That’s a nice rebuttal for anyone who is completely sold on the “humanitarian aid task force” image that the JSDF likes to project.

      • IAF101

        The continued vilification of the Japanese for the crimes and actions of their ancestors is about as absurd as claiming Angela Merkel is some Nazi Shill just because she dictates EU policy.

  • Christopher Glen

    Afraid I have to disagree with you on that one. May I suggest you make your sentiments known to these unfortunate women outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul? They are the ones who were raped and abused by the Japanese military, including elsewhere in the Philippines, Indonesia etc

  • j gross

    debito- please stop being so sarcastic in your article. To quote another post, “A stronger Japan would be a huge positive to the free, democratic world.” I agree. If you don’t agree, simply state that.