Monday, July 10, 2006

Japan's Militant Right and the North Korean Excuse

The Japanes government said today that it was actively considering altering its constitution to allow a pre-emptive strike against North Korea.
"If we accept that there is no other option to prevent an attack ... there is the view that attacking the launch base of the guided missiles is within the constitutional right of self-defense. We need to deepen discussion," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said.
Now it may well be that North Korea's sabre-rattling of late is a direct and present threat to Japan's safety and national security. We could, I am sure, have a long and interesting discussion of the topic.

That discussion, if it were to be a full and open one, would have to include some mention of the way in which North Korea's recent missiles tests were announced and reported. Like the way in which initial reports from both Japan and the Pentagon said there was no Taepongdo-2 launch - until some faceless official at the U.S. State department said there was and everyone revised their stories accordingly. Given the vast amount of technology aimed at the launch and the fact that there is a vast difference in size between a taepongdo-2 and any other NK missile that is most passing strange. Yet no actual proof has been offered by the U.S. or Japan that their belated assertions are more correct than those first reports.

Or like the way that every report or announcement mentioned that the lesser missiles launched by North Korea splashed down as close as 600km to Japan. Go look at a map. It is impossible to launch anything from the western shores of either Korea without it heading for Japan and at its widest the gap between mainland and islands is only just over 1,000km. In other words, the NK missiles splashed down closer to North Korea than they did to Japan. Somehow, that doesn't sound quite as much of an immediate and provocative threat.

Or we could talk about how the current situation may be at least partly the fault of Dick Cheney's cabal of White House hawks, who seem to have stymied the American diplomat in charge of negotiations with Pyongyang at every step. We might even want to talk about how Japanese calls for the ability to make a pre-emptive strike in their region semm to show an absolute lack of confidence in any "missile shield", despite Bush administration claims and even though such a shield would perfectly accord with their current constitution's insistence on a "self defense force".

However, one thing that we must not lose sight of in any such discussion is the knowledge that, for Japan's militant extreme Right, a North Korean crisis may just furnish the most convenient excuse among many for doing what they have wanted to do all along. Other excuses include China and even the India-Pakistan arms race. Still the fact remains that a move towards an ability for force projection has long been the plan of the Japanese Right.

On June 1st 2005, Jane's Foreign Report posed the question "Japan's right-wing drift - what will happen once Koizumi steps down?" The report noted that:
Members of Japan's political elite also stand to gain politically from trouble with China in the run-up to Koizumi's decision to step down as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and prime minister in September 2006.

As a rightist party, the LDP has always contained nationalist elements, but Koizumi's current cabinet is probably one of the most right-wing Japanese cabinets in post-Second World War Japanese history.

Until recently, though, the object of much of this hawkishness had been North Korea rather than China. During negotiations with North Korea over the fate of a number of Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang, politicians such as Shinzo Abe, deputy LDP secretary-general, clearly pushed a hard line with North Korea and won substantial public and LDP support for their views. However, with a 26 April poll by the liberal Asahi Shimbun showing that only 10 per cent of Japanese responded that they liked China, a tougher line towards Beijing may increasingly play well with the Japanese electorate.
While the Boston Globe had a report in December that told of the political battle between rightwing hardliners and those who wish to preserve Japan's current attitude of "self-defense" only:
Right-wing political parties have mushroomed. Once politically unacceptable ideas -- including calls to resurrect the political powers of the emperor and subdue neighboring countries such as China -- have now become part of the mainstream national conversation.

A recent meeting in the heart of Tokyo of the All-Japan Patriotic Organization, an umbrella group of parties that have great sympathy for the Japanese nationalists of the 1930s and '40s, looked like the set of a World War II film.

Men in the style of the former Japanese Imperial Army and civilians in double-breasted suits with greased hair stood stiffly at attention and sang a nationalistic anthem praising their emperor. After they had finished, a group of stern-faced leaders sitting on a stage under a giant Japanese flag rose to deliver ferocious speeches about the need for Japan to rearm itself in the face of rising Chinese power.

''Pax China should be abolished," said Yano Ryuzo, the organization's newly elected president. ''We need action now, we need to build our party." [ Emphasis Mine]
Although the US and Britain, Japan's main enemies in WW2, support Koizumi's long-standing plan to repeal Article 9, which bans Japan from possessing a military for warfare, just about every other Asian nation is against the idea, fearing a return to the Japanese aggressive expansion of the early Twentieth century. The Australian government, too, can best be described as "nervous" about the plan.

More worryingly still, Japan could very easily become a nuclear capable nation. Japan already has over 45,000 Kg of plutonium stockpiled. By 2020 it will have an additional 100,000Kg, making it the world's largest holder of weapons grade plutonium. It has the missile technology and the weapons expertise. It could make thousands of weapons, and quickly.
With the technical means to build advanced nuclear weapons within six months, what remains is the political judgement of the ruling elite of Japan first to assess its strategic imperatives and then the political consequences of going nuclear. As a de-facto nuclear weapons state under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, there remains today no immediate need for Japan to build nuclear weapons. Its plutonium stockpile is already a strategic asset. But the conditions for a decision are evolving, and the public is being softened up for a possible decision.

Since the 1950’s leading politicians, including Prime Ministers and Cabinet Secretaries have pronounced on the possibility of Japan developing nuclear weapons. Many of these statements have made clear that the Japanese constitution does not prohibit Japan possessing nuclear weapons and that its three non-nuclear principles are not legally binding.
The likely successor to Prime Minister Koizumi when he steps down in 2006 is Shinzo Abe, a member of the militant Right who firmly believes that Japan should reclaim its former greatness and should have a military to match.

So let's have that discussion by all means. But lets begin with a clear appreciation that talk of Japanese pre-emption did not begin on the 4th of July 2006.

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