Wednesday, November 15, 2006

U.S. Hawks Eye Japan As Warlike Proxy

I've been watching with interest the nationalist resurgence in Japan and the way in which American hawks have been cheerleading for a return to an aggressive Japanese posture. The cheers have been led by the neocons, of course, after being sorely dissapointed by the failures of their Iraqi fantasies and their cajoling of Israel into a neocon war in Lebanon.

However, more moderate hawks from both left and right have also applauded Japan's new determination to develop a military for force projection while carefully ignoring the extremist rhetoric of a return to Imperial days which has accompanied that drive. The benefits are clear from their point of view - a strong military proxy to counter North Korea and China (and maybe Pakistan and India too in a wider regional balance).

Here's Fred Hiatt, no stranger to shilling for the neocon agenda, in the Washington Post today eulogizing the new rightwing prime minister, Shinzo Abe:
where convicted war criminals, among many others, are honored.

But Abe as prime minister reached out promptly to China and South Korea, in the process boosting his poll ratings at home. He has stressed the U.S.-Japanese alliance as the foundation of Japan's security. He wants to make Japan's economy and society, traditionally resistant to foreigners, more open, with "opportunity" as its watchword. And rather than insisting on peculiarly Japanese characteristics in the search for a global role, he talks about Japan and America's "shared values" -- "freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law."

"I believe Japan should play a role in trying to spread such values, for example in the Asian region," he told me -- though not, he emphasized, by force. He believes Japan should reach out to other democracies, such as Australia and India, even as China tries to exert influence on a very different basis.

At the same time, Abe has not shied away from his insistence that the time has come for Japan to replace its postwar peace constitution, imposed during U.S. occupation. He is pushing for a new school curriculum that would stress patriotism, which was taboo here for many years after the war. Plenty of skeptics question how long his statesmanship will endure.

One U.S. official told me he believes it's for real. "Abe may represent a new generation of Japanese nationalism, a new form of Japanese nationalism," the official said -- a healthy nationalism, in his view.

It's far from clear that he can pull it off. On one side, his right-wing supporters, who helped make him prime minister, will be pushing him toward jingoism. On another, many Japanese remain deeply reluctant for their nation to claim a leadership role in anything but commerce. North Korea's nuclear test has shaken the region, with uncertain consequences. And if the ruling party does poorly in upper-house elections next summer, Abe's term could end abruptly.

Still, he is trying to pull off something audacious. While the freedom agenda is increasingly on the defensive in Washington, it seems to have found a new champion in Tokyo.
On the same day as this puff-piece for a neocon Rising Sun, Reuters ran this:
Japan's constitution allows it to possess nuclear weapons as long as they are kept to a minimum level necessary for self-defense, although the country has no intention of holding such arms, the government said in a statement on Tuesday.

The statement, written in response to a question from an independent lawmaker, comes amid controversy over whether the country should debate holding nuclear arms -- an emotive issue in the only nation to have suffered nuclear attacks.

"From a purely legal standpoint, even Article Nine of the constitution does not bar our country from possessing minimum capabilities necessary for self-defense," the statement said, repeating a position the government has made clear in past parliamentary debate.

"Even with nuclear weapons, we've understood that possessing them would not necessarily violate the constitution as long as it is kept within such limits," it said.
The government also said that it would stick to Japan's self-imposed "three non-nuclear principles" banning the possession, production and import of nuclear arms and it's obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty not to receive or manufacture nuclear weapons.

The clear message of the statement is, however, the unsaid "for now".

Japan has the world's largest cache of weapons-grade plutonium and ample technological sophistication. If it decided it wanted nukes, the time involved would be months, not years, before it was a major new nuclear-weapons power with material for literally thousands of bombs.

That, coupled with Japan's new-found militarism and the extreme rhetoric of Shinzo Abe's base gives me serious cause for concern. I don't think American hawks are aware of exactly which breed of tiger they are trying to steer by the tail.

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