The End of the Post-World War II Era?
John de Boer (University of Tokyo)
Teary eyed relatives waving Japanese flags as they watched their sailors embark towards the war zone. This was the image painted by Western news sources this past week as over 300 Maritime Self Defense Force personnel left their ports in Japan onward to aid in the war against "terrorism". Yale University Professor Nayan Chanda wrote in the International Herald Tribune that this brought an end to the Post-World War II era (IHT Nov. 22). The Sydney Morning Herald's description was less profound nevertheless marking this as one of the biggest developments in regional security in decades (Nov. 22). The lack of dissent from neighboring Asian countries towards Japan's rush to war was another surprise according to CNN as "Japan's war effort set sail" (Nov. 26).
However, Japan's new Ambassador to the United States, Ryozo Kato, provided a different interpretation to the Washington Post, characterizing decisions made by the Japanese government since September 11th as a natural extension of something that had been brewing for over 40 years. While the policy change was a "very important initiative" by the Japanese government claimed Kato, it is not "a quantum leap." "The firing of a long-range missile over Japan by North Korea in 1998 helped carry the security debate forward," Kato said. "This gave flesh to the U.S.-Japanese Security Treaty, and these new guidelines spelled out in the legislation, are an attempt to provide more flesh to the treaty which was signed and ratified in 1961," he said.
In addition to the military contribution, Japan has been recognized as having made great strides in the diplomatic field. It took center stage with the United States in sponsoring talks on reconstruction in Afghanistan on November 22, which will be followed up with Ministerial level talks in Tokyo early next year. Japan's media magnet Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka was also depicted visiting Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan yesterday (Nov. 25) raising Japan's profile another notch.
In the absence of closer scrutiny, Japan's actions since September 11 would seem to be a huge diplomatic success. In fact, China and Korea have both voiced caution towards Japanese re-armament and in particular to the strengthening of the US-Japan Security Treaty. Further opposition has been virtually silenced by the need of Asian governments to gain foreign endorsement and assistance for their own oppressive measures directed against Muslim minorities within their borders (for China in regions bordering Central Asia and for the Philippines in Mindanao). US pressure has also been key in silencing Korean criticism of Japan's dispatching of troops to the Indian Ocean.
Neither can Ambassador Kato claim that the rapid succession of decisions concerning Japan's military contribution represents a natural evolution of Japanese policy over forty years. This does not explain why the Japanese government took deployment measures with such haste beginning on September 11. It also neglects to mention the coercive influence that the US government has had on Japanese decision-makers demanding that it contribute to the war in a visible military manner. Despite Japan's commitment to send 1,500 SDF personnel to aid in the war the US Ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker, said this wasn't enough, expressing disappointment about Japan's decision not to send Aegis equipped warships (CNN Nov. 26). One thing that cannot be refuted is the fact that Japan's move towards military normalization has largely been a result of foreign pressure and not an outcome of growing political sentiment within Japan in favor of a more active international role that includes overseas military deployment. This gives rise to the worry of whether the Japanese people are prepared to face the consequences of having a higher profile on the international political and military scene.
- "Japan's War Effort Sets Sail," CNN, November 26, 2001
- "Japanese Warships Leave to Join War," The Associated Press, November 25
- Nayan Chanda, "Japan's Navy is back, and there's no cause to be alarmed," The International Herald Tribune, November 22, 2001
- Michael Millett, "Marching to the softest drumbeat," Sydney Morning Herald, November 22, 2001
- "Tokyo Host Afghan Reconstruction Talks," The Asahi Shimbun, November 22, 2001
- Nora Bonstang, "Japan's Envoy Arrives Bearing Gifts of Expanded Support," The Washington Post, November 21, 2001