Relying on Confidence-Building Measures in Northeast Asia: Foolish?
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
Alan Dupont described Japan as a schizophrenic superpower in his latest article appearing in The National Interest. To reach this conclusion his piece asked two questions: Does Japan's new found assertiveness, particularly in terms of military deployment, signal "a dangerous reawakening of Japan's martial instincts and desire for hegemony? Or are we seeing the emergence of a pragmatic new realism that is a natural and long-overdue readjustment to the nation's much altered and more foreboding external environment?" The principle conclusion reached by Dupont was that Tokyo's desire to pursue a more "proactive security policy was not an unreasonable response" because its environment has become more volatile and threatening. Dupont stressed that Japan's "shift away from pacifism" was both inevitable and irreversible. In his estimation, Japan "has crossed a political Rubicon," and is "determined to make the SDF a more usable and useful force." An "evolution" that in Dupont's mind is warranted because "Japan inhabits a region where interstate conflict is still a realistic prospect."
Dupont's assessment of Japan's strategic predicament may be correct. Tensions have been on the rise in Northeast Asia, particularly since North Korea test fired a missile over the Japanese archipelago in 1998. Today, Japan is surrounded by two nuclear powers, China and Korea, and numerous Cold War and pre-Cold War conflicts continue to mire the region. What is troubling about Dupont's assessment, however, is his unquestioning faith in the wisdom of US national interest in the region and his lack of willingness to consider whether or not the US is contributing to "instability" in the region.
In fact, the centrality of the US national interest in maintaining the status quo in Northeast Asia is recognized outright by Dupont in his writing. He notes that "a strong, regionally engaged Japan is crucial to three important US strategic interests in East Asia: balancing China's rising power, providing greater logistic and intelligence support for the U.S. military, and facilitating US deployments to potential trouble spots." Dupont seems to assume that US hegemony in the region and Japanese compliance to its often-aggressive posture toward China and North Korea is in Japan's own interest as well. As the article concludes, Dupont challenges Japan to "participate more fully in building and sustaining regional order and combating emerging threats to security," His aim is clearly set on using Japan, including its armed forces, to keep China at bay. Dupont encourages the US government to strengthen its alliance with Japan because, "a diminished, less-influential Japan would weaken Washington's voice in Asia's affairs." Indeed, as is indicative of the magazine's name, National Interest, Dupont does not stop to question what is best for Japan. In fact, he overlooks it completely.
Drawing a distinction between Europe and Northeast Asia, Dupont asserts that a reliance on confidence-building measures by Japan to resolve regional disputes would be "foolish" because Northeast Asia is not Europe. Unlike Europe, where according to Dupont, "war between states has become virtually unthinkable," (what about Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Chechnya?), he believes that a military solution is the proper one in Northeast Asia. His solution requires Japan to maintain a military capable of fighting modern warfare both "at home and abroad." To me, this seems like a recipe for confrontation and not one that will produce peace either in the short or long term. What is worrisome is that this kind of analysis has always had ascendancy in Washington where Japan's national interest really don't matter.