When the irreplaceable Japanologist Hervé Couraye asked me this question several months ago, I have to admit--I thought he was kidding me.
Tragic? The history of Japan in the post war era--tragic?
Lacking in gloire, sure. Perhaps a little weak on the patrie side, at least overtly.
However, after considering the largely unquestioned accelerating integration of Self Defense Forces capabilities with the activities of the U.S. military--and all the recent chest-thumping about the Japan-U.S. alliance becoming "a global alliance", I must confess that Docteur Couraye may have a point.
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One of the old illustrations of the relationship between the SDF and U.S. Forces Japan had the SDF as the Shield and the USFJ as the Spear. The SDF was in charge of protecting Japan's land and territorial waters. It was also in charge of protecting U.S. Forces based in Japan and operating in Japan's territorial waters (all those Coast Guard ships circling about U.S. warships coming in for port calls, driving off protesters with their wakes...)
The USFJ, due to its force projection capabilities, was the Spear, in charge of forward defense and counterattack, taking the battle to the enemy on the enemy's territory and in his waters.
However, since the evaporation of the existential threat that Soviet Communism posed to the alliance, the United States has been incrementally asking for more and more out of the Japanese side.
The SDF is now not just the archipelago's shield --and GOJ the alliance's investment banker, host nation support of about $4 billion annually being not small potatoes. The GOJ, the SDF and Japanese municipalities are integral contributors to and participants in the U.S. Department of Defense's global logistical system. SDF ships, plans, helicopters and fixed-wing cargo aircraft are either serving (in Iraq) or training to serve in support roles to U.S. military forces engaged in combat operations.
As the integration between the SDF and the American military has become more intense--and if the Prime Minister's special task force on the expansion of collective self-defense gets its way, the potential level of integration will be all the greater--then dimmer and dimmer grow the chances of the GOJ's being able to throw the handbrake on some operation, saying "Stop! Helping U.S. Forces out here is not in Japan's interest! We want out."
There will be no out. If U.S. Forces operating out of Misawa, Kadena, Iwakuni, Sasebo and Yokosuka are dependent on the logistical capacities of their pacifist fellow services in the SDF, then a Japanese refusal to respond to a U.S. request come for Japan to keep supply lines open and provide cargo and personnel transport--on the grounds that in the GOJ's assessment, America is doing something stupid or unnecessary-- creates a potential fatal point de rupture for the alliance.
If you value your skin, you do not want to mess with America's mistaken faith in its own unfettered freedom of action in military affairs.
But such will be Japan's strategic dilemma as long as it fiddles about with and within the limits set by Article 9 to the Constitution, choosing to be a non-combatant logistics expert.
Call it the Caterer's Dilemma.
Imagine you have to tell the bride that due to your own scruples or assessment of a situation, you are not going to follow through on the agreement to cater her wedding.
Imagine trying to do this on the actual date of the wedding.
See how long your head stays firmly attached...oh wait, that's not very tasteful.
Anyway, you will know no fury like unto it. Verily.
All of which is a long way of saying I am not thrilled by Plan B--the expansion of collective security under the present Constitution being contemplated by Okazaki Hisahiko, Yanai Shunji, Kitaoka Shinji and Co.
However arduous and possibly ugly it may be, Plan A--a revision of the Constitution allowing Japan to exercise its right of collective security (or not exercise it, based on the judgment of the Cabinet) as an equal partner--seems preferable to slip-sliding into a conflict situation where you cannot say no because you are the one with the wheels (or, in the Japanese case, "the legs")--and like dude, you promised.