Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tentative Notes Upon the Hatoyama Government's Statement on Non-Interference in U.S. Strategic Planning

Dr. Jeffrey Lewis of Arms Control Wonk passes on some good news: the Government of Japan is not in favor of the U.S. military’s retention of the TLAM-N nuclear-armed cruise missile and the development of the RNEP earth penetrator. At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs press conference of January 22 of this year, it was revealed that Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya sent letters to both U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on December 24 of last year. In the letters FM Okada declares that the Government of Japan has no opinion as to the retention or abolition of these two systems, or any other systems for that matter. The letter to Secretaries ask only that the U.S. consult with Japan regarding the cancellation or development of systems, explaining how U.S. actions will affect deterrence.

In his post on the Okada Statement, Dr. Lewis shows confusion over Foreign Minister Okada’s dismissal of an inconvenient truth: Japanese diplomats did actually lobby the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States for the retention of these weapons systems.

Dr. Lewis sees a “non-denial denial” going on:
"It was reported in some sections of the Japanese media that, during the production of the report of the “Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States” released in May this year, Japanese officials of the responsible diplomatic section lobbied your government not to reduce the number of its nuclear weapons, or, more specifically, opposed the retirement of the United States’ Tomahawk Land Attack Missile – Nuclear (TLAM/N) and requested that the United States maintain a Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP).

However, the Japanese Government is not in a position to judge whether it is necessary or desirable for your government to possess particular [weapons] systems. Hence, although the discussions were held under the previous Cabinet, it is my understanding that, in the course of exchanges between our countries, including the deliberations of the above mentioned Commission, the Japanese Government has expressed no view concerning whether or not your government should possess particular [weapons] systems such as TLAM/N and RNEP. If, hypothetically, such a view was expressed, it would clearly be at variance with my views, which are in favor of nuclear disarmament.

Nevertheless, if TLAM/N is retired, we hope to receive ongoing explanations of your government’s extended deterrence policy, including any impact this might have on extended deterrence for Japan and how this could be supplemented."
“Some sections of the Japanese media” almost certainly refers to Masa Ota’s excellent story, Japan lobbied for robust nuclear umbrella before power shift, in Kyodo News(November 24, 2009). Ota reported that senior Japanese diplomats told the Commission that the United States should retain the TLAM-N and develop low-yield nuclear options.

Although Okada seems to deny that Japan lobbied the Commission, it looks to be the classic non-denial denial. (It would be helpful to parse the original Japanese, but Okada admits to the exchanges, which in any event are listed at the back of the Posture Commission Report, denying only the expression of a “view concerning whether or not [the US] should possess particular [weapons] systems.”)

In any event, everyone in Washington knows that Mr. Akiba and Mr. Kanai expressed precisely such a view, even if it would be inconvenient, not to mention career-ending, for them to admit it now...
Looking at the original Japanese letter to Secretary Clinton, it seems that the source of the confusion is an imprecise translation. On the whole, the translation provided by the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center is fluid and correct. However, the translation of the face-saving pair of sentences beginning "Hence, although the discussions...” and ending ”...which are in favor of nuclear disarmament" contain what seem to be two significant errors in translation.

First, in the translated version, "the Japanese Government" is the subject of the subordinate clause in the first sentence. In the Japanese original, the subordinate clause has no subject due to the use of "the government of our country as itself" (Wagakuni seifu to shite) as a subordinate clause topic identifier and the sly replacement of the normal robust construction nobeta koto ga nai with the more diffuse nobeta koto wa nai. Under normal circumstance switching “wa” for “ga” would be a style matter, an affectation. Here, however, the writer seems to be intentionally choosing the smudgy nobeta koto wa nai construction. He/She is very careful to switch back to the robust "ga" form in the next sentence (“nobeta koto ga atta") when talking about the reality that Japanese diplomats did indeed make such requests.

Second, the words moshi and kari ni are translated “if, hypothetically…” I am not sure to what extent the most popular online dictionary’s translation of the phrase “moshi kari ni” as “hypothetically” has affected the word choice here. As there is a comma in between moshi and kari ni these are separate clauses, the moshi indicating the introducation of a hypothetical and kari ni indicating the idea of “temporarily” or “tentatively” -- this rather than a repetition of the hypothetical established by moshi.

Introducing these ideas, the sentences read something more like:
"Hence, although the discussions were held under the previous Cabinet, it is my understanding that, in the course of exchanges between our countries, including the deliberations of the above mentioned Commission, it was never the case that views were expressed as being those of our government concerning whether or not your government should possess particular [weapons] systems such as TLAM/N and RNEP. If, in some tentative way such a view was expressed, it would clearly be at variance with my views, which are in favor of nuclear disarmament."
I think that this clears up the problem of attribution Dr. Lewis identifies.

I of course invite readers to show me I am talking out of my hat.

Later -
The FAS Strategic Security blog has more on the Okada letters.

Later still - Fixed the broken link to the original MOFA document.

3 comments:

Janne Morén said...

I do not know which is more disquieting: that the communication and understanding between governments can hinge on the parsing of such seemingly trivial linguistic differences; or that there's entire ministries full of presumably bright people devoting their whole careers to the proper generation and parsing of such minuscula.

Or maybe I'm just jealous that I can't spend my workdays playing with words.

MTC said...

Herr Morén -

If this is so then you would really not want to hear about the generations of officials who would go apoplectic when anyone referred to the Kimigayo as "the national anthem of Japan" rather than "the national anthem for Japan" at international athletic and diplomatic events until the passage in August 1999 of the "Law on the National Flag and the National Anthem" clarified that the white thing with the red dot in it was an official symbol.

Janne Morén said...

In Swedish you would express both shades of meaning with the exact same language. Makes me wonder if any officials in the Stockholm embassy ever considered asking commentators to add a clarifying parenthetical remark every time they referred to the tune in question.

I realize now I should have tried becoming a diplomat. Of course, it would have meant having to learn French. And table manners. Oh well.