Gimme back my bullets
Put 'em back where they belong
Ain't foolin' around
Cause I've done had my fun
Ain't gonna see no more damage done...
- Rossington/Van Zandt, "Gimme Back My Bullets" (1976)
The pathetic story of the peripatetic 10,000 rounds of ammunition lent by Japanese Self Defense Forces to their bereft South Korean counterparts participating in a UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan has come to an absurd close. The South Korean troops on Thursday transferred the bullets to UN custody, their government having flown in from South Korea the same amount of ammo, using up precious space in UN cargo helicopter flights to deliver politically correct incipient chunks of flying death to South Korean forces. (Link)
So much for appreciation of the Abe Cabinet's doctrine of "proactive pacifism" (sekkyokuteki heiwashugi), so much for practicality, so much for an "we're all in this together" Band of Brothers bonding among forces under UN command.
Over at The Marmot's Hole, Robert Koehler last year documented most of the background to this week's return. It is not a pretty tale. Particularly depressing is that objections to the ammunition transfer preceded Abe Shinzo's visit to Yasukuni. (Link)
While it is appropriate to dump on the government of South Korea for Olympian levels of pettiness, the actions and stances of the Abe administration deserve an equal measure of ridicule. The much ballyhooed new National Security Council, in only its second meeting and in its first decision, choose to at least circumvent if not trash precedent. The 1976 expansion of the original 1967 Three Principles on Arms Exports (Buki yushutu sangensoku) states that Japan shall "take precautions against not making a mistake in exporting weaponry" (buki no yushutsu o tsutsushimu mono to suru). While lending ammunition to folks who insult you by sending it back to you untouched would in most instances be classified as a mistake, "not making a mistake" in the 1976 interpretation is the violation of Japan's self-reimagination as a "peace state" (heiwa kokka - Link -J).
Strictly speaking, the NSC's approval of the SDF's lending South Korean forces their ammunition did not transgress the boundaries of the expanded Three Principles. If the South Korean forces had actually used the ammunition, however, the loan would have immediately fallen outside the boundaries of permitted action.
So the South Koreans, by acting like idiots, actually did Abe's NSC a favor.
Exactly why Japan needed to establish an NSC has never been satisfactorily explained. Lionel Pierre Fatton, writing in The Diplomat, does his damnedest to make the innovation seem worthwhile. (Link)
However, reading the Fatton's argument, one comes away with the question:
"Restricting the number of persons having input into major decisions helps make the process faster. However, when in the history of humankind has the reduction of the number of persons offering their opinions ever made a decision better?"
That the NSC's first action was a double fiasco -- a violation of precedent had it succeeded in arming the South Korean forces and an embarrassment because it did not -- casts into doubt the rhetorical edifice supporting the establishment of the NSC.
There is an argument that the first decision of the NSC went sour precisely because the decision was made prior to the creation of an NSC secretariat and the assignment of staff -- deficiencies that have since been partially remedied (Link and Link). Presumably, once the NSC secretariat gets up to speed analyzing issues and suggesting solutions, the chances of another South Sudan fiasco will fall.
If a group of officials start out their terms in an office with a demonstration of a willingness to approve violations of stated government principles without consulting with staff experts aforehand, it becomes harder to believe promises that the group will never, ever do it again.