Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Flaccid Power

Oh Amaterasu on high, what kind of flim-flam flummery is this?

How Japan Could Save the World

Don't laugh—Japan has the skills and the resources, and has made huge contributions before.

By Christian Caryl - As the chaos off Somalia has forced more and more countries to address high-seas piracy, one nation stands out for its proven track record in the field. For years, the Strait of Malacca—a narrow but vital waterway between Malaysia and Indonesia—was bedeviled by buccaneers. Who came to the rescue? Japan, a nation not known for its willingness to take on international threats. Yet Tokyo quietly rose to the challenge, providing training to regional militaries, setting up an information-sharing center that allowed local security forces to respond quickly to attacks and providing Coast Guard ships to the ill-equipped Indonesian Navy. Japan's efforts were highly effective, helping reduce piracy incidents in the area from 150 in 2003 to a third of that just three years later.

After seemingly endless dithering, politicians in Tokyo also recently agreed to dispatch warships to the Gulf of Aden—but only to protect Japanese ships and cargo, which will limit any international good will the country earns in return. And the mission will be so entangled in caveats and conditions that its effectiveness will be highly questionable.

What gives? Japan, it seems, has become the Hamlet of Asia, endlessly fretting about its waning world influence while failing to do much about it. Some analysts explain the diffidence by pointing to the drawn-out recession of the 1990s, which left the country demoralized and mired in debt. Others suggest that Japan's half-century military reliance on the United States created a culture of dependency and timidity. Some even blame the lack of mojo on the country's aging population, or its strikingly mediocre politicians.

There's a core of truth to all these charges. Japan's government often seems to lack the will to assert itself. This reluctance is particularly problematic today, when the world is desperately looking for ways out of the economic crisis. But there's reason for hope. In some cases, such as Southeast Asian piracy, Japan has already made real contributions to global problems—and hinted at a way forward on other issues. And later this year, when Japanese voters go to the polls, they're expected to deal a stinging defeat to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has governed the country essentially unchallenged since World War II. If the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) forms the next government, it will face a remarkable opportunity to launch bold new initiatives—even though its current positions are a bit of a muddle. Japanese voters are likely to support decisive moves, given their frustrations with the LDP's fecklessness...
If you are going to claim that Japanese non-military contributions to piracy control in the Malacca Straits proved crucial to the suppression of the number and/or severity of attacks, could you please offer one person, preferably an Indonesian, Malaysian or Singaporean security expert, to back up your assertion? Otherwise, it sounds like you are regurgitating government or an amakudari NGO's propaganda.

As for the high state of muddle of the Democratic Party of Japan's foreign policy pronouncements or the public's champing at the bit in the hope that Japan will take on a more activist role in security affairs, where are the examples, the quotes from government documents and the results of surveys? What is so "muddled" about the DPJ's drumbeat of "Hell no, time to go (home)?" What foreign policy adventure did the public recently cheer on? Not the GMSDF Iraq dispatch, to be sure, which a majority of the populace opposed.

"How Japan Can Save the World," tootles the title...but no payoff comes. What Japan can do seems pitifully small compared to the accumulated wealth of the country, or as compared to its latent geostrategic capabilities or human resources.

Is it possible that Mr. Caryl has been tasked with responding to Hannah Beech's article of late last year, keeping his magazine on a par with its major rival? If so I feel pity for him -- because Beech's article was insufferable.

As for the broader thesis -- that one can win friends and influence people through being exceptionally nice -- well, frankly no. Exceptionally generous, exceptionally thoughtful, possibly. Willing to face death to protect the defenseless, definitely.

Exceptionally nice? Uh, no.

1 comment:

Jun Okumura said...

Human credulity knows no bounds, does it? At least Kashiwagi-san didn't claim a share of the byline.