Thursday, November 08, 2012

Sourabh Gupta on Japan's Security Policy Choices

Sourabh Gupta is a Senior Research Associate at Samuels International Associates and an East Asia Forum Distinguished Fellow. He frequently delivers an intellectual EMP blast, knocking folks' lights out on the other side of the planet.

In his most recent piece published by the EAF, Gupta makes a series of predictions regarding Japan's security policies:
The separate approaches in terms of strategic concepts, command, control and battle management systems, operational planning and crisis action procedures will not be abolished. Rather, a fresh division of bilateral roles and mission responsibilities will progressively chip away at the separation – a process that from Tokyo's point of view will be geared as much to advancing the 'normal nation' defence capabilities as to enhancing interoperability within the alliance. Japan used activities conducted under alliance auspices in Iraq and Afghanistan — such as participation in multinational peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, deploying forces overseas during times of active hostilities, and liberalising rules on supplying weapons and transporting armaments — to push the boundaries of Japanese rearmament.

Similarly, a carefully calculated set of constitutional reinterpretations can be expected to pass into legislation in coming years. The effect of these reinterpretations will be progressively to blur definitional lines between conflict and post-conflict operations, combat and non-combat zones, and military and policing activities, which still limit Japan's involvement in alliance missions within carefully prescribed thresholds. The right to exercise collective self-defence in narrowly circumscribed situations in areas surrounding Japan will also be admitted. Fundamentally though, the geopolitical separation that is built into the heart of the alliance, and the corresponding flexibility to hedge against entrapment or abandonment, will be preserved.

If Abe Shinzo's Liberal Democratic Party and Hashimoto Toru's Japan Restoration Party do well enough in the next election, and if the two parties can find a way to cooperate despite Hashimoto's titanic ego and narcissism, maybe.

I am even less sure about the claims made in this passage:

First, unlike the British interest in manipulating the continental balance of power, the notion of aligning against the stronger power to contain its influence is at odds with the Japanese tradition. Rather, the inclination of statecraft has been to pursue policies of strategic detachment or isolation. The next best option, when this has not been possible, is to forge amicable ties with whichever foreign state appeared to demonstrate the most impressive combination of military, economic and cultural power. Equally, efforts by Great Britain and US in the modern era and China throughout much of Japanese history to involve Japan in the region's strategic balance have mostly been unsuccessful because Tokyo has avoided a too-intimate strategic association with its foreign ally or mentor. Japan is not the UK of East Asia and will not assume the role of regional offshore balancer.

Second, the meteoric rise of China at a time of receding US primacy is placing Japan's choices at odds with its enduring principles.

Adaptive resilience to the reality of Chinese power is not the issue here. The stability of central authority in Beijing has been among the surest guarantors of Japan's domestic stability and external security. Rather, it is the need to hedge against the destabilization that is rippling through the East Asian periphery, as a by-product of the rise of Chinese power. A stable, ideally prosperous, periphery has been the indispensable condition of Japan's national security. Historically, the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Strait have served as the outer ramparts of Japan's defence perimeter. Time and again power vacuums or instability on the peninsula and within the straits have tempted entanglements in Korea and Taiwan, and stability has allowed Japan's strategic view to turn homewards.
First, two technical issues. One, meteors tend not to rise. They tend to either burn up in the upper atmosphere (luckily this is most of the time) or hit the ground, becoming meteorites. Only the occasional one is on the right course and has sufficient mass and momentum to take take the brief tour through Earth's upper atmosphere only to rise up into space. Two, for most of Japan's history, Tokyo has not been the de jure capital or even the de facto capital. Using Tokyo as a shorthand for Japan's government is unsound (the use of Beijing as a shorthand for China's government may be, depending on how far back in time Gupta wishes us to look, similarly unsound).

As to more substantive issues, while it is hard to argue with the recurring patterns in the historical record, this blessed land happens to be no longer under military management, as it was for most of the last 900 years. Talk of enduring principles without reference to the type of government a state has at a particular time seems a leap of faith.

Subtracting democratic governance also leads to errors in gauging the intensity of a government's responses. Democracy tends at once a force multiplier in defense and a dampening factor upon the expansionist inclinations of states. For those who note the two century-old tendency of the United States to go marching out on military expeditions of varying length all around the globe ("From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli," as the U.S. Marine Corps' hymn puts it) despite its democratic form of government, the resultant empire is, Robert Dujarric puts it, largely an informal one.

As for stability and prosperity on China's periphery, that is a great concept. A swing around the states on China's periphery, however, finds damn few that are either stable or prosperous. Nevertheless, China has signed agreements with most of them delineating its borders, setting hard limit on the China/Not China divide.

Indeed, the more legitimate and stable a government is and the more prosperous the state, the less likely it is that China will have resolved its differences with it (Those in the back with their hands up, South Korea is both effectively an island state, separated as it is from China by the black, uncrossable moat that is North Korea, and also in a fight with China over ownership of Socotra Rock).

The contention that instability or power vacuums in Beijing or on the Korean peninsula are goads to Japan's intervening in continental affairs belongs in the "Been There/Done That" tray. The Korean peninsula is divided, with two states on a hair-trigger and one of those states undergoing a halting and stilted leadership transition. And Japan is...where? Furthermore, "stability has allowed Japan's strategic view to turn homewards" is an Ann Elk Theory.

On a final note, Gupta needs to talk to the editors of the EAF regarding his previous featured post, "Japan and China's latest spat over the Senkakus" (23 September 2012). Not one -- and this is not necessarily his fault -- of the links in the essay seems to connects to a text supporting the assertion Gupta is making.

* For reader/blog author Janne Morén, a warning. Clicking on the link will bring you into contact with such a liberal use of unmoored quotations marks as to put you off your lunch.

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