WHAT TRUMP’S HARSH CRITICISM OF GERMANY MEANS TO JAPAN
I am writing this column on July 16, just hours before Donald Trump is slated to meet Vladimir Putin for a US-Russia summit in Helsinki.
How the summit will turn out is anyone’s guess. But I feel Putin has much to gain from the simple fact that a meeting has been arranged. For Trump, it will most likely be a summit resembling the one he had with Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12. I suspect that Trump will have little to gain despite his boastfulness.
One cannot but acknowledge that consultations between the US and North Korea following the first US-North Korea summit have been progressing at Pyongyang’s pace. The joint communique issued at the end of the talks fell short of global expectations, devoid of the much anticipated reference to North Korea’s readiness to implement “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” (CVID).
After Secretary of State Mike Pompeo freshly demanded that Pyongyang honor its CVID pledge on his third visit to the reclusive nation early this month, North Korea compared him to a “gangster.” Presumably, this bold accusation was only possible because Kim Jong-un had perceived that Trump would no longer be able to take military action against North Korea after the summit.
Likewise, Trump’s impending summit with Putin could create a fatal disadvantage for the US due to Trump’s under-preparation and failure to accurately recognize the Russian threat.
Arriving in the United Kingdom on July 12 following the NATO summit in Brussels, Trump had this to say to the press about his meeting with Putin:
“I will ask him your favorite questions. I’ll ask whether he had meddled with the (2016) election. He may deny it. Look, he may. What I am going to do? All I can do is say, ‘Did you?’ and ‘Don’t you do it again.’ But he may deny it.”
While traveling from Washington to Brussels and then on to the United Kingdom and Helsinki, Trump remarked that Putin would perhaps be the easiest head of state to deal with. Doesn’t Trump realize that this man regards the breakup of the Soviet Union as the “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century” and has been vigorously dreaming of reestablishing the Soviet Empire over the past 28 years?
In point of fact, Putin seeks to unite the Russian people through nationnalistic policies and statements that position the US as Russia’s primary foreign enemy. He had this to say about the US in an address in Munich in February 2007:
“The United States…has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations.”
Enhanced Russian Presence in Middle East
In the fall of 2013, Putin contributed an article entitled A Plea for Caution from Russia to the Opinion page of the New York Times (September 11, 2013) in which he condemned the US:
“I would rather disagree with a case he (President Barak Obama) made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’ It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”
One day before the Putin address, on September 10, Obama declared in an address on the civil war in Syria: “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria…America is not the world’s policeman.”
Obama’s decision, a strategic blunder unheard of in recent history, prompted Russia to immediately intervene in the Syrian situation. It was sheer naiveté on the part of Obama, who seemingly did not understand that the international community is an arena in which nations with different ideologies and values clash, spurred by ambition and the desire for power.
Putin lost no time in dramatically enhancing Russia’s presence in the Middle East.
Scheming leaders are prone to be terrified of conspiracies. Putin apparently believes the “color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine and the Arab Spring revolutions in the Middle East would have not been possible without the US supporting the movements economically and militarily, and that the anti-Putin campaigns in Russia would not have happened without America being involved.
In a 625-page work titled Putin Viewed through Russia’s Internal Politics (Fujiwara Shoten Publishing Co., Tokyo: 2016) Professor Hiroshi Kimura, the nation’s foremost expert on Putin, describes the Russian autocrat as a leader who “is adamant about not speaking his mind even to his wife”—a “wheedler” skilled in cajoling people he has targeted.
As a result of the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, I fear the possibility of the US forced into a strategic retreat, with the European situation subjected to a historic sea change. What will happen to NATO nations then? It is critical that Japan recognize that this is not someone else’s problem.
Despite its outward crudeness, the demand Trump made for increased defense spending of his colleagues at the NATO summit in Brussels July 11-12 was quite reasonable.
After all, NATO is a collective security mechanism founded in 1949 with the aim of defending the western bloc from the threat of the Soviet Union. The US has footed more than 70% of its costs over these years.
Trump is demanding that the other NATO nations honor their earlier pledge of allocating 2% of their GDP to defense spending. In fact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has admitted that “we must make greater efforts (to increase defense spending),” while representatives of other NATO nations in Brussels were desperate to avoid what ensued at the G7 summit in Quebec, where a sharp rift developed between Trump and his NATO colleagues over trade matters.
What Should Japan Do
On the first day of the NATO summit, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had crossed swords with Trump in Quebec, committed Canada to deploying 250 Canadian troops to Baghdad to help train Iraqi government troops. Trudeau further pledged:
“We are increasing our defense budget…by 70 percent over the next decade. Including that commitment, however, Canada’s current defense spending plans are only expected to bring it to 1.4 percent of GDP—well short of the target. We know that NATO is as necessary now as it was at the height of the Cold War.”
NATO this time announced that this fall, it will deploy 500 new troops to Iraq and increase from 13,000 to 16,000 the number of its Afghanistan-based troops—against 15,000 American troops already there. Such moves reflect the willingness on the part of NATO to individually or collectively respond to Trump’s demand for more defense spending.
But Trump snapped: “Pay 4% of your GDP.” And yet, the NATO nations were unable to refute him, despite his blatant abuses and brusqueness—because Trump is right when he says national defense is the responsibility of every NATO nation.
By the end of this year, only eight out of NATO’s 29 member nations will have met the minimum 2% (of GDP) standard they agreed to in 2014 after Russia invaded Ukraine: the US, Britain, Greece, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.
The three Baltic nations, including Estonia, have the dark history of suffering under the harsh rule of the Soviet Union. The last thing they want is to be brought back into the sphere of Russia’s influence.
What about Japan, then, surrounded by Russia, China, North Korea, and the left-leaning South Korea? All of them, except South Korea, have nuclear weapons. But Japan spends on its defense far less than Germany, which is harshly criticized by Trump for not allocating more to national defense. Won’t Trump say to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe one day in the not too distant future: “Let’s get real, Shinzo. When are you going to start paying your fair share”?
Japan is heavily dependent on the US for its security and a possible solution to the “abductee” issue. We spend less than 1% of our GDP on our national defense and have yet to implement a revision of our constitution written by the American occupation forces in 1947. There really is no guarantee that the US will not demand that Japan spend more on national defense, treating it as another NATO nation, or more specifically, another Germany. Rather than being rattled and rushed to respond when that time comes, we must earnestly start preparing now for a more secure future as a sovereign democracy.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 812 in the July 26, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)