TRUMP, GERMANY, RUSSIA, AND WHAT JAPAN NEEDS TO LEARN
During his talks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prior to the NATO summit in Brussels July 11-12, Donald Trump railed at Germany as a “captive of Russia.”
Trump was infuriated that Germany is cooperating with Russia in the construction of the “Nord Stream-2” undersea pipeline—a project aimed at marketing Russian national gas and other energy sources across Europe, with Germany functioning as the transit point. Construction is slated for completion by late 2019. Trump claimed that the deal is allowing Germany to provide Russia billions of dollars while the other NATO members are at the same time striving to increase defense expenditures in order to guard against Russia.
Energy is the quintessential strategic material for any nation. Over the years, Russia has sold to Europe natural gas through an undersea pipeline via Ukraine—the “Nord Stream-1,” completed in 2011. But Russia had since increased its pressure on Ukraine by closing the main gas tap, as an anti-Russian administration was inaugurated in Ukraine and popular anti-Russian movements gained momentum.
The gas stoppage by Russia dealt a heavy economic blow to Ukraine, as gas passage fees suddenly stopped pouring in and virtually all of its major economic activities were forced to come to a halt.
Closing the gas tap ended up hurting Russia itself as well. The export of energy sources accounts for approximately 50% of Russia’s total exports, contributing to some 40% of its annual budget. So Putin decided this year to come up with another undersea pipeline that would bypass Ukraine—“Nord Stream-2” in the Baltic Sea—linking Russia directly with Germany, entrusting the Germans with future gas distribution across Europe.
When completed, this new undersea pipeline is expected to supply some 80% of Russian natural gas bound for Europe. Germany will be making huge profits. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder currently serves as the chairman of the board of Russia’s state-run Nord Stream AG; it cannot be good for Germany to have its former chancellor hired at a high salary by the state-controlled enterprise of an adversary whose views on international security differ widely from Germany. I believe Trump is quite right in criticizing Germany, as its actions unduly benefit its—and NATO’s—adversary.
Germany’s Wartime Betrayal of Japan
Trump’s indignation with Germany prompts one to recall Japan’s bitter wartime experience with Nazi Germany. As detailed in The Japan-China War: China Wanted War but Japan Didn’t by historians Minoru Kitamura and Lin Si-yun (PHP Institute, Kyoto; 2014), Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany and Italy in 1937, which led to the signing of the Tripartite Pact of 1940. At the time, the Japanese Army was fighting General Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist army.
Even after signing these pacts, Germany continued to consistently export massive amounts of weaponry to Nationalist China. Germany badly needed scarce tungsten for its expanding arms industry—a rare metal that China produced in plenty.
In addition to weaponry, Germany supplied military advisors who commanded Nationalist Chinese troops in several battles against Japanese troops. In many of these battles, the supposedly “invincible” Japanese troops suffered devastating defeats against General Chiang’s troops.
Germany’s betrayal of Japan continued through July 1941. Germany’s ties with Nationalist China ended abruptly—not because the latter regretted its betrayal of Japan, but because Chiang chose to sever diplomatic ties with Nazi Germany. Today, the Japanese generally have a favorable impression of the Germans. But it is taboo in international relations to harbor naive expectations of partners.
Trump’s diplomacy has so far been quite difficult to judge because of its perpetual inconsistency. But he has clearly fired an opening round when it comes to the gas deal between Germany and Russia. Notable was his attendance at the second summit of the 12 members of the “Three Seas Initiative#” (3SI) held in Warsaw July 6-7 last year. Stressing America’s readiness to supply energy in abundance, Trump was quoted as declaring: “if you need natural gas, just give us a call any time.”
The 3SI refers to a bloc of 12 East European nations under former soviet rule on the coasts of three seas—the Baltic Sea, the Adriatic Sea, and the Black Sea. The last thing these nations want, after banding together at the initiative of Poland and Croatia, is to ever again be forced into the sphere of Russia’s autocratic influence.
When Russia’s pipelines are spread over Europe, the autocratic state can easily exert pressure on the entire continent. What these 3SI nations are most afraid of is a situation in which an overreliance on Russian energy would force the whole of Europe to come under Moscow’s control.
Trump guaranteed during the Warsaw conference an abundant and relatively inexpensive supply of American energy without allowing any of the 3SI nations to be held hostage by any nation, obviously with Russia clearly in mind. This is in line with America’s national strategy of promoting exports of shale gas and oil now richly available at home.
Russian liquefied natural gas is set at relatively high prices, but the US is capable of exporting natural gas at lower prices and in abundance.
Having already completed a terminal designed to store LNG imported from the US, Poland has decided to not renew its contract with Russia’s Gazprom when it expires in 2022. For the 3SI nations to have paved the way for a secure flow of gas from the US provides some degree of security. Still, the reality of global power politics remains harsh for them.
Trump’s Real Intentions
During an interview on Fox News July 17 after his return from the Helsinki summit, Trump said that, if Montenegro should be attacked, he didn’t think American boys should shed blood to defend the nation.
The principle of collective defense is at the heart of NATO’s founding treaty. An attack against any of its 29 members is automatically considered an attack against all of the allies. But Trump took issue with the principle. Although he quickly retracted his remark, one suspects that it in fact reflects his true feelings.
Every nation must do whatever it takes to ensure its own survival. What about Japan? What are we doing?
Trump strongly slammed NATO member nations for their lack of effort to increase defense spending, criticizing Germany especially harshly. We must not disregard the possibility of Trump one day hitting Japan with equally harsh accusations.
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera had this to say on the weekly “Genron TV” news show on which he appeared as my guest on July 27:
“In terms of GDP, Germany spends 1.3% on its defense. This percentage reflects the NATO standard of calculations. The same standard doesn’t automatically apply to Japan, but by our own standard we spend less than Germany on our national defense—just 0.87% of GDP. This of course doesn’t include payments to America for the cost of realigning US forces in Japan. Although it is a fact that our defense expenditures have been increasing steadily since the start of the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, our defense expenditures have annually become proportionally smaller and smaller, as our economy grows.”
One may be tempted to point out, in Japan’s defense, that Japan additionally covers the costs of maintaining American military bases and installations in Japan and that we annually buy expensive American-made weaponry. But the problem of Japan’s modest defense outlays cannot be resolved by trying to use these and other short-term expenditures as an excuse. After all, it is a fact that Japan’s proportionate defense expenditures are less than Germany’s. In a nutshell, Japan must determine how much more it is willing to spend to defend itself in the harsh international situation in which it finds itself, against the growing inward-looking tendencies of its only ally, the US, and in view of China’s rampant expansionism.
The only feasible solution is to set aside the long-held principle of our exclusively defensive security policy and implement a realistic national defense policy that any ordinary democracy would expect to have in place.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 814 in the August 9, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)