CHINA CONDUCTS DRILLS TARGETING US BASES IN JAPAN
“Debate about the nature of Japan’s national defense should not be the exclusive domain of military geeks and nerds. These are issues that concern all Japanese.”
So declares Katsutoshi Kawano (76), former head of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (2014-19), in his new book entitled Chief of Staff (Wac Inc., Tokyo; 2020). Kawano expounds:
“If your friend comes to your aid when something happens to you but you fail to reciprocate beyond helping him monetarily, it can hardly be called true friendship. By the same token, in team sports your team cannot possibly expect to win if you play only defense. At some point you must go on the offensive.”
Kawano is drawing parallels with the asymmetry in the US-Japan Security Treaty and Japan’s exclusively defense-oriented national security policy. I cannot agree with him more.
Allow me to take from Kawano’s book an example of Japan’s behavior due to our irrational security policy. The incident in question is the Gulf War of 1992. However much we may want to, we cannot forget the very sorry display Japan made of itself at the time.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the US formed a coalition of nations willing to assist Kuwait by launching an attack on Iraq. Japan, which heavily relied on oil from the Middle East, was in no position to look on from afar. Asked by the US for help, however, then Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu was flustered, unable to figure out how Japan could make a positive contribution under its “peace” constitution.
Initially, the government proposed that civilians, not JSDF personnel, be dispatched to Kuwait. But when the government asked a private shipping company to transport supplies on behalf of the US military, the All Japan Seamen’s Union raised a fierce objection, with the Japanese media criticizing as absurd the government plan to charter a commercial freighter, instead of dispatching the JSDF’s own ship.
A second proposal followed that civilians and JSDF personnel be dispatched together. In light of restrictions imposed by Article 9 of the constitution, however, the two groups would have to be deployed in two separate locations, with only JSDF personnel expected to be deployed in “dangerous areas.” If armed JSDF personnel were assigned to those areas, however, they would inevitably be compelled to exercise force—a sovereign right of any nation—which our constitution prohibits. So the proposal was amended to call for “JSDF forces to be in ‘safe areas’ and civilians to be in ‘dangerous areas.’” The amended proposal was scrapped, as it simply didn’t make sense to anyone.
Next, a plan was examined under which a separate organization, like the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV), be formed, made up of former JSDF personnel. But this plan was discarded yet again, as such an organization could not be built very easily.
Icy Stare from International Community
Another idea followed quickly—that JSDF personnel join the JOCV with dual status. But it turned out to be legally impossible to allow JSDF personnel to maintain their “military” status in the organization envisioned. Next, the government contemplated utilizing reserve JSDF officers, but this plan also failed because those officers happened to be getting on in years.
The only possible solution left was to dispatch JSDF personnel to Kuwait directly. But the popular media, especially tabloid TV shows, quickly began criticizing the move, asserting that “deploying JSDF personnel would make Japan a military state again.” We started to hear such things as: “we’ve been down this road before”; “a little leak will sink a great ship”; and “we can hear the sound of military boots approaching.”
In point of fact, Kawano writes that several more plans were later proposed and aborted, but I will not go into the details. At any rate, Japan eventually ended up paying US$9 billion to support the coalition’s efforts in Kuwait, although the government attached a request that the money “not be used to procure weapons and ammunitions.” When the Gulf War ended, neither Kuwait nor the rest of the world thanked Japan for its contribution. Instead, Japan was subjected to an icy stare from the international community that in effect delivered a message that money alone does not win any nation respect.
This is what Article 9 of our constitution, which denies the right to wage war, has brought about. We have been locked into a national commitment that simply makes no sense. The legal interpretation of that constitutional provision has changed somewhat since then, but the fundamental Japanese posture toward international intervention remains mostly unchanged.
That, I believe, is why President Donald Trump voiced strong dissatisfaction with Japan’s national defense scheme in June 2019. “The US-Japan Security Treaty is imbalanced,” he said. He added: “If Japan is attacked we will protect them. We will fight at all costs. But when we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to help us at all. They can watch it on a Sony television, the attack.” And he also said, “The US has been spending substantially on defense, but Japan has not spent enough.” Trump also reportedly mused to confidants about withdrawing from the treaty.
We must conclude that these are Trump’s true feelings. And yet, top Japanese government leaders and foreign ministry officials have stated that “a review of the US-Japan Security Treaty has not come up in talks between our two governments.” A sitting US president is the chief representative of his government. It is extremely nonsensical of Japanese officials to deny his remarks as not a manifestation of the US government’s intention.
While Japan keeps distancing itself from the reality of the world, the international security environment has become much harsher. About a month after Trump made these remarks, on August 2, 2019 to be specific, the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty signed between the US and the Soviet Union in 1987 expired. Although the two nations totally destroyed ground-based intermediate and shorter-range nuclear missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (313 to 3,400 miles) as the treaty called for, other nations—China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and the two Koreas—started developing or obtaining intermediate missiles one after another. Nuclear nations are able to arm their missiles with nuclear warheads.
In point of fact, the treaty’s abrogation has created a world in which any nation can enhance its military capabilities as much as it likes—a world in which brazen military power counts.
Against such a backdrop, the US now has no intermediate-range missiles. In other words, it has no means to deal with a Chinese attack with similar missiles. This is a security problem not just for the US but Japan as well. We must urgently realize as a nation that Japan’s security environment is in imminent danger.
Worst Postwar Crisis Facing Japan
In his just-published book entitled New Missile Arms Race and Japan’s National Defense (Namiki Shobo, Tokyo; 2020), Sugio Takahashi, head of the Defense Policy Division, Policy Studies Department of the Defense Ministry, introduces an essay by an American missile expert who outlines the high standard of China’s missile attack capability.
Takahashi quotes the essay as observing: “In China, there are targets modeled after the US bases in Kadena (Okinawa), Yokosuka, and Misawa, which the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) attacks in missile shooting drills…Among these targets are reproduced warships supposedly berthed in Yokosuka, as well as bunkers and hangers at Kadena and Misawa, with the evidence that Chinese ballistic missiles have hit these targets with pinpoint precision.”
During these drills, Chinese precision-guided munitions have obliterated every warship and aircraft in the hanger. Clearly, the Chinese are targeting American military installations in Japan in a real war. That would seem a natural move, as they know the American military would stand in the PLA’s path against any attempt to take over Taiwan or the Senkaku Islands. How should Japan block China’s missile attacks? How should Japan defend its people and territory against Chinese attacks? With North Korea threatening us as well, Japan is now faced with its worst postwar crisis.
In contemplating what type of security strategy Japan should formulate against possible Chinese and North Korean attacks, the important thing is not the concrete specifications of weapons required or where those weapons should be deployed, according to Takahashi.
“Because,” he says, “the practical configuration of weapons comes under a military strategy, which in turn belongs to grand strategy.”
In other words, Japan would do well to explore ways to deter China by working closely with the US and complementing what the Americans are doing, rather than prematurely discussing the capacity and deployment of specific weapons systems. We are facing an unprecedented threat. Bearing this firmly in mind, we must fortify our resolve to spare no effort to solidify our national defense scheme.
(Translated from Renaissance Japan column 919 in the Oct. 1, 2020 issue of The Weekly Shincho)