SUGA MUST HONOR PLEDGE TO ENHANCE JAPAN’S DEFENSE CAPABILITIES
The influential economic daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun carried an article in its June 21 morning edition reporting: “Japan’s Defense Outlay Unexpectedly Surpassed by South Korea.” The news must have been shocking to no small number of Japanese.
But Japan has only itself to blame for what has happened. We have for too long indulged ourselves in a peaceful slumber, surrounded by the sea on all sides, content to rely on the US for our defense.
South Korea is inhabited by some 50 million people—less than half the Japanese population—with slightly more than US$1.3 trillion in GDP, less than a third of Japan’s. But its people have made earnest efforts to adapt as the world continues to change. They are also spurred on by their determination to compete with Japan.
Meanwhile, most Japanese have been too involved in reflecting on Japan’s past since its defeat in the last war, unable to figure out how a new Japan should function as a normal democracy. Especially liberals—of whom there are plenty—have lauded other countries for their achievements but failed to develop a solid vision for Japan’s future. The preamble to Japan’s postwar “peace” constitution drafted by the American occupiers is emblematic of the nation’s naïve determination to “preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world.” The liberal camp persistently engages in shouting matches, committing themselves to protecting the flawed constitution and bitterly opposing its revision.
Now is the time for all Japanese, especially liberals, to drastically change our way of thinking as regards international peace and security. The world is undergoing a sea change. At the end of the G7 summit in Cornwall, England, on June 13, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told the international press that he had committed Japan to supporting the G7 in its efforts to “spearhead change” on such global issues as the pandemic, climate change, and the fight against authoritarianism. Cornwall provided Suga his first chance to attend a G7 summit since taking office last September.
In Washington two months earlier, Suga declared to the world following his first face-to-face meeting with President Joe Biden:
“I conveyed (to President Biden) my resolve to enhance Japan’s defense capabilities…(reaffirming on this occasion) an agreed recognition of the importance of the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait. The ‘Japan-US Joint Leaders Statement’…will serve as the guiding post for our alliance in the times ahead.”
Suga, who was a guest speaker during a CSIS on-line seminar following his talks with Biden, specifically referred to China’s on-going efforts to change the existing order in the East and the South China Seas. He declared: “I have no intention whatsoever to concede in matters relating to sovereignty or fundamental values such as democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.” He added:
“I consider it my main responsibility to spare no efforts to elevate the US-Japan alliance to new heights.”
The declaration Suga made in Washington was truly epochal. If he manages to succeed in practicing what he has preached, Japan will be able to undergo a grand transformation to a normal and a fully independent democracy. This also would allow Suga to win immortal fame as the prime minister who managed to dispel the negative legacy of Japan’s postwar era.
Blessed to be Prime Minister
The key factor behind his resolve is strong support from Biden. Prior to the Cornwall summit, the American president held talks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, jointly announcing the New Atlantic Charter. Prominent strategist Tadae Takubo is among experts in Japan who have pointed out the strategic significance of the Charter which echoes the declaration signed by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill 80 years ago. Takubo serves as the deputy head of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals (JINF), a privately-financed conservative think tank that I head in Tokyo.
On August 14, 1941, the two leaders convened in Placentia, Newfoundland and issued an eight-article statement—later called the Atlantic Charter—outlining their aims for the postwar world. Article 1 stipulated that the US and the United Kingdom “seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other.” Article 6 expressed their “hope, after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries…” The final article referred to their determination to disarm their enemies after World War II: “…pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security…the disarmament of such nations (which threaten, or may threaten, aggression outside their frontiers) is essential.”
Germany, Italy and Japan were the nations the declaration had in mind when it referred to “such nations” that had to be disarmed, although Japan was not mentioned by name, as the war between Japan and the US had yet to break out. But as of August 1941—four months before Pearl Harbor—the US and UK had already positioned the new rising power in Asia as an unacceptably dangerous adversary that had to be smashed.
Eight decades later, the US and UK mapped out the New Atlantic Charter which, like its predecessor, is aimed at creating a just world based on democratic values. What is manifestly different from the original version is that China has replaced Japan, Germany, and Italy as the enemy of democracy. Over the span of 80 long years, the alliances have changed.
The spirit of the original Atlantic Charter constituted the foundation of the new world order following the end of World War II, leading to the birth of a string of significant international organizations, including the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). But now China is going all out to undermine these organizations formed under the global order of democratic values. That is why the US and the UK have specified China and other authoritarian, one-party dictatorship nations as the enemy camp and are determinedly facing up to them.
Once crushed as the enemy of democracy, Japan has since secured a position as a vital ally of American and Britain in a new confrontation pitting the US and the UK against China. Britain enjoys a “special relationship” with the US as America’s uniquely important partner in Europe, while Japan has become America’s irreplaceable ally and partner in the Pacific.
Concerted efforts are being made by the democratic camp to counter the authoritarian forces in the spirit of the new Atlantic Charter. Japan and Suga are entrusted with the task of fulfilling a central role in this endeavor. Any prime minister ought to feel blessed to be in his position taking on such great responsibility at this juncture, not only for Japan but for the entire world.
Dispelling Cowardly Spirit
Viewed geopolitically, Japan carries immeasurable weight, with economic and military capabilities difficult for any other nation to readily replace. That is what Japan’s strength is about. If Japanese ourselves—and most importantly our prime minister—can clearly recognize this, we will be able to utilize our resources for the benefit of ourselves as well as the rest of Asia. This will also mean that we will be able to extricate ourselves from the cowardly spirit of the existing constitution, which precludes us from saying even a word against China’s merciless genocide of the Uyghurs in Xinjian.
As mentioned earlier, Suga has emphasized “the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” in effect pledging to commit Japan to maintaining the security of the self-governing island of Taiwan. He also has publicly pledged to strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities. Faced with the threat from China, the fate of Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands actually is hanging by a thread, so to speak. An increase in our defense expenditure is a pledge to the international community, but it is just as importantly an essential linchpin in the revitalization of our nation.
As Toshi Yoshihara, a prominent American analyst of China’s PLA Navy, has pointed out: The power of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces, compared with the PLA’s, has declined dramatically. Unless a radical reform is implemented, the JMSDF will be left behind forever within the next decade.
To catch up, Japan must implement a number of steps. Firstly, Japan must do away with an exclusively defensive security policy, the likes of which exists only in Japan.
Secondly, we must acquire the capability to strike enemy bases, a debate which has been spurred on by China and Russia deploying supersonic gliding missiles. Thirdly, the Suga administration must start taking steps to increase Japan’s defense outlay from the current 0.9% to a permanent 2% of GDP—on a par with NATO nations. Incidentally, the figure is now 2.7% for South Korea.
Beyond that, Suga has the historic mission to accomplish the big goal of revising the constitution.
Making good on his promise to the international community as prime minister of Japan, i.e., honoring the pledges he made in Washington and Cornwall, will be a major contribution to Japan’s national interests.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 956 in the July 1, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)