UKRAINIAN CRISIS ISN’T SOMEBODY ELSE’S AFFAIR
On February 11, President Joe Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan urged all American in Ukraine to leave within the next 48 hours, pointing to the possibility of Russia launching an invasion of the country even before the end of the Beijing Olympics. If a Russian attack proceeded, it likely would begin with aerial bombing and missile attacks that could obviously kill civilians without regard to their nationality, Sullivan stated. He added: “There is no prospect of a U.S. military evacuation in the event of a Russian invasion. The president will not be putting the lives of our men and women in uniform at risk by sending them into a war zone to rescue people who could have left now but chose not to.”
The New York Times in its February 12 edition quoted the US military as having withdrawn about 150 National Guard soldiers who were assisting the Ukrainian military as trainers. It further quoted a local news outlet as reporting that the largest number of private and chartered jets in six years departed Kyiv in a single day on Sunday, indicating the country’s elite were getting out alongside Americans in Ukraine.
Biden appears firmly resolved to not intervene in Ukraine militarily. Even so, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in a phone call on February 13 invited him to visit Kyiv in the next two to three days to “contribute to de-escalation and stabilize the situation.” But Zelensky’s action attracted critical comments for clinging to an unrealistic approach to deal with the imminent crisis of his nation. Ukraine, somewhat held at arm’s length by the US and the major European nations at this juncture, does not look to me like someone else’s affair. In other words, there are similarities between Ukraine and Japan when it comes to security issues. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida must realize he has already let down the US by naively dreaming of a world without nuclear weapons, while continuing to rely on the US for Japan’s defense.
The US decision not to intervene militarily in Ukraine constitutes the basis of the Ukraine policies of Japan and major European nations, including France and England, which are all keeping in step with America’s strategy. Although I do not think America’s strategy of economic sanctions can stop Putin’s military incursion, it is crucial for the US to do its utmost to bring the G7 nations tightly together. But the Biden administration has yet to achieve even that.
China-Russia Ties Closest since Cold War
A glaring example is Germany, whose Chancellor Olaf Sholtz visited Ukraine and Russia February 14-15 to determine what Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to ultimately achieve. If he were to invade Ukraine, how would he govern the country after capturing Kyiv? Russia would naturally want to occupy the eastern half of the country blessed with abundant natural resources, but what about the less resourceful eastern half, which includes Chernobyl devastated by the 1986 nuclear accident? How would Russia deal with the two small republics on the Russian border—Donetsk and Luhansk, both ruled by pro-Russian forces. Would Russia recognize their independence, or place them under its control by establishing a pro-Moscow administration in Kyiv similar to what it did in the Republic of Kazakhstan? Any number of scenarios are conceivable.
Under present circumstances, I suspect Sholtz would look to negotiate a start-up of operations of the already completed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline linking Russia with Germany. One should be prepared for the possibility of Germany, who is dependent on Russia for 60% of its energy needs, eventually taking unilateral action that benefits Russia.
In the midst of the chaos, intelligence about the possibility of Russia invading Ukraine shook the Japanese government. Kishida, who presided over a meeting of the National Security Council on February 14, failed to clarify his Ukraine policy. Hasn’t he started straying off course like Biden?
America’s grand strategy has significantly deviated from its original intent to concentrate its resources on its biggest adversary China, and now appears to be heading in a most undesirable direction. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor in the Carter Administration, once warned against a “grand coalition of China and Russia” as the greatest threat to the US.
At the end of last August, Biden clumsily withdrew American troops from Afghanistan. But his action was generally viewed in the free world as a right step in America’s efforts to shift its Middle East forces to the Indo-Pacific in order to counter China.
But now the US in effect has allowed China and Russia to create an alliance before managing to concentrate its forces to deal squarely with China. That the two autocracies have agreed to form a grand coalition, which Brzezinski had feared, was manifest in a 99-paragraph joint statement released on February 4 following the summit between Putin and Xi Jinping at the start of the Olympics. China and Russia claimed they are the true democracies, proudly declaring their policy of aligning with the UN. By leading a superior number of UN members, most of them smaller and developing, China and Russia clearly believe they stand a good chance of overwhelming the Free Bloc. Some noteworthy points of the statement:
•Russia declared it “reaffirms its support for the one-China principle, confirms Taiwan as an inalienable part of China, and opposes any form of the independence of Taiwan”；
•China and Russia denounced the US-led Indo-Pacific strategy as a ‟formation of closed bloc structures,” pointing out the strategy’s “negative impact on peace and stability in the region”；
•The two nations strongly objected to AUKUS, a trilateral security partnership between Australia, UK, and the US, as “contrary to the objectives of security and sustainable development of the Asia-Pacific region … and (posing) serious risks of nuclear proliferation”；
•Russia stated it valued the “community of common destiny for mankind” Xi has committed himself to；
•Russia condemned Japan’s decision to release diluted tritium-contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean as “of deep concern” to both China and Russia； and,
•China and Russia declared a “new type” of relations now exist between Russia and China that are “superior to the military-political alliances of the Cold War era.”
Kishida Must Take Concrete Action Now
Tadae Takubo, an expert on Richard Nixon and deputy director of JINF (Japan Institute for National Fundamentals), a privately financed conservative public and foreign policy think tank that I head, pointed out:
“It’s time the US pursued a reverse ‘Nixon strategy.’ When the Soviet Union was still powerful, Nixon tore junior partner China away from the USSR, leading to the latter’s collapse. Now that China has become so powerful, one must exercise wisdom to search for ways to tear Russia away from it. That was the aim of both Shinzo Abe and Donald Trump.”
Abe and Trump managed to go only halfway, but I believe the grand strategy they both envisioned should be termed right. Faced with the crisis in Ukraine, however, what strategy Kishida has formulated, if any, remains completely unclear.
Kishida served as foreign minister for nearly five years under Abe. Known as one of the hardest drinkers among Japanese politicians, Kishida must have had a good number of private meetings as Japan’s top diplomat with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, presumably helping one another to sake, or vodka. Why can’t he utilize his ties with Lavrov in an effort to help resolve the current crisis in Ukraine? In his latest book Kishida Vision:from Division to Cooperation (Kodansha, Tokyo; September 2020), the prime minister wrote that no one in Japanese politics excels him as a foreign and national defense expert. I have a similar complaint about incumbent foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, considered exceptionally brilliant as a graduate of Tokyo and Harvard Universities. Why doesn’t Hayashi utilize his keen mind in pursuing better relations with Russia?
High-ranking Foreign Ministry officials lament a serious lack of connections. But it is no time for excuses, as they must act promptly and resolutely. Unless Japan takes concrete steps to help defuse the current crisis now, we will not be able to expect the US and Europe to give us a helping hand if a similar crisis should befall Taiwan, the Senkaku Islands, or Okinawa. If Japan fails to act proactively amid the current crisis threatening Europe, I can’t believe the international community would aid Taiwan if it were to be attacked, even if we maintained that an attack on Taiwan was an attack on Japan.
Ukraine joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1994, subsequently transferring all its nuclear warheads to Russia, as it trusted a pledge made by all UN Security Council members that they would not ‟threaten or use force against Ukraine.” (Budapest Memorandum). But now, none of them is willing to risk military intervention to aid Ukraine. Ukrainians are desperately endeavoring to defend their loved ones and homeland on their own.
Meanwhile, Japan has yet to even revise its “peace” constitution and has stopped short of recognizing its 250,000-strong Self Defense Forces (JSDF) as a national army. Do we Japanese have the mettle to fight a war, if need be? Advocating Japan’s “three non-nuclear” principles (“non-production,” “non-possession,” and “non introduction”), Kishida, who hails from Hiroshima, is happy to only chant meaningless slogans. There are signs that the US has begun to have strong reservations about Kishida. Japan will not be able to safeguard its own security, much less protect Taiwan, unless our leaders take new measures based on a realistic view of the world.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 988 in the February 17, 2022 issue of The Weekly Shincho)