JAPAN SHOULD LEARN FROM GERMANY’S HISTORIC POLICY SHIFT
A crisis can strike anytime—out of the blue on a scale beyond all imagination. Dialogue or friendship in the international arena means little to an adversary that only believes in power. The only countermeasure is a readiness to unflinchingly exercise power when necessary.
On February 24, Vladimir Putin’s Russia launched a comprehensive attack on Ukraine in an attempt to subjugate its western neighbor. Referring to Russia as “one of the great nuclear powers ever,” Putin has tried to intimidate his opponent and its potential allies by indicting he is willing to use nuclear weapons. It has been feared Ukraine would be overwhelmed by Putin’s powerful troops in just a few days, but Ukrainians have fought back gallantly, holding the fort as of this writing.
Further escalating the situation, Putin declared on February 27 that he had put his nuclear forces on “special combat duty.” His words created a widespread concern about the possibility of Russia using small tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, desperate to avert further sacrifices on the part of his people, proposed cease-fire negotiations. On February 28, a five-hour meeting was held between Russian and Ukrainian representatives. Further negotiations are expected, but even during the negotiations Putin’s troops intensified their offensive in a wide range across Ukraine aimed primarily at taking Kyiv and forcing the collapse of the Ukrainian government.
Military power, not clever negotiations, is mandatory in safeguarding the peace and security of people of any country. German Chancellor Olav Scholtz has belatedly come to grips with this cold fact. Defeated in World War II along with Japan, Germany has long remained reluctant to build up its military power due to its wartime history. Despite having become an indisputable economic superpower driving the European economy, Germany has continued to refuse to address its need to increase its armed strength and the effects this would have on the geopolitical situation of the region.
Faced with the Ukrainian crisis, nations such as Britain quickly provided Ukraine portable anti-tank guided missiles, but the world frowned on Germany for only providing 5,000 helmets. But Russia’s use of naked force to achieve its aims has awakened the nation to a fresh realization.
On the night of February 21, Putin recognized the independence of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, vowing to send “peace-keeping” forces. The following morning, Scholz abruptly announced a decision to put a freeze on the operations of the already-completed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline linking Russia with Germany.
Russia derives 40% of its annual revenue from its oil and gas exports, while Europe’s reliance on Russia for energy sources is a powerful weapon for Moscow. Putin undoubtedly must have been shocked by Germany’s abrupt decision.
China’s Shrewd Moves
Early on the same day that Russia launched an all-out attack on Ukraine, Scholz delivered a television address unthinkable for a prime minister of a nation that long maintained a conciliatory posture toward Russia. “We are witnessing the start of war…Today is a dark day for Europe,” said Scholz, condemning Putin for attempting to “turn back time.” He continued: “…it is not possible to return to the time before 1989. Back them, citizens in Central and Eastern Europe fought to gain their freedom and democracy. In our country, too. And in Ukraine.”
“This war is Putin’s war,” Scholz continued without using an honorific for the Russian dictator, adding: “He alone bears full responsibility for it…Putin should not underestimate NATO’s determination to defend all of its members. Until the last minute, we…placed our faith in dialogue and sough to engage Moscow in talks. We were hopeful but not naïve.” Referring to each and every eastern European nation that joined NATO after the Cold War, Scholz said NATO will defend them unconditionally and declared: “Putin will not win.” One could not have expected to hear a German head of state make such remarks before.
During a White House news conference on the same day, President Joe Biden discussed the effects of the sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and its allies:
‟We are going to stunt the ability to finance and grow the Russian military…No sanctions have immediate effect. No one expected the sanctions to prevent anything from happening. That…is going to take time. And we have to show resolve so (Putin) knows what’s coming and so the people of Russia know what he’s brought on them. That’s what this is all about. ”
Biden admitted he felt sanctions alone could not deter Putin’s war. What Biden’s admission implies is discernible in the moves China made also on the same day, relaxing restrictions on its Russian trade with an announcement that it would significantly increase its import of Russian wheat. Also, during a summit held in Beijing between Xi Jinping and Putin ahead of the Winter Olympics, an agreement was reached under which China would buy an additional 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia, worth US$117.5 billion. China took these steps to obviously help offset the effects of economic sanctions imposed on Russia.
As effects of sanctions have their limits, so even more so do talks at the UN Security Council. The 15-member council took a vote on February 25 on a resolution demanding that Russia immediately stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw its troops. But Russia, one of the five permanent council members, used its veto against it. China, India, and the United Arab Republic abstained. It was a typical case of the world body failing to resolve a major crisis through talks.
On the same day, Putin condemned the Zelensky administration by comparing it to the Nazis and called for a coup by Ukrainian soldiers.
The next day, Scholz announced Germany’s abrupt change in course. He made public a historic decision to send 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger portable anti-tank guided missiles to Ukraine—a definitive recasting of its pacifist postwar foreign policy.
Japan: Totally Vulnerable
On February 27, Scholz delivered a crucial address at the Bundestag, the German Federal Parliament, declaring that the nation will this year increase its defense outlay to 2% of its gross domestic product—an estimated increase of US$113 billion. It was a stunning action, although one could not figure out from his address how Scholz plans to raise so large a sum.
The increase is expected to cover the purchase of weapons, including F-35 fighter jets and Israeli-made drones, and will not be used for military personnel costs. Germany, which has long remained skeptical of the benefits of military power, has finally set out to grapple earnestly with strengthening its military capabilities, belatedly accepting the fact that military power ultimately determines the fate of a nation.
Another notable point in Scholz’s address was a decision to take measures to expeditiously build two LNG terminals in Germany so as to avoid being overly dependent on Russia for energy.
These measures will naturally take time to be successfully implemented. While Germany’s case is instructive, it would be unwise for Japan to fully trust Germany. Although Japan and Germany were allies during World War II, the latter secretly provided military assistance to Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist Party for some time even after the war broke out. The international community is full of crafty nations.
Nevertheless, I believe Japan should learn an important lesson from the fact that Germany has awakened to the realization that a nation cannot depend on its economic power alone for its survival. What counts is its military power, as can clearly be seen in the case of Ukraine.
Ukraine relinquished its nuclear weapons in 1994 under the terms of the Budapest Memorandum signed with the US, Britain, and Russia, each vowing to safeguard Ukraine’s security. But now, Russia, of all nations, is threatening Ukraine with nuclear destruction, while the US and Europe are limiting their military assistance to conventional weapons and equipment.
I wish to emphasize once more that, in today’s fierce international community, Japan is targeted by China, another autocracy many times more formidable than Russia. It would be impossible for Japan to defend itself in its current vulnerable state. It is incumbent on Japan to take pertinent measures as soon as possible, including: 1) a significant increase in our defense outlay; 2) possession of offensive weapons, including medium range missiles; 3) a review of our “Three Nuclear Principles” (non-possession, non-production, and non-introduction of nuclear weapons) to facilitate nuclear sharing with the US; and 4) a revision of our “peace” constitution. Otherwise, Japan will one day be made a client state of a cunning China—a seasoned master of stick-and-carrot diplomacy.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 990 in the March 17, 2022 issue of The Weekly Shincho)