KISHIDA SHOULD LEARN FROM UKRAINIAN CRISIS
Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared his offensive in Ukraine “will continue until our objectives are achieved.” Describing Russia as “one of the great nuclear powers,” Putin has the world know he is prepared to use nuclear weapons and thinks nothing of committing crimes against humanity. Thirty years after the end of the Cold War, the international community is faced with a grave threat from an insane dictator armed with nukes.
It is important for we Japanese to view the Ukrainian crisis as a matter with a direct bearing on us, because Japan and Ukraine have many things in common and China and Russia are two of a kind, as I will explain later.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has valiantly stood up to Putin, showing the determination required of a real national leader, while at the same time agonizing over what his nation lacks as a sovereign state. When the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine declared independence in August 1991, Ukraine yielded its entire nuclear arsenal and major military equipment, including jet fighters, to Russia under the terms of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum signed with the US, Britain, and Russia, fully trusting them. In 1998 Ukraine sold the 65,000-ton carrier Varyag, which was about 60 percent completed, to China.
“To Ukrainians, the end of the Cold War meant the arrival of a long-awaited peace,” explained Andrii Gurenko, a Ukrainian-born international relations scholar now residing in Japan, on my regular “Genron” Friday prime time Internet TV news show on March 4. “A majority of us thought we wouldn’t require that much military power.”
I am sorry to call a spade a spade a spade, but wish to point out that it clearly was a blunder on the part of Ukrainians to be so confident of a lasting peace that they did not bother to solidify national defense or form alliances despite sharing a long border with a major autocratic military power. But they have finally awakened to a realization of what a nation must do to protect itself. Sadly, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has failed to come to grips with this same issue. It makes for a dramatic difference.
Putin claims Ukrainians and Russians are “one people” and should therefore be united. In other words, Putin means Russia should swallow up Ukraine, but that naturally would mean Ukraine and its people would perish. Putin’s claim is synonymous with Beijing’s demand that Uyghurs be assimilated into the Han population.
Zelensky’s steadfast refusal to give in has attracted widespread sympathy and support. And yet the Free World has hesitated to implement direct military intervention, with NATO having so far refused to designate the skies over Ukraine as a “no-fly zone.” With the US taking the lead, former East European nations that joined NATO following the collapse of the Soviet Union are rushing to provide military equipment to Ukraine. In mid-February, the world’s largest cargo plane, Antonov 225, departed from Amari Air Base in Estonia fully loaded with guns and bombs for Ukraine. But the aircraft was later destroyed together with its hangar on February 24 in a pitched battle for Hostomel Airport near Kyiv.
A week after the Russian invasion began on February 24, 17,000 anti-tank guns and missiles were delivered to Ukraine from the US and NATO via Romania. A US Army cyber force has also embarked on an operation to inflict damage on the communication systems of the Russian Army.
As of this writing, the US is also asking Poland to give Ukraine its used Mig-29s, which Ukrainian pilots know how to fly. The US plans to offer F-16s to Poland to replace the Migs. Although the Polish government denies any knowledge of the deal, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was “working actively” with Poland to supply jets to fight invading Russian planes. I think it safe to assume negotiations are underway between the two governments.
In this deal one also gets a glimpse of the harsh reality of geopolitics. The F-16s Washington is offering were originally meant for shipment to Taiwan. What will happen to the defense of Taiwan, which is being targeted by China? In the meantime, the Polish government is understandably afraid of possible retaliations by Russia. Each nation is extending assistance to Ukraine very prudently under extremely complicated circumstances, careful not to give Putin a pretext for a counterattack. But ultimately, the precarious state of Ukraine, which has to fight this war out on its own, remains unchanged.
Putin, who still believes Russia can crush Ukraine, told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in a telephone conversation on March 6 that his operation in Ukraine “is progressing according to the plan.” Putin and Xi Jinping are two of a kind in that they cherish the law of the jungle. Japan presumably is the only nation in the world that is simultaneously faced with the threat of two savage autocracies. That makes it all the more pertinent for we Japanese to heighten our sense of national security.
But Kishida stuck to Japan’s “three non-clear principles” (non-possession, non-production, and non-introduction of nuclear weapons) during a Diet deliberation on March 6. Indulging in “constitutional pacifism” and turning our eyes away from the geopolitical realities, Japan has so far extended US$100 million and minimum assistance to Ukraine in the form of bulletproof vests and other non-lethal supplies owned by the Self-Defense Forces, which drew this response from Andrii:
“We are not asking Japan to provide us weapons. But we would like for Japan to expeditiously provide us the means to help those of us in great trouble in Ukraine, such as vehicles to transport citizens to safe spots.”
Does Kishida intend to hide behind the principle of non-interventionism attributable to a pacifism our “peace” constitution calls for and not do anything further to help Ukrainians whose lives are in immediate danger?
Putin and Xi: Two Peas in a Pod
I wish to stress once more: the Ukrainian crisis is unquestionably a crisis for Taiwan and Japan—because Putin and Xi are two peas in a pod, as I have noted earlier. The New York Times has carried a series of pieces on the efforts the US government has made since three months ago to persuade Beijing to stop Putin from attacking Ukraine. Top US officials, from President Joe Biden down, requested the Chinese government a dozen times to press Putin before finally presenting intelligence, showing “Russia’s troop buildup around Ukraine and (beseeching) the Chinese to tell Russia not to invade,” as the daily quoted US officials. “But their entreaties went nowhere,” noted the daily in its February 25 edition.
Rejecting the US request, China bolstered its support of Russia and intensified its criticism of the US, with the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman condemning the US on February 23 as “the culprit of current tensions surrounding Ukraine” after Putin ordered troops into eastern Ukraine but before its full invasion the following day.
Putin and Xi are like twins when it comes to strategies threatening the world with a nuclear attack. China has rapidly been increasing the production and deployment of nuclear warheads and launchers for nuclear attacks. In another eight years, China will have acquired 1,000 nuclear warheads. Against this backdrop, China has changed its “no-first-use of nuclear weapons” strategy. In point of fact, its 2013 Defense White Paper no longer made reference to it. Further, China terminated its system of guaranteeing the “no-first-use” strategy, i.e., separately storing nuclear warheads and missiles, as of 2015.
The People’s Liberation Army has adopted a “launch on warning” system, which allows it to launch a preemptive nuclear attack the minute it detects the adversary decides on a nuclear attack. China and Russia are on the same track when it comes to launching a preemptive nuclear attack whenever they deem it necessary.
In March 2013, Xi visited Moscow on his first overseas trip as Chinese president and told Putin:
“We are open-minded friends with very similar personalities. You are my best friend and colleague.”
The two have met a total of 37 times over the past decade. At their summit in Beijing last month prior to the start of the Winter Olympics, Xi and Putin vowed the friendship between China and Russia “has no limits.”
China and Russia have formed a strategic alliance to confront the US. That is a serious challenge to all of us in Asia, the Western nations, and the entire world. For Japan on the front line of confrontation against the two autocracies, helping Ukraine will lead to protecting itself. It is no time for us to be chanting about the “three non-nuclear principles.” We must think hard to figure out how best Japan will be able to support Ukraine in its fight for survival. We must stand firm on the principle that Japan must defend itself.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 991 in the March 17 issue of The Weekly Shincho)