NATION WITHOUT STRONG GOVERNMENT-MILITARY RELATIONS IS DOOMED
In marking Japan’s fresh resolve to safeguard our security, it is critical that we all make a greater effort this year to understand the important distinction between military strategy and tactics. Although the cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced the revisions of three key security-related documents last month, our media outlets have referred predominantly to only “tactics” in their accounts of Japan’s new defense posture. This does not sit well with Tadae Takubo, an international relations expert who serves as Deputy Director of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals (JINF), a privately financed conservative public and foreign policy think-tank I head in Tokyo. Takubo had this to say:
“Matters like the scale of our defense spending and the possibility of our buying Tomahawk missiles from the US all come under the category of ‘tactics.’ Of course, Japan badly needs a bigger defense budget and more powerful weapons as soon as possible, but I’m disappointed that discussion of an overarching ‘strategy’ has been missing from the public debate. Developing a defense strategy requires the formulation of a solid policy by truly coming to grips with major geopolitical trends in the world.”
A case in point is the basic principles of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) founded in 1949. Takubo explained:
“In 1952, General Hastings Lionel Ismay of the British Army became NATO’s first Secretary-General. World War II had ended only a few years before, but Europe hardly had time to breathe before it found itself confronting the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Ismay condensed NATO’s strategy into keeping ‘the Soviet Union out, the US in, and Germany down.’ In other words, he planned to keep the US deeply committed to NATO, isolate the Soviet Union, and have Germany repent for its past. That was the right road Ismay saw for a postwar Europe and how he thought a new international community should be structured. It was a superb strategy for Europe.”
As regards the Greater East Asian War, the attack of Pearl Harbor was a clear tactical success. But it was a strategic blunder because Japan should not have made the US its enemy. As the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto himself was opposed to war between Japan and the US until the last minute. For Japan, the outbreak of the fighting was unavoidable under the circumstances, but Japan fought it without a well-thought-out strategy.
The year 2023 is expected to be rife with unprecedented crises no matter how one may look at it. Unless we prudently contemplate our national security and our economy on the assumption that a major war could erupt, we would be making a mistake that cannot be undone. To protect itself, Japan needs military and economic capabilities powerful enough to discourage China from attacking Taiwan—which in essence would also be an attack on Japan. To begin with, we must formulate a concrete strategy based on which specific countries to work closely with and what position Japan should seek in the international community. Japan must implement appropriate tactics only after securing a grand strategy.
When Politicians Dismiss Military Wisdom Outright
Maintaining a sound government-military relationship should be a top-priority for any country when discussing its strategy and tactics. That will be difficult without pertinent national security intelligence readily available to political leaders charged with determining policies.
When President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine last February, Russia’s government-military relationship was obviously in a shambles. That caused Putin to underestimate Ukraine, leading to his apparent failure. The world is now afraid of Xi Jinping making the same mistake.
Japan had a notable case of a failed government-military relationship which it would be good to recall today. It involved Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) and Kusunoki Masashige (1294-1336). They are well-known historical figures, but most people today know little about the tragic miscalculations in their relationship that led to defeat for both of them.
Masashige’s superb achievements as a feudal warrior and his tragic death are detailed in the nationally popular “Taiheiki (Chronicle of Great Peace)”—a 14th century historical epic. The work is voluminous (40 volumes) but there is speed and strength in the development of the story. At a time of increasing military tension in Asia-Pacific and elsewhere in the world, I believe we have much to learn from Masashige’s life.
Masashige fought with all his might for Emperor Godaigo, who had come into conflict with the Kamakura shogunate, which then ruled Japan. The emperor managed to overthrow the shogunate in 1333, establishing the short-lived Kenmu Restoration to bring the Imperial House back into power. But the emperor’s army Masashige led lost the battle of Minatogawa (Hyogo Prefecture) to the army of Ashikaga Takauji, who in 1338 became the first shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. Prior to the battle, Masashige determined that in order for his small army to be victorious over the huge Ashikaga army, he would have to lure them into a guerilla war in Kyoto, cut off the enemy supply of food, and later launch an attack to retake Kyoto. But court nobles afraid to see Kyoto destroyed bitterly opposed Masashige’s plans and Emperor Godaigo lent an ear to them, ordering Masashige to leave immediately for Minatogawa to take on an enemy army that vastly outnumbered his.
Masashige was a master of battle credited with having defeated armies many times bigger than his in ways no one could imagine. But those who repudiated the wisdom of this great warrior, the emperor and the court nobles alike, little understood military matters. Following an uninformed leader meant a sure defeat. Even so, Masashige felt it was his duty to follow the imperial order.
En route to the battle front in Minatogawa, Masashige contemplated a possible scenario after his unavoidable death in the battle. Because he wanted to leave enough soldiers to guard the emperor, Masashige left Kyoto leading only 700 horsemen, with whom he was to battle against Ashikaga’s troops estimated to be some 50,000 strong, including 20,000 heading for Minatogawa by sea. When the battle ended in his troop’s defeat in half a day, all but 73 of his horsemen had been killed. Then and there, Masashige and his brother committed seppuku, suicide, by stabbing each other with their swords.
The depiction of the brothers’ suicide after pledging to each other “Would that I had seven lives to give for my country” is a climax of the “Taiheiki” that cannot fail to move the reader to tears.
Masashige fought as a loyal soldier under the directives of his supreme commander—in this case, Emperor Godaigo. Needless to say, Masashige as a soldier could not take action by himself. At the time, a proper “government-military” relationship was preserved to the extent that Masashige strictly followed Emperor Godaigo’s orders. What this history teaches us is that the leaders of a country must have a strong backbone, and especially in military matters, have a reasonable understanding of key strategic issues.
Don’t Just Follow America like Meek Vassal State
Is there any politician in Japan today who can adequately understand military affairs and formulate the grand strategy our country needs? Candidly speaking, I feel quite helpless In this respect.
What we must seriously be concerned about now is the possibility of Japan becoming a vassal state of either the US or China. Faced with the imminent threat from China, the Kishida administration is consolidating efforts to bolster military cooperation with the US, having recently declared its intention to develop a counterstrike capability. If these efforts end with Japan merely fortifying its military capabilities, Japan will in spirit continue to be a country that only follows the US lead. In the three revised security documents, one senses Japan’s grit to “defend our country on our own.” Unless we prove that we mean business by revising the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) Law and our constitution, our army will remain a mere complimentary force to the US military as it has been over the decades. That would mean, in essence, our spiritually remaining America’s dependent state.
Japan will likely cope with China’s military threat by bolstering its alliance with the US, but the entwined bilateral economic relationship is a major concern. To prevent China from taking over our economy at will, the Kishida administration has devised a strategy for economic security with US cooperation. The key question here is whether Japan is capable of backing up its words with deeds. Looking around, one notices that Japan has been steadily selling its land to China despite our pledge to watch out for China. We have also been allowing Chinese capital to be invested heavily across Japan, even in our power grids. And our corporations have in return been investing in China in an attempt to secure immediate profits. This way we may be crushed by the power of Chinese money sooner than later. There is no guarantee that Japan will not become something like a Chinese vassal state, keen to take note of every change in its patron’s mood.
China’s population is expected to be overtaken by India within this year. As is evident from its anti-coronavirus policy, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) excels at public surveillance, but cannot protect the lives and human rights of the Chinese people. The CCP is steadily losing the support of its people. The CCP will never achieve world hegemony. No, put more correctly, we can never allow that to happen.
In order to deal properly with this abnormal big power, Japan must align with like-minded nations to safeguard the universal values of respect for human rights, freedom, and international law. That, I strongly believe, should be our grand strategy going forward.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,032 in the February 19, 2023 issue of The Weekly Shincho)