Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Out with a whimper

Whether as a result of pressure from its fellow opposition partners or because of an epiphany that the struggle over the anti-terror law is over, the DPJ has changed its mind once again and decided that it will reject the government's bill outright instead of waiting for the sixty days to pass.

The HC Foreign Affairs Committee will act on the bill today, the whole house will act on the bill tomorrow morning, and by tomorrow afternoon the HR will pass the bill a second time (only the third time that the HR has overruled the HC).

And so a struggle that began in the early hours following the DPJ's victory in July HC election, contributed to Prime Minister Abe's demise, and sparked a war of words between US Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer and DPJ leader Ozawa Ichiro (and contributed to tension between the US and Japan more generally) will come to an end tomorrow afternoon. The MSDF will resume its refueling activities in the Indian Ocean for at least another year and the Diet will move on to more important things.

What have we learned from this episode?

Politically speaking, it seems that aside from a handful of defense specialists in both the LDP and the DPJ, there is remarkably little desire in either party to have a serious discussion about the future of Japanese foreign policy and the relationship with the US. Not unlike the 1990 debate over Japan's participation in the Gulf War, the debate never moved beyond mundane details to consider broader principles.

We also learned that the Japanese people also have little interest or desire for a broad and substantive debate about Japan's role in the world — and do not want their government fiddling with foreign policy while their pensions vanish.

Finally, and most significantly, we learned just how fragile the US-Japan relationship is today. (We learned this because this feud occurred at the same time that a fissure formed over North Korea.) Each ally's expectations of the other remain misaligned, and we may look back on this debate as Japan's first furtive step to say no overtly to the US. Saying no need not be a bad thing, but the future of the alliance will depend on what the US and Japan do next.

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