Thursday, March 19, 2009

Butter over guns

In the Asahi survey of political attitudes discussed in this post, respondents were asked to pick which portions of the budget that would like to see enhanced and which portions they would like to see cut.

I already noted that the top three programs respondents want to see enhanced are health and welfare, economic stimulus, and agriculture.

The top programs to cut?

Public works (53%), defense (49%) and international cooperation (37%).

It is encouraging to see that the public has little appetite for more concrete, but the second figure gives me pause. Defense ranks highly despite seven consecutive years of defense budget cuts, about which Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu complained when asked at a press conference in December. It ranks highly despite the ceaseless effort by Japanese elites to alert the public to the danger posed by North Korea and by China's military modernization program. I suppose this means that Ozawa Ichiro's remarks about a sharp reduction of US forces in Japan are not so much wrong as they are irrelevant — the Japanese people have no desire to undertake the commitment implied by Ozawa's ideas, they want even less of a defense commitment.

Combining the results of the cabinet survey on defense issues (discussed here) and the Asahi survey, it seems that the Japanese people want nothing more than to be protected from foreign threats by the United States and protected from economic insecurity by their own government. Far from wanting to throw off the Yoshida Doctrine, the Japanese people want to revive it for the twenty-first century.

Something tells me that the US will be not as obliging as it was in the early 1950s.

3 comments:

Janne Morén said...

There really are no near-term or medium-term military threats to Japan. The Chinese military buildup is, as you say, from a rather low level, and there is no incentive or logic for the Chinese to engage Japan militarily in any case (you don't shoot at your customers if you can at all avoid it). There's the possibility of a spat over a few islets with South Korea and Russia, respectively, but nothing that will ever require any substantial military involvement. The North Korean missile threat is real, but there, again, guns, tanks and airplanes really do very little to help.

Instead, military forces (and here is a similarity to the Swedish military situation) are mostly seen as resources to engage in peace-keeping of peace-establishing actions abroad: UN engagements, Somalian pirate hunting, the Afghanistani war and so on. And from that perspective, the question of military resources becomes one and the same with the question of what role Japan should take in international activities.

It is sad and disheartening to see people withdrawing inwards and willing to ignore international issues as national economic and political problems mount, but it is understandable. This trend can hopefully reverse itself if or when the political and societal situation stabilizes and improves.

Roger Serra said...

The US is guarding their backs... so they don't feel the need to spend so much on defense.
Japanese are from venus (like many europeans), not from mars.

Anonymous said...

The missile threat from N Korea is real enough for the JSDF but the attitude of the country judging from the obsessive desire to obtain justice for the victims of abduction over the far larger issue of denuclearization on the six-party talk agenda, suggests that the media and public are incapable of taking international threats very seriously. The Defense Ministry discussed at one time whether a first strike option to take out the NK missile and nuclear facilities was realistic but seems to have concluded it was not possible without provoking a greater conflict. At any rate since the six-party talks succeeded in defusing the nuclear threat it does not appear that even the recent alarm over the NK missile test is enough to arouse much concern in public perception.