Showing posts with label MSDF. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MSDF. Show all posts

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sailing to Somalia

Two Maritime Self-Defense Forces (MSDF) destroyers, the Sazanami, last mentioned on this blog when she paid a visit to China last year, and the Samidare, have departed from Kure naval base in Hiroshima prefecture for a four-month tour patrolling for pirates off the horn of Africa. The destroyers are expected to arrive in theater April 5.

The destroyers were dispatched on the basis of an emergency order by the cabinet, which, as I have mentioned previously, the government can do according to Article 82 of the SDF law. At the same time, however, the cabinet has approved an anti-piracy bill to the Diet to put the mission on surer footing. According to the cabinet resolution on the mission and the accompanying bill, the dispatch is to protect Japanese lives and property and ensure public security and order on the high seas.

In short, the Sazanami and the Samidare leave behind a delicate political situation.

The bill that will go before the Diet explicitly permits the MSDF to defend non-Japanese ships at sea and clarifies measures that can be taken by the MSDF to combat piracy. As of now, the MSDF will be permitted to use force in cases of legitimate self-defense, permitting the destroyers to fire warning shots and shots at the hull of pirate ships encountered.

How will the DPJ respond to the government's bill? Nakagawa Hidenao thinks that DPJ members like Nagashima Akihisa, who strongly approved the mission, will lose out to the DPJ left wing (and the SDPJ and PNP, possible DPJ coalition partners). I think there is reason to doubt Nakagawa's assessment.

First, public opinion is strongly in favor of the dispatch. A recently conducted Cabinet survey on the JSDF and defense affairs found that 63.2% of respondents thought that the JSDF should deal with the piracy problem. (The survey concerns more than just the Somalia mission, but I will comment on it at length in a separate post, once I've read it in its entirety.) Sankei suggests that the defense ministry has concluded that the public is favorable to the mission because they recognize the importance of maritime security for Japan. As Prime Minister Aso said in his statement on the cabinet resolution, "Japan is surrounded by ocean, and, moreover, the importance of foreign trade is high because it is dependent on imports for most major resources. The security of ships at sea is extremely important for the Japanese economic system and way-of-life."

Aso's statement mentions a number of other reasons why Japan is contributing ships to the multinational coalition — Japan's responsibilities as a member of the international community, the fact that the multinational coalition is acting under a UN Security Council resolution, and the participation of other major powers, including China, in the coalition — but the thread that runs through it all is the importance of this mission for Japan's national security.

It is for this reason that Ozawa Ichiro and the DPJ will not stand in the way of the cabinet bill. The DPJ will gain little from opposing a mission that the public recognizes is in the national interest, and may even suffer if it is seen as obstructing the government's plans for political reasons. Moreover, if the DPJ opposes the government's legislation, it will show itself to be indifferent to its own principles, which may cost the party public support. As I argued recently, there is a lowest-common-denominator position on foreign and security policy within the DPJ, the product of an agreement between Ozawa and former Socialist Yokomichi Takahiro. One plank of the agreement recognizes the legitimacy of JSDF dispatch provided there is a UN mandate. As Aso noted, Japan is acting in accordance with Resolution 1816. If Ozawa means what he says, he should support this mission.

I suspect the party will question the government, making a show of demanding accountability from the government, and then concede.

What does this dispatch tell us about the state of Japan's national security posture?

Far from being an example of rising Japan, the amount of time Japan took to undertake this mission shows the degree of deliberation with which the government treats every security issue that occurs. Instead of leaping at an opportunity for dispatching forces to participate in a highly visible mission abroad, the government proceeded gingerly.

Indeed, this mission was an easy test for Japan. Participation was overdetermined — participation enables Japan to secure its national interests, and demonstrate its willingness to be an upstanding global citizen and active participant in UN-mandated security missions. It is a high-profile mission in terms of the global media coverage of piracy, meaning that Japan would bear reputational costs for not participating. China was quick to participate, putting pressure on Japan to act lest it appear to be yielding a leadership position to its Asian rival. And the mission is wholly unrelated to the US-Japan alliance, which otherwise complicates Japan's security decisionmaking.

If anything, the fact that it took so long for Japan to commit despite these factors militating in favor of dispatch suggests that Japan is still a long way from being "normal." And I wonder whether it will ever get there. Despite considerable public support for the mission, the Japanese public is still, according to the defense ministry, more moved by the "national interest" dimension than any other component. Given that Japan's national interest in many cases justifies inaction, missions like this one may continue to be the exception rather than the norm for Japanese security policy.

The Japanese people is clearly more open to such missions than before, but the question is no longer about the distance from where Japan used to be, but the destination where Japanese security policy is heading. Regarding this question, this mission tells us little other than that the Japanese people are sensitive to Japan's national security, even as far afield as Africa, but we don't know exactly how sensitive they are, especially closer to Japanese shores, in thornier cases than fighting pirates.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Japan looks homeward

Curzon at Coming Anarchy is fed up with the DPJ.

Considering the DPJ's muddled position on the dispatch of JSDF ships to fight pirates alongside the naval forces of eighteen countries, he maintains that by waffling on the Somalia question, the DPJ has shown that it is incapable of governing.

I do not want to appear as a mere DPJ apologist, but I find Curzon's argument a bit too simplistic. The DPJ has one goal — and one goal only — in mind: win the next election. Blocking the dispatch of JSDF ships, if it in anyway moves the DPJ closer to victory, is a small price to pay for political change. The DPJ is doing what an opposition party is supposed to do, keeping the government honest. Given the lack of oversight that has marked the Indian Ocean mission and the MSDF more generally (cf. the Atago Incident), the opposition is not wrong to block the government's actions. (This is reportedly a major reason for DPJ skepticism about the dispatch.) Why should the DPJ be criticized for doing what an opposition party is supposed to do, especially since the LDP-Komeito government has such a poor record in command?

Of course it's frustrating that Japan has been reluctant to commit its forces to a mission consistent with the three fundamental missions of the Self-Defense Forces, according to the revised SDF law. Article 3 of the law states that the JSDF's primary missions are (1) the defense of Japan, defending its peace, independence, and security from invasions direct or indirect, (2) the maintenance of public order, and (3) cooperation with other nations under UN auspices to preserve international peace and prosperity (this last being a recent addition under Prime Minister Abe). Moreover, Article 82 authorizes the defense minister — with the approval of the prime minister — to dispatch MSDF forces to protect lives or property or preserve order at sea. I have a hard time seeing what is stopping the Aso government from going forward with full participation in coalition activities in the Gulf of Aden. The government controls two-thirds of the lower house of the Diet. If it believes that the dispatch is important, it should go ahead and do it, even if it means submitting a bill and waiting up to two months for the upper house to reject it. (That is, if a bill is required...)

The important question, therefore, is not why the DPJ is reluctant, but why the government, despite its supermajority, despite its principles, has dragged its feet. At least one reason for the delay is reluctance on the part of Komeito, the LDP's junior partner in government. The LDP has also made the mistake of connecting the dispatch with the question of Japan's right of collective self-defense, the exercise of which is prohibited by the Cabinet Legislation Bureau's prevailing interpretation. This mission should have nothing to do with collective self-defense and everything to do with Japan's responsibilities to the international community. If Japan's politicians are reluctant to fulfill those responsibilities, then the question is not to pin blame to one party or another but to pull back the curtain on Japanese foreign policy and ask why the Japanese people are so reluctant to approve any mission abroad by the JSDF.

In recent years, it appears that foreign policy has become a luxury for the Japanese people. Of course, given the difficulty of getting Japan to contribute more internationally in the best of times, is it fair to expect a substantial shift in Japan during the worst of times?

Opinion poll after opinion poll has shown that a tiny portion of the public thinks foreign policy is an important priority for the government. Polls show that a plurality favors some contribution to the multinational coalition in Somalia, but on the whole foreign policy achievements promise few gains and much risk for Japanese politicians. The Japanese people are, for the time being, interested in cultivating their own garden. Japan's institutions are broken, the economy is tanking, and the Japanese people are rightly concerned with whether their futures are secure. Arguably ensuring access to energy is essential to the country's economic future, but no leader has explained why events in the Horn of Africa (for example) are intimately connected with Japan's prosperity. No Japanese leader has gone before the Japanese people and said that Japan has been free riding throughout the postwar period, and that it is time to change. The Japanese people, it seems, would rather be Switzerland, at least for the time being, while their elected representatives are torn between the demands of their tired constituents and the demands emanating from foreign capitals, in the case of some the demands from their friends abroad.

The Japanese people have little interest in being a normal nation, at least for now. They want their abductees accounted for, they want their pensions paid, and they want to know that they will have access to quality medical care as they age. This may not be what Washington wants to hear, but for the time being it is what Washington will get. For now Japan is not a global great power, nor was meant to be.

Sooner or later Japan will resolve its foreign policy identity crisis. The Japanese people may eventually decide that they're ready to be a normal nation after all — or they may decide to undo the Meiji Restoration altogether and return to some twenty-first century iteration of sakoku. But ultimately it will be for the Japanese people and their leaders to decide.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The LDP readies its bill

On the heels of Mr. Fukuda's maiden speech to the Diet, the government has outlined a new bill on the MSDF mission in the Indian Ocean and will begin working with relevant cabinet ministers and within the governing coalition to hammer out a final draft, before appealing to the DPJ to cooperate.

Perhaps, then, Jun Okumura is right: a perfunctory effort to get the DPJ to sign on, then a quick push through the House of Representatives by mid-October (Jun said October 16th), meaning that the sixty-day waiting period would end sometime in December. It seems that the government will be unable to avoid extending the Diet session into December.

The terms of the government's draft, accordingly to Asahi, are much more limited than the special measures law, stripping the mission down to its refueling core (instead of also being permitted to do searches and disaster relief). Acknowledging opposition criticism, the government will provide information on the mission at fixed intervals — and it will acknowledge the farcical UN resolution as a basis for action. The LDP wants the bill to last two years, but apparently Komeito would prefer only one.

But any differences within the coalition will presumably be ironed out. It seems that Mr. Fukuda may be able to achieve what Mr. Abe couldn't, with minimal turbulence. The DPJ will ask its questions and demand documents — it has already begun its parliamentary inquest — but it won't be able to do much more than delay the inevitable. Mr. Ozawa may still be able to spin it as a victory of some kind, saying that he stood up to both the government and the US and refused to cave, but it seems that it won't serve as the rallying cry that perhaps the DPJ leadership intended when it took this stance after the election.

In other words, in with a bang, out with a whimper.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Can the anti-terror law be rescued this session?

The most significant challenge facing Mr. Fukuda as he enters office may be responding to allegations that the MSDF refueling mission in the Indian Ocean was in fact refueling US ships participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom, which would, of course, contravene the terms of the MSDF mission.

In addition to the allegations noted by Jun Okumura, the former commanding officer of the USS Enterprise told Asahi that Japanese vessels provided fuel for operations related to OIF — with the Ministry of Defense's admitting that this was possible.

All of this gives credence to the DPJ's claims that the government has been less than forthcoming with information about the MSDF mission, thereby justifying the DPJ's opposition to the extension of the law.

Argues Nagashima Akihisa, DPJ member of the House of Representatives: "And still the government argues this [the MSDF only support OEF] vehemently! They not know when to give up, and they're excessively dishonest and insincere." Mr. Nagashima suggests an important point — namely that American officers weren't particularly concerned about the finer points of the law enabling Japan's contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom when they went about their missions, which straddled OEF and OIF. He is unclear, however, about the impact these revelations will have on public support for renewal, which has been trending in the government's favor of late.

But Mr. Fukuda has expressed his determination to introduce a new bill this session that authorizes support for OEF, this despite the recommendation of Yamasaki Taku, his ally, that a new bill should wait until next year's regular Diet session. He insists that it is necessary to pass the bill this session, lest other countries begin to wonder "what is Japan really doing." It's altogether unclear to me how Mr. Fukuda can do this. As Amaki Naoto suggests, these latest revelations about the deception surrounding the MSDF mission should and will likely stiffen Mr. Ozawa's and the DPJ's resolve on this issue, which means that presumably any anti-terror bill sent by the Lower House to the Upper will languish there until the end of the session. Regardless of how quickly the government could get a new law through the Lower House, that would mean that the government would have to wait until several weeks into the new Diet session before the bill automatically became law by virtue of the Upper House's not acting on it.

The wild card might be public opinion. If Mr. Fukuda is given a honeymoon, he may be able to use public support as a bludgeon to pressure the DPJ to compromise on the Indian Ocean mission, regardless of the allegations of illegal activities by the MSDF. The ASDF's Iraq mission is probably beyond salvaging in light of these revelations, if it wasn't doomed already; it's too good a bargaining chip for the government not to use to get a compromise on a bill that has become the single biggest test facing Mr. Fukuda.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The LDP, somewhere between a rock and a hard place

US officials — including the president — continue to voice their desire that Japan renew the anti-terror special measures law (the latest contributor is National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley), and the new Abe Cabinet continues to signal its willingness to compromise with the DPJ in getting the law passed.

It's not entirely clear to me how to square the difference between these two conditions. From the US, the LDP is being pressured to act forcefully and do whatever it takes to get the law passed, including, presumably, forcing the law through the Lower House in the face of an Upper House "veto." From the Japanese political system, meanwhile, the LDP is facing pressure to act responsibly, to defer to the desires of the people and the newly elected opposition majority in the Upper House. At the same time, I remain convinced that every statement by an American official insisting that Japan pass the law makes it all the more likely that the DPJ will remain uncompromising out of a desire not to appear to be caving in to US pressure.

The result of this two-pronged pressure on the LDP? Ishihara Nobuteru, newly selected LDP PARC chairman, actually suggested that if the bill doesn't pass, it could potentially result in the dissolution of the Lower House and a general election. Given that Mr. Ozawa has stated repeatedly that the DPJ's goal this autumn is to force an early general election, I can't see how Mr. Ishihara's admission will help his government's stated goal of inducing the DPJ to cooperate.

Mr. Ishihara also called attention to the role of the MSDF in enabling Pakistani vessels to participate in Operation Enduring Freedom — Japan is "the only country technically able to refuel Pakistani ships" — an argument he repeated on The Sunday Project as I write this. Maybe this is a stupidly obvious question, but can't the Pakistanis refuel their own ships? And will the coalition really suffer if Pakistani ships can't serve in the flotilla in the Indian Ocean? I don't buy the argument made by Mr. Ishihara that Japan is responsible for keeping Pakistan in the fight: It's not like Pakistan can opt out simply by removing its ships, given that the war has spilled over its borders. (And now, on The Sunday Project, Mr. Nukaga seems to be joining the argument on the terror bill as a second defense minister.)

It's too early to rule out a compromise, but as the weeks go on, the challenge facing the government is growing inexorably.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Japan rising watch

In Yokosuka on August 23rd, the Hyuga, the new JMSDF helicopter carrier, was named, and now it will undergo some finishing touches before entering service in 2009.

According to Nikkei, its displacement is 13,500 tons and its length 197 meters. The deck can service three helicopters simultaneously. By comparison, the USS George H.W. Bush, also due to enter service in 2008 or 2009, displaces between 101,000 and 104,000 tons, is 333 meters long, and will carry 90 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters.

Why compare the Hyuga with an American supercarrier? Because before Norimitsu Onishi and others hyperventilate about this latest sign of "Japan rising," it's important to keep things in perspective. As the MSDF points out in the Nikkei article, "This warship does not have the ability to mount an attack. It can be used for transportation and other multiple purposes at the time of large-scale disasters."

Here's hoping that the Hyuga will see years of service enabling Japan to meet its commitments as a regional power.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Bigger than the alliance

As noted in this post, much of the discussion surrounding the DPJ leadership's decision to oppose the extension of the anti-terrorism special measures law before it expires in November has focused on the impact on the US-Japan alliance of Japan's effective departure from coalition activities in and around Afghanistan.

The debate has hinged in part on questions surrounding the lack of a meeting between DPJ President Ozawa and Ambassador Schieffer, with Asahi reporting that Schieffer requested a meeting to discuss the special measures law following the DPJ victory, but Ozawa insisted such a meeting was "unnecessary." According to Amaki Naoto, meanwhile, Michael Auslin, the Sankei Shimbun's newest friend-of-Japan-in-Washington, was quoted by Sankei as saying, "In the event that it is not extended, it will have a worrisome impact on US-Japan relations."

Amaki, in his summary of this dispute, embraces Asahi's suggestion that the Bush administration has been uninterested in cultivating a relationship with Ozawa's DPJ, preferring to focus entirely on working with the Republican party's traditional friends in the LDP, and then goes on to argue that the debate over the extension is a great opportunity for Japan to demonstrate its independence from the US.

If the debate over the renewal of the anti-terrorism special measures law is an alliance matter, it is only because advocates of a more independent Japanese foreign policy wish to make it one (and alliance managers in Washington are happy to oblige them by suggesting that it is a major concern for the US).

The way I see it, however, is that the basis for Japan's renewing its participation in the coalition has little if anything to do with the alliance, and in fact rests on both Japanese law and UN Security Council resolutions, and is consistent with the DPJ's own foreign policy proposals. While the initial passage of the law in November 2001 had much to do with the alliance and the need for Japan to commit its support to the US campaign in Afghanistan, it is now 2007 and the logic behind coalition activities has changed. Afghanistan is still troubled, and Pakistan too is now embroiled in the struggle (as Barack Obama made clear, perhaps indelicately). Somehow it seems that the need for Maritime Interdiction Operations in the Indian Ocean as part of Operation Enduring Freedom is as important as ever, given who and what (drugs, nuclear material, etc.) could be flowing out of Pakistan by sea. Japan is refueling the warships of some eleven of the more than twenty countries participating in the coalition, this according to the 2006 Defense white paper. Meanwhile, in the intervening six years the campaign in Afghanistan has been internationalized, becoming as much as NATO project as as US-UK project, in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions 1386, 1383, and 1378.

Recall that in December, when the Defense Agency was elevated into a full ministry, some of the JSDF's secondary missions became primary missions. Among those missions are, according to the MOD's latest white paper, "activities that contribute to maintaining the peace and security of Japan and the rest of the international community, including international disaster relief operations, international peace cooperation operations, operations based on the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law, and operations based on the Law Concerning Special Measures on Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq." While this provision does not permanently bind Japan to current missions abroad, it does suggest that constitutional concerns, and alliance concerns for that matter, are overblown. The discussion ought to be based on an assessment of the situation in and around Afghanistan and whether Japan can still contribute to the mission.

According to its own policy list produced for the Upper House elections, the DPJ acknowledges the legitimacy of international missions on the basis of UN Charter Chapter VII: "UN peace activities concur with the philosophy of the constitution, which seeks a positive role in international society. Our country, under subjective judgment and democratic control, will participate positively based on UN demands that are in turn based on Articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter, which differ from the character of a sovereign nation's right of self-defense." While the DPJ's position reserves a place for Japan to adjudge whether to participate in a UN mission, it also suggests that Japan has a role to play internationally outside of the alliance with the US and based on the constitution, in this case the preamble, which states, "We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society striving for the preservation of peace, and the banishment of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance for all time from the earth. We recognize that all peoples of the world have the right to live in the peace, free from fear and want."

So yes, under the DPJ's own policy statements Japan reserves the right to decide whether to participate in a mission under UN auspices, but presumably such a decision would be based on an assessment of the facts of the matter and not held hostage to domestic political exigencies. Frankly, DPJ members and other politicians who seek a more independent foreign policy role for Japan ought to welcome opportunities for effective international cooperation such as that in the Indian Ocean, which shows both the US and the rest of the world that Japan is capable of cooperating outside the narrow confines of the US-Japan alliance in contributing to global security.

Japan's foreign policy needs to become less US-centric; it is unhealthy for both Japan and the US for Japan to defer to the US on every security policy issue. And the multinational coalition in and around Afghanistan is the perfect opportunity for Japan to begin weaning itself off depending on the US, seeing as how the coalition includes not just the US but NATO and other participants, and that the mission enjoys the imprimatur of the UN and thus greater international legitimacy than the Iraq mission.

So I repeat my objection. Barring an argument against renewal based on the facts of the campaign suggesting that there is no longer any role for Japan to play, the DPJ's actions are shamelessly opportunistic and constitute a failure of leadership on the part of Ozawa.