End ‘Independence’ Charade

November 18th, 2002

Some people have recently been preaching “self-reliance and independence” for Japan, while displaying antagonism toward the United States. When asked if they are opposed to the Japan-U.S. alliance, such people commonly say they have never opposed the alliance and that their writings attest to their approval of the alliance.

Under the circumstances, there appears to be no danger of this country making any gross mistakes in steering its national strategy, so there may be no need to nitpick about this kind of discourse.

However, I seem to have become embroiled in this sort of dispute again and again.

Every time I encounter this way of thinking, I always ask its proponents the following questions.

I start by pointing out that the essential purpose of diplomacy is to ensure the security of a nation and its people, that is, protecting the nation’s independence and freedom from other countries’ aggression so as to maximize the country’s prosperity. Then I ask if they believe Japan should be independent of the United States even at the expense of its security and prosperity.

Independence vs Prosperity

In more concrete terms, should Japan do away with its dependency on the U.S. economy even if it would mean a decline in its living standards or drops in salaries?

Would it be acceptable if the hikes in military spending needed to make Japan capable of ensuring its security on its own led to heavier tax burdens?

Those who complain of U.S. dominance of Japan almost always respond in the same way, saying they never thought of going to such lengths, but adding that Japan is under the U.S. thumb to an unreasonable degree.

When their stance is clarified to that degree, the solution to the problem is much easier to see. Those keen to see a Japan “independent” of the United States would be satisfied and stand tall only if they saw Japan taking a different stance from the United States on an issue that has nothing to do with the people’s security and prosperity–for instance, in a comparatively unimportant vote in the United Nations.

Such an action would also serve to give vent to such people’s rancor against the United States behind the scenes, in the way employees speak ill of their boss behind his back.

I have no objection at all to such people alleviating their frustration in this way, as long as they do so over an issue that has nothing to do with the nation’s security and prosperity. Proponents of this line of anti-U.S. argument, however, should be faulted for failing to propose any convincing, constructive alternative to ending the practice of acting in alignment with the United States.

If there were a fail-safe, concrete way of enhancing Japan’s security and prosperity as a consequence of Japan’s gaining independence and self-reliance, I would certainly be the first to throw my support behind it. The problem, however, is that nobody has produced such an alternative for achieving both ends.

I have one, but it involves a change to a key national strategy rather than a mere policy alternative.

In short, Japan should be allowed to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

One specific problem, currently of significant interest to many, is how Japan should deal with the antiterrorism policy sought by the United States.

Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States last year, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states decided to exercise collective defense to cope with terrorism.

Australia followed suit, meaning NATO members as well as Australia regard the terror attacks on the United States as the same thing as attacks on all NATO members and Australia.

Given that many Japanese were among the Sept. 11 fatalities, Japan, as an ally of the United States, is in the same position as the NATO states and Australia.

Because Japan cannot exercise the right to collective defense, however, it has managed to cooperate with these moves by passing a law in force only for a limited time and purpose.

Therefore, as far as future U.S. military actions against Iraq go, Japan could hardly cooperate in the absence of a new law.

As a matter of fact, however, no new legislation on how Japan could cooperate with U.S. attacks on Iraq can be enacted before such attacks have been launched. If the government takes a wait-and-see attitude until next year’s ordinary Diet session opens, it is highly possible any U.S. attacks on Iraq already will have been brought to an end.

Caught in Own Trap

This state of impotence in which Japan finds itself–circumstances that would befall no other country–is of Japan’s own making.

Incidentally, the United Nations Security Council is an organ, of which Japan, as one of the biggest contributors to the United Nations, should rightfully be a permanent member.

Let’s suppose that the adoption or rejection of a Security Council resolution hinges on the veto of a country that has nothing to do with Japan’s national interest or the Japan-U.S. alliance. Though I have no intention of speaking ill of China, China can be considered such a country.

The view that some Japanese intellectuals take for granted holds that an act in line with a Security Council resolution can be considered as an act of good against evil. This mode of thinking means that China is in a position to judge the right and wrong of actions taken by the United States and Japan. Therefore, there can be no room for Japan to act at its own independent thinking.

Only if Japan is determined to declare the possibility of its exercising the right to collective self-defense will it be able to take action on its own account. In other words, Japan would not be able to avoid responsibility for its independent decisions.

The consequences of an action may be much the same whether the action is taken on Japan’s own account or not.

The point at issue, however, is whether Japan, in an age of turbulent international relations, should make its own key decisions based on keeping intact its alliance with the United States as a lifeline for the nation’s security and prosperity. Exercising that judgment can be called self-reliance in the true sense of the term.

Fundamentally, Japan is not entitled to say anything about self-reliance as long as it leaves the security of the areas surrounding it in the hands of another country–even failing to provide logistic support as Japan engages in only quasi-logistic support in far-off zones completely safe from conflict.

Independence Requires Maturity

A man was arrested in Niigata Prefecture for confining a girl in his room for nine years. The man reportedly committed the crime after having his mother enlarge their house to provide him with his own room so he could be “independent” from the mother.

Of course, the man’s behavior can never be called independence.

Nor can it be called independence when a person asks her parents to buy her a car to help her be independent from the parents.

My wish is to see the Japanese people show enough resolve and pride to never refer to such words as “independence” and “self-reliance” as long as Japan is unable to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

What, then, should Japan do?

Things Japan could do for now might, at best, be limited to stepping up its logistic support operations for the U.S. and British forces in the Indian Ocean under the law for that purpose as mentioned above.

Germany, for example, has explained its new cooperation package for the Afghan operations by noting that the more cooperation it extends, the lighter the burdens on the the U.S. and British forces will become.

First, we should bear in mind that the United States, Japan’s ally, wants to see Japan sharing common views on security matters with the United States. This does not seem so difficult for Japan.

Leaders such as French President Jacques Chirac, as well as some Americans who oppose U.S. attacks on Iraq, share the opinion that Saddam Hussein’s regime should be abhorred. They all are critical of judicial and procedural aspects of how the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has been handling the issue, while fully recognizing that Saddam’s removal will definitely be for the benefit of the Iraqi people and the world.

Japan, for its part, finds it hard to follow suit when it comes to procedural aspects of the problem. As I said before, Japan, not any other country, is to blame for this.

Japan should announce that it shares the opinion of an overwhelming majority of U.S. and European intellectuals concerning the need to topple Saddam’s regime. Japan should then ask the United States to understand that Japan is in a situation in which it cannot afford to do anything much more than a boost in its cooperation with the Afghan campaign.

That position is humiliating, but Japan has no other alternative as long as it fails to acknowledge its readiness to exercise the right to collective defense.

Given that Japan has many friends in the Bush administration, such a stance on Japan’s part on the Iraqi problem may win the understanding of the United States.

However, Japan should never humiliate itself in such a way again.

Japan must end the disgrace that has resulted from the folly of insisting that it has the right to collective self-defense, while prohibiting itself from exercising the right.