August 2, 2014
Japan is an unpredictable power
By BA HAMZAH
Japan is an unpredictable power. Sorrowful in defeat in WW 11, it promised never to bear arms again. However, this is about to change if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has his way. Since becoming the PM for second time in 2012, Abe-san has reneged on the solemn promise Japan made after its surrender in 1945. Abe-san has become the most determined leader to tear the 1947 Peace Constitution and put Japan on a war footing again.
At US $49 billion, Japan’s defence expenditure for 2013 saw an increase of 3 per cent over 2012, the highest in 22 years. Using the same pretexts that the Japanese Imperial Army used to wage wars in late 1930s & 1940s, Abe -san may succeed with his military build-up plan. Japan has a well-equipped standing conventional military ( a.k.a Self Defense Forces) of 225,000 personnel.
A hostile security environment (read China), access to markets, freedom of navigation and national pride are often cited as justification for a stronger military power. Japan’s real motivation is to prepare for the day when the US could no longer provide the military umbrella. Japan became a much-respected nation long after it lost the war.
Japan was a feared nation during the war because it was brutal in victory; it was hated for its brutality and for refusing to formally apologise for its belligerent past. For example, it has refused to acknowledge the role of comfort women, angering the Koreans. The Chinese are upset because Japan continues to deny that the “Rape of Nanking” incident did take place in 1937 and the administration of the Diaoyu/ Senkakus islands, contrary to the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty.
As the third largest world economy, (some say still second), Japan has achieved what no other nation has, including the victors of WW 11, the UK or France. Japan was able to become a strong economic power, NOT because (as asserted by some) the US has undertaken to rewrite its defence expenditure; but, primarily because it has clever, hardworking and innovative people. In short, unlike the United States, Japan (also Germany) has become an influential global power without the normal power trappings associated with the military. A rare achievement in a capitalist system ! By renouncing this geo-business model to bear arms, Japan may gamble its political future.
The Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu who wrote the treatise “The Art of War” who would have been proud of modern day Japanese leaders for embracing his strategic thoughts may now be troubled by Abe-san’s militarisation programme.
In fact, the geo-business model Japan adopted since 1947 has been the envy of many. By staying clear of political entanglements, Japan was able to focus on rebuilding its nation, rising from the ruins of war to what it is today. While Japan is free to be “a normal nation” again, by removing the constitutional constraint (Article 9), it faces an uncertain future as history may repeat itself. A re-armed Japan is set to become a new hegemon but a threat to the region and the world.
The world will be a much safer place without a hegemon with a shady past.Today, as businessmen, Japanese are welcome almost everywhere. Although they are tough trade negotiators (evident in the current Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations with the US), who rarely transfer freely their technology to host countries, they are perceived as friendly and courteous.
The nagging question is: why swap a proven geo-business model for M 16 and AK 47 that failed to sustain its Greater Asia co- Prosperity political dream in the 1940s. Why swap Honda, Toshiba, Hitachi, Suzuki, Nissan, for example, for the much-feared drones and missiles? Can the AK 47, drones, submarines and missiles give the Japanese people the same peace, prosperity and security they have enjoyed for almost seven decades, a quarter of a century from today?
Doubtful as it is, Japan seems to be reacting to some geo-political uncertainties in the region by reinventing itself in a traditional fashion, like a novice, when it should continue to rely on its proven geo-business model. With an eye for geography, the answer to a more assertive China is not to spend more on military hardware (Japan is currently world’s fifth largest defense spender) but to invest more on non- traditional ( i.e., diplomatic, cultural and economic) means by forging closer relationship with wary neighbours like China, Russia and South Korea.
Tokyo’s recent overtures towards the ASEAN countries and Australia, for example, will not bear fruits if Japan were to bear arms again and becomes a military threat to the region. As victims of its aggression in WW 11 their support cannot be presumed.
By selling or transferring used military assets, Japan may temporarily bolster the confidence of Vietnam and the Philippines currently at odds with China in the South China Sea. With the worsening of the US-Russia relations in Europe, following the crisis in the Crimea, for example, the strategic consequences of Japan’s subtle containment policy of the Middle Kingdom can be far reaching. When push comes to shove, in my view, the US may likely jettison its policy of “pivoting” to the Far East to focus on Europe. The Americans will not abandon Europe for Asia.