Abe’s id speaks

Well, it was only a matter of time. First, Defense Minister Kyuma signalled in Washington that Japan was approaching a reconsideration of its restrictions on arms exports, prompting Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki to deny that any change was impending and reaffirm the principles. Then, Abe voiced a slightly more ambiguous position, resting somewhere between Kyuma and Shiozaki.

And now, as seems to have been the case throughout the short life of the Abe Cabinet, LDP PARC Chairman Nakagawa Shoichi has put in his two cents on the lifting of the three arms export principles, speaking with less ambiguity than the others on the need to adjust Japan’s security norms and institutions for the new era.

Am I wrong to think that Nakagawa, as a party official and not a minister, has acted as Abe’s id, saying what Abe wishes he could say, if only he didn’t have to be sensitive to public opinion? The best example of this is probably the debate on the debate about nuclear weapons last fall, when Abe refused to censure Nakagawa for his repeated calls for Japan to discuss developing nuclear weapons. Is Abe using Nakagawa as a decoy, testing to see how far his government can push before it runs into implacable opposition?

Whatever the case may be, it seems safe to conclude that the government is opening another front in its campaign to roll back postwar political and legal limits on Japanese security policy. New Komeito has voiced its disapproval once again, but is its discontent with Abe’s obsession with overturning the postwar security regime ever going to manifest itself as anything other than public complaints?

Meanwhile, with the government’s energy dedicated to challenging longstanding constraints on Japanese security policy, the prospects for further structural reform — the Koizumi revolution — are growing ever dimmer. Why should Abe tackle hard questions about the long-term future of Japanese state and society that would require battling members of the LDP and bureaucracy when he can overturn constraints that have limited Japan’s independence in security policy, pleasing the LDP’s conservatives in the process?

There is no question that the pursuit of independence is the key to understanding the Abe Cabinet’s agenda, enabling Abe to complete the project that proved elusive for his grandfather. Amaki Naoto spells out, sympathetically, this line of thinking in depth in this post. Amaki contrasts Abe with Koizumi, who he feels was content with subservience to the US (he also lambastes Koizumi for his “disgraceful” mimicking of Elvis Presley); Abe, on the other hand, is interested in “independent conservatism,” like his grandfather. Amaki spends much of the post elaborating on what sort of US-Japan relationship is consistent with Abe’s Gaullism, and he provides an excellent look at the implications of Abe’s foreign and security policies.

But the burning question, the question that these “independent conservatives” seem unwilling to answer, is whether any of these changes will make any difference whatsoever if Japan cannot find a way to discover new sources of wealth creation and transform its economy for the post-industrial age.

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