Asking old questions anew

(This is the second post discussing George Packard’s Protest in Tokyo; see the first here.)

When I last discussed Packard, I spoke about how his exploration of Japanese thinking behind the first US-Japan security treaty revealed that independence was the dominant theme in Japanese foreign policy thinking throughout the 1950s. Independence has, of course, been a consistent thread in Japanese security policy since the opening of Japan by way of “unequal treaties” made Tokyo acutely aware of its weakness compared to the Western powers.

Occupation and aftermath reminded Japan once again of its low position in the global hierarchy, with the alliance with the US and the accompanying status-of-forces agreement (SOFA) serving as the postwar period’s unequal treaties.

Accordingly, as the 1950s progressed and the contours of the cold war in Asia coalesced, Japan once again began to consider how to square the need to ensure its security at the front line while maximizing its independence as much as possible without jeopardizing security. As such, while one can look at the struggles surrounding ratification of the revised Mutual Security Treaty in 1960 as grounded in ideological struggles in Japanese domestic politics, it is essential to recognize that battle was another episode in modern Japan’s pursuit of an optimal security strategy that maximizes security and independence. As Packard wrote, “It is well to remember, in looking, at the great struggle of 1960, that it was much more than a battle between left and right—between the free world and neutralism or Communism. The underlying question was: how to provide the greatest security for Japan—and on this question, the Japanese nation was deeply divided.”

Packard saw that debate as hinging on three “dilemmas”: (1) doesn’t an alliance with the US that involves hosting US troops make Japan an inevitable target in the event of a hot war?; (2) won’t alliance with the US inevitably result in the introduction of nuclear weapons to Japan, either in US hands or in the hands of the JSDF, while burdening Japan with an expensive defense establishment?; and (3) by allowing US troops to have bases in Japan, near Asia’s potential conflict zones, aren’t we making it easier for the US to escalate crises in the Taiwan Straits or Korea? The 1960 treaty obviously did not resolve these questions — compromises came later, if at all. Rather, the debate on the treaty was whether Japan should opt for east, west, or Nehru-style neutralism. The outcome was not foreordained: a poll cited by Packard showed that the Japanese people, insofar as they had an opinion on the matter, seemed to prefer Bandung-style nonalignment.

The outcome was not even foreordained within the LDP. Prime Minister Kishi, architect of the revision, had to maneuver among factions in the nascent LDP, playing rivals — who preferred alternative courses in foreign policy — off one another. There is no doubting that Kishi, in contrast to his bumbling grandson, was an adept politician; I do not see how else he could have served in Tojo’s cabinet, been purged, served prison time as a Class-A war criminal, and still emerged as prime minister in 1957 (the phoenix in the above Time cover may have been referring to Japan, but it could just as well have referred to Kishi).

Then, as now, what mattered within the Diet was intra-LDP politics. As documented by Packard, the key to guiding the treaty through negotiations to approval by the Diet was management of the LDP — and for all of Kishi’s adroitness, the process still consumed him, as public disagreement among LDP factions (and the return of former Prime Minister Yoshida to politics after a short retirement) undermined Kishi’s efforts to present the treaty to the public as a fait accompli.

The Japanese left, meanwhile, a bumptious mix of communists, socialists, union organizers, student radicals, and intellectuals had few tools with which to shape the legislative process short of physically trying to prevent votes from occurring, and thus turned to extra-parliamentary measures, demonstrations that grew in scale until the May demonstrations against the passage of the treaty.

While Packard argues that the clash between left and right was over security policy — and it was — security policy was wrapped up with fundamental questions of Japan’s identity, and thus encompassed domestic policy as much as security policy. One important disagreement among the left was whether protests should be directed at the Diet and Prime Minister Kishi, the symbol of state capitalism, or the US Embassy, symbol of US imperialism. Similarly, the debate within the LDP was as more about Japan’s priorities in the postwar era — domestic reconstruction or a rapid resumption of the duties of a “normal” nation, a question which encompassed but was not limited to Japanese security policy.

We all know, of course, what happened. The LDP, despite internal disagreements, rammed the treaty through the Diet, which both reduced some of the inequality in the initial treaty by scaling back extraterritorial rights and shored up Japan’s place in the ranks among the anti-communist allies, shielded by American extended deterrence. The left’s attempts to block the treaty fizzled, and it was forced to renew its opposition within the Diet. But in the process, the revisionists within the LDP were stymied; Japan might enjoy an alliance with the US, but it would be an unequal alliance. Japan would adhere to Article 9, even as the JSDF was gradually strengthened, meaning that the alliance would remain focused on the defense of Japan. The Far East provisions would remain largely inoperative. Meanwhile, during the following decades successive governments addressed the dilemmas listed above, issuing the three non-nuclear principles, the principles on arms exports, and the one-percent ceiling on the defense budget, which made the Yoshida Doctrine more robust: Japan would not waver from its determination to rebuild, develop, and prosper.

And so Japan rode out the cold war, with the occasional moment of doubt (the “Nixon shock,” for example), but overall the framework held.

Not so since the end of the cold war. While there were murmurs in both Japan and the US during the 1980s that Japan should revisit the security consensus in light of its prosperity, the consensus was not completely blown apart until the end of the cold war, when the alliance’s static defense became largely irrelevant. And since the Gulf War, when Japan was asked and failed to contribute to an international coalition, Japan has been asking many of the same questions it was asking in the 1950s. How can we maximize security and independence? Is the alliance with the US still the best choice for Japan? Whereas the US commitment was fairly reliable during the cold war, does it have the same reliability in an era in which the threats are more uncertain (and in which US and Japanese threat perceptions differ in more than slight ways)?

MIT’s Richard Samuels, in an essay excerpted from his forthcoming book Securing Japan printed in Journal of Japanese Studies (and reprinted here at Japan Focus), provides an excellent guide to Japan’s post-cold war security policy debate, dividing the field into “neoautonomists,” “normal nation-ists,” “pacifists,” and “middle-power internationalists.” They differ according to their attitudes to the US and the use of force, and while there are some fundamental differences between them, there is considerable overlap between the schools of thought (excluding the pacifists). I will not summarize his essay in great detail here, but I should note that his essay makes clear the extent to which the debate that was essentially closed in 1960 with the passage of the Ampo has been entirely reopened, and each of these positions has antecedents in earlier debates. As Samuels writes, “Contexts change, but ideas endure.”

Of particular note is Samuels’ remarks on history and bases. I found his comments on US bases of particular interest, because he implies that a sizable US presence in Japan may be unsustainable over the long term, given that no segment of the debate is unambiguously supportive of the US presence as it exists today — and further cuts, beyond those already agreed, may be inevitable. (For more on this, Gavan McCormack’s essay on Okinawa rebasing — also at Japan Focus — is well worth reading.) Meanwhile, the interplay of schools of thought suggest that some new military role is inevitable, but the strategic thinking behind it remains to be decided.

If Japan is more uneasy with the alliance today than ever before, a large portion of the blame must be laid at the White House’s doorstep. The Bush administration has managed to exacerbate Japan’s fears of both abandonment and entrapment. US bellicosity has sparked fears that Japan will be pressured to follow the US into future wars following on the heels of Afghanistan and Iraq; failure in Iraq has subsequently sparked fears of abandonment, especially vis-a-vis North Korea and China, as the US, suffering in Mesopotamia, looks for ways to stabilize other trouble spots. Accordingly, as the Bush administration slouches to its demise — just as revisionists, whatever their persuasion in Samuels’s taxonomy, rise behind the banner of Abe — these questions about Japan can best defend itself in a rapidly changing region are being asked ever more loudly.

As a final note, it is interesting to note that, as before, these questions concerned not only Japan’s foreign policy but the composition of its domestic institutions. As this post by Amaki Naoto, who would probably be classified as a “neoautonomist” by Samuels, suggests, those who chafe at Japan’s “dependence” on the US are as concerned about the impact of US economic ideas on Japanese society as they are concerned about depending on the US for Japan’s security. Samuels quotes Nishibe Susumu, a former Tokyo University professor, as remarking, “As a Japanese, I feel deeply ashamed that we praise the concept of markets, an American idea…[If we continue,] our system of government and our lives will come crashing down.” And so Amaki, who resigned over Koizumi’s support for the Iraq War, also rails against “neo-liberal” reforms pushed by Koizumi, Takenaka Heizo, and Japanese financial leaders.

And that, of course, is why it is naive to think that constitution revision is just about Article 9 and Japanese security policy. The debate about “securing Japan” is as much a debate about what kind of society Japan is at home — how it secures the lives of individual Japanese — as it is about securing Japan’s place in its region and among the family of nations.

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