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.

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