The battle over the anti-terror law begins in earnest

Facing a difficult battle over the extension of the anti-terror special measures law, the new Abe-Yosano-Aso-Machimura cabinet has set to work on laying the groundwork for a compromise with the DPJ that will enable the JSDF to continue to participate in the multinational coalition in Afghanistan.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yosano has set to work by calling Mr. Ozawa a “really swell guy” (ok, not exactly a literal translation, but it’s basically what he said) — this is, according to Mainichi, an “about-face from his predecessor Mr. Shiozaki Yasuhisa,” who repeatedly criticized the DPJ head.

Whether Mr. Yosano’s flattery will serve to soften DPJ opposition remains to be seen, but there are signs that the DPJ may be amenable to a compromise with a more pliant Abe cabinet, which very badly wants this bill passed and will do whatever it can to succeed (so said Foreign Minister Machimura in conversation with Secretary of State Rice yesterday). The DPJ will no doubt extract a high price for its assent, at which point the question is what the government is willing to give up to get a compromise. Quite a bit, argues Jun Okumura, who suggests that the government might even be willing to trade participation in Iraq for continuing participation in Afghanistan; he says that the DPJ will likely drive a hard bargain and then “declare victory and claim – with justification – that it has acted responsibly.”

The prospect of a compromise has made retired diplomat and failed Upper House candidate (on a pacifist platform) Amaki Naoto apoplectic, who points to a recent opinion poll in Nikkei that showed 53% oppose extension and only 30% approve of it. Amaki suggests that opposition to extension of the law is a sign of public opposition not just to JSDF dispatches to serve in US-led campaigns, but to Japanese dependence on the US more generally, and hopes that the DPJ will stand firm on the side of the public. “The DPJ’s unyielding stance will probably be encouraged by the results of this public opinion poll. The DPJ’s company of pro-American conservatives represented by Maehara and others has been compelled to silence for a moment.” But pointing to softer statements from Messrs. Kan and Hatoyama, Amaki thinks that there’s something fishy about the DPJ’s leadership, that its opposition to the extension is shallow. He wonders, “From the first, participation in the war on terror was a mistake, and moreover the cooperative Koizumi and Abe cabinets were mistakes, and therefore the DPJ cannot at all participate in Afghanistan or Iraq: can the DPJ make this statement to America?”

He fears that it can’t, that the DPJ is simply trying to make political hay out of this issue, and will cave in the face of pressure from the LDP and the US.

I remain convinced that Japan’s withdrawal from participation in the reconstruction of Afghanistan will be a step backwards for Japanese security policy, but I also believe that it’s not simply or even primarily about the US-Japan alliance. I disagree with Michael Green and Kurt Campbell, who argue in Asahi, “If Japan pulls out suddenly from the coalition against the Taliban and al-Qaida, this will lead to inevitable and unfortunate questions for the next administration—whether Republican or Democrat—about Japan’s reliability as an ally.” Will withdrawal really harm the alliance that much? What about the ongoing process of deepening security cooperation between the two militaries closer to Japan? Will that really change because Japan brings its ships home? And what about the growing grumblings from the right about the unreliability of the US after the about-face on North Korea and the comfort women resolution? It seems like that kind of talk, which shows no sign of abating, is more threatening to the alliance over the long term than the rebalancing of the alliance that is the implicit goal of the DPJ’s security policy ideas.

I’m with MTC: this is about the Japanese people and their representatives deciding security policy for themselves, without the intimidation of Washington, and thus while I think it would be a mistake for Japan to leave, I also recognize that it’s Japan’s mistake to make (and it’s also important not to overstate the potential consequences of the withdrawal; somehow I think the coalition will manage without the MSDF).

Japan has to figure out what role it will play in the world — and the debate over extension of the anti-terror special measures law is but one step in the process of answering the question. A “normal” Japan, long desired by Washington, is also a Japan at liberty to say no.

One thought on “The battle over the anti-terror law begins in earnest

  1. Bryce

    Dontcha think this \”the DPJ is against extending the bill because there was no international consensus about contributions to the war on terror\” line currently played by the media is being pushed a little too far? While I realise that this was the reason Ozawa\’s liberals didn\’t support the bill, it was my understanding that the mainstream wing of the DPJ were against extension because they didn\’t like the precedent the law set when it allowed Koizumi to send troops without prior approval in October 2001. As I remember it, the LDP and the DPJ almost came to a compromise over the proposed bill, but this was scuttled by the (\”pacifist\”) Komeito, whose leaders were all jittery about the two major parties coming to a consensus on the issue. So compromise between the DPJ and the LDP may not be as difficult as many are suggesting, especially with a weakened Komeito. As for Ozawa, the man lives for negotiation. Although he kind of idolises the way GHWBush pulled the coalition together during the Gulf War, and would have preferred a similar process in 2001, I\’m sure he cares more about being allowed to sit around the table extracting concessions from his opponents rather than any actual outcome.


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