Tantrums in Washington will have consequences in Tokyo

The ongoing tantrum being thrown by the US government and Japan experts in Washington’s think tanks in response to the DPJ’s decision to oppose the extension of the anti-terror special measures law continues unabated.

Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, voiced the Pentagon’s strong desire that Japan continue to contribute to the multinational coalition working to rebuild Afghanistan. Via The Australian, however, comes another bit from Mr. Morrell’s remarks that was not picked up in the Japanese press.

Mr. Morrell appeared to express Pentagon frustration at being forced to deal with the third Japanese defence minister in two months on the matter. Fumi [sic] Kyuma resigned on July 3, Yuriko Koiko [sic] was left out of the new cabinet on Monday and Masahiko Komura replaced her.

“I do know that (Defence Secretary Robert Gates) recently met with the second minister of defence (Ms Koiko) [sic] but I think that was a couple of weeks ago … I guess that’s inoperative now.”

Oh, boo hoo. Japan has changed its defense ministers too many times, and we can’t keep up. What exactly is inoperative now that Ms. Koike has been replaced by Mr. Komura? Why does Mr. Morrell find it necessary to comment on the changes in personnel within Japan’s government? This and other efforts by the US government — I’m talking about you, Ambassador Schieffer — to insert the American voice into the Japanese domestic political process are inexcusable. This is Japan’s decision to make. The US cannot make it for Japan, against the wishes of the Japanese people, and the more the US government speaks, the harder it becomes for its LDP ally to do what Washington desires.

Into the debate comes Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation, who argues that Mr. Abe needs to work harder to do Washington’s bidding: “Abe’s ability to achieve a larger regional and international security role for Japan, favored by Washington, has also been called into question. Abe must show uncharacteristically bold and decisive leadership if he hopes to permanently reverse flagging public support.” I wonder if he meant to say Washington’s support instead of public support, because it seems to me that the surest way for Mr. Abe to reverse his flagging public support would be to reverse course and say no, loudly and persistently, to the US.

Washington’s repeated interjections into Japan’s domestic debate on security policy may have already had the unintended consequence of provoking more overt protestations among the Japanese people and their elected representatives that the US-Japan alliance increasingly means Japan’s subordination to US desires — in short, that a closer US-Japan alliance means “shut up and do what you’re told.” Unease with the alliance lies not far beneath the surface of the Japanese public, and it takes remarkably little for those doubts to become public.

Indeed, if Washington continues to speak, it may undermine the more conciliatory approach to this issue announced by the new Abe Cabinet, encouraging conservatives to question the value of an ever closer US-Japan alliance more openly than they already are (following the North Korea about-face and the comfort women resolution).

In the meantime, the more the US talks, the easier it becomes for Mr. Ozawa and the DPJ to oppose the extension with the full knowledge that they have the public on their side, cheering them on for standing up to US bullying.

2 thoughts on “Tantrums in Washington will have consequences in Tokyo

  1. I agree completely with you analysis of how Washington is messing up in Japan but dont think that the U.S. or any other country necessarily needs to keep silent while Japan is discussing its policies. It is not about voicing opinions in Japan it is about the way the U.S. is doing it. The colonial attitude doesnt help.


  2. Bryce

    This sort of behaviour was recently covered in Gavan MacCormack\’s new book. It might be a bit too \”critical\” for the tastes of some here, and I had a few problems with the way MacCormack used some of his data, but all in all, it\’s a good read.I think U.S. commentators are still living in the 1980s, when \’gaiatsu\’ as a way of handing the Japanese government a convenient rationale to adopt policy actually worked. They need to wake up.


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