The shape of criticism to come?

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, due to visit Japan in early November, criticized NATO members for failing to meet their Afghanistan obligations in advance of a NATO ministerial this week.

Secretary Gates said, “I am not satisfied that an alliance whose members have over 2 million soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen cannot find the modest additional resources that have been committed for Afghanistan.”

If he’s disappointed in NATO allies, just imagine what he’ll say when he visits Japan, where — not surprisingly — in the first day of deliberations on the new bill authorizing the MSDF refueling mission in support of operations in Afghanistan more than half the questions concerned the unrelated Moriya scandal and the supposed cover-up of an error by a Defense Ministry (then Agency) official that misreported the amount of fuel provided to the US Navy.

Whatever his disappointment, however, I hope that he’ll hold off from criticizing Japan (and the DPJ) publicly, unlike Ambassador Schieffer. US goading is part of the problem, not part of the solution, because it has made Japanese politicians and officials accustomed to framing security policies in the context of “what do we need to do to make Washington happy,” not “what role should we play in the world.” If the Japanese government would rather under-commit and thus free ride for as long as the ride’s working, no amount of bullying and blustering by US officials will make it changes its mind, because Tokyo has learned to play the game of contributing just enough to placate Washington.

The only way to break the cycle will be the force Japan to be free, to force it to bear the bulk of the burden of its own defense and thus begin thinking seriously about what its national interests are and what capabilities it needs to secure those interests.

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