Ozawa holds his ground

Earlier this week, I discussed the furor that greeted Ozawa Ichiro’s remarks about the reduction of US forces in Japan.

The LDP, unable to resist the urge to go on the offensive for a change, immediately jumped to condemn Ozawa’s remarks as dangerously naive.

“It’s unrealistic,” said Kawamura Takeo, chief cabinet secretary.

“Nothing but irrational,” said Machimura Nobutaka, former chief cabinet secretary and foreign minister and head of the Machimura faction.

Aso Taro weighed in too: “A person who has some knowledge of defense affairs would by no means say such things.”

Ozawa answered this criticism with a degree of perplexity, saying that it was a “natural” matter for discussion, that “if Japan carries out as a great a role as it can, the US burden can shrink, as can the US presence in Japan.” He also said that he was not saying that Japan should commit to intervention in crises in the Korean Peninsula or the Taiwan Straits.

This whole debate has a farcical quality to it, as so much in Japanese politics does today. The LDP, a party whose founding statement calls for the restoration of Japan’s independence, whose list of basic policies describes itself as committed to Japan’s defending itself, a party whose leader two years ago was committed to revising Japan’s constitution in order to guarantee its independence, is in little position to criticize Ozawa without ignoring the efforts of a good portion of its members over the past fifty years to achieve greater autonomy from the US (within the confines of the alliance, of course). I wonder what Kishi Nobusuke, leader of the faction from which the Machimura faction is directly descended, would say to his successor’s calling the idea of Japan’s playing a greater role in its own defense with a smaller US presence “irrational.” Or for that matter what Yoshida Shigeru, the prime minister’s grandfather, would say, seeing as how he did not view the idea of Japan’s being dependent on the US for its defense as a permanent arrangement.

There are reasons to question Ozawa’s statements. I offered some myself in my initial post. Nevertheless, why shouldn’t his ideas be seriously engaged by LDP leaders, instead of dismissed as ignorant or irrational? Are US forces meant to be stationed in Japan permanently? Is it sensible to count on that being the case? What is the appropriate level of forward-deployed US forces on Japanese soil? This is precisely the kind of debate Japan needs to be having as the Marines prepare to relocate from Okinawa to Guam. Ozawa may not be acting in good faith, but Nakagawa Hidenao has it exactly right: this is the kind of thing that should be debated in question time on the floor of the Diet and other public settings by Japan’s leaders. Even if Ozawa is wrong, the subject shouldn’t be dismissed as so controversial as to be beyond discussion.

Why shouldn’t Japanese politicians debate whether some day, sooner or later, it might want to or need to play a greater role in defending itself, and if so, how it will go about paying for it, what contingencies it will prepare for, what capabilities it will require, whether it will have to revise the constitution, what role the alliance should play in the region, what role Japan should play in the alliance, etc.? And why should it wait for something drastic to happen before having this debate? Even if for the foreseeable future it is unlikely that there will be drastic changes to the status quo, it bears having this debate. It will not be settled conclusively now or in an election campaign or even under a DPJ government (should one form), but Japan must have a debate on the questions raised by Ozawa. His remark was more or less designed to raise debate, seeing as how he offered nothing specific about how or when Japanese capabilities should replace US conventional forces in Japan.

But the LDP, facing death, cannot bring itself to engage in this debate. Instead its leaders condemn Ozawa in the hopes of getting some political traction out of this issue, hoping to paint Ozawa and the DPJ as untrustworthy and anti-American. In the process, Aso, Machimura, and others have illustrated the cognitive dissonance undoubtedly felt by Japanese conservatives, who are now wedded to a vision of the US-Japan alliance grounded in ever closer cooperation even as their first principles lead them to desire greater autonomy and remilitarization.

Building on Ozawa’s argument, Sasayama Tatsuo — a onetime Diet member who followed Ozawa out of the LDP and remained with him until 2000 when he lost as a Liberal Party candidate — argues that with the economic crisis clouding the future, it is only sensible that Japan consider what it would do in the absence of US military power. This is a future that may not come to pass, especially seeing as how Japan may find itself even more constrained militarily than the US, but I see little harm in Ozawa’s broaching the subject.

5 thoughts on “Ozawa holds his ground

  1. David

    Yes, it\’s a debate that is long overdue whether or not Ozawa is sincere. I could only hope—no, dream—that someday this debate takes place, both in the US and Japan. I hope it takes place before some disaster forces it.


  2. This bodes ill for the post-election LDP, since if the DPJ wins, he LDP will probably have to lean much more heavily on nationalism (since its power to hand out goodies will be gone)…Ozawa basically judo-threw the LDP here, knowing that they were not yet experienced enough in the art of 2-party politics to consider endorsing a statement made by a rival.


  3. Noah,I think it\’s way too premature to conclude what the LDP will or won\’t do in opposition. If and when it does wind up in opposition, it is far from clear what direction the LDP will go.But even if it does \”lean much more heavily on nationalism,\” it is too hasty to declare that Ozawa has scored a preemptive victory. If anything, he has rendered a future DPJ government vulnerable to the charge from an opposition LDP that the DPJ is incapable of delivering on its promises (based on Ozawa\’s rhetoric).In any case, the LDP doesn\’t have to endorse anything. I have no problem if the LDP wants to make the case for an eternal US presence in Japan. I just want it to the join the debate in good faith, instead of falling back on the old tendency to declare certain subjects off limits for discussion.


  4. And what candidate has ever delivered on his promises? ;-)My sense is that it doesn\’t matter if Ozawa manages to deliver. After all, it\’s not like he can unilaterally boot 80% of the U.S. military presence. But rhetoric itself will be important in this case – changing the terms of the debate to acknowledge that the U.S. forward military presence is temporary in nature. That alone will have huge repercussions, I predict.


  5. What do the poll numbers for DPJ look like right now? I can\’t imagine the constituency that LDP is targeting with pro-US rhetoric. Also, what exactly is DPJ proposing in lieu of the forward US military presence? Apologies for so many questions. Any background would be appreciated.


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