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    A place at the table

    Colin Powell follows Richard Armitage’s remarks last month:

    “We understand the importance of Article 9 to the Japanese people and why it’s in your Constitution,” he said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun and other Japanese media representatives here.

    “But at the same time, if Japan is going to play a full role on the world stage and become a full active participating member of the Security Council and have the kinds of obligations that it would pick up as a (council) member, then Article 9 would have to be examined in that light.”

    Powell added, however, the decision is “absolutely, entirely up to the Japanese people to decide because it is in your Constitution, and the United States would never presume to offer an opinion.”

    I don’t know. That sounds like an opinion to me. It’s not an order, perhaps, but it’s a pretty clear recommendation. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with that. Renouncing aggression, by a country that had just tried to take over half the neighboring continent and had a known history of belligerence, was a good thing for the post-War constitution. At that point, Japan’s job was to take its place among free societies.

    Of course, we want any free society to be committed, as Prime Minister Koizumi said at his war commemoration speech last week, to a world without war. But times have changed. Japan is rich and influential and is a possible target for terrorists. The US is still its protector, but we may be planning to shift forces out of Asia. South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong have become the Tiger Economies (and the former two have democratized, while the last remains freer than the Chinese mainland). And the PRC has awakened from its Mao-era economic disasters and is showing renewed geopolitical ambitions.

    You know, it’s funny. When you live in Japan, this little row of rocks at the edge of the Pacific, you suddenly realize that China is a VERY LARGE country. From the viewpoint of the US, China is an ocean away. It’s big, but we’re big, too. We do have a neighbor of larger land area to the north, sure, but Canada has always been an ally and has a very low comparative population. When looking at a globe or map means reflexively putting that “You are here” sign in Tokyo, South Korea and Japan start to look like morsels being dangled in front of the Red Chinese. (And I mean right in front, since most of China’s power centers are in its east-central region.)

    Yes, I’m overdramatizing–and I’m leaving out the even larger Russia, though the farawayness of Moscow and St. Petersburg and the vast wilderness of Siberia make it seem less psychologically threatening–but the point remains. It’s all very well for Japan to resolve that it won’t just up and start wars to take over more territory…I’m sorry…to liberate Asians from their Western oppressors, just because it’s feeling neighborly. It’s another thing to say that “self-defense” is practicable if Japan is always going to wait until existing conflicts actually arrive on its shores.

    It’s nice for Japan’s UN delegation to keep submitting nuclear disarmament resolutions, but surely it hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice that the PRC and North Korea were among the abstainers when last year’s model came to a vote. I think we could all “express concern about the existence of a black market in nuclear weapons technology,” but now that it exists, something with a bit more teeth than “concern” will be needed to deal with it.

    (BTW, I know I’ve said this a billion times, but I never, ever get used to the fact that North Korea is allowed to be a member of the UN.)

    Clear we-had-to-do-it combat to protect citizens or infrastructure will probably always be hard to distinguish perfectly from the use of defense issues as a smokescreen for securing access to strategic resources. But officially remaining a sitting duck–even if, as most analysts seem to believe, Japan has been for years quietly developing the ability to project force outside the archipelago–may be erring excessively in the direction of avoiding the appearance of evil. The structure of the UN Security Council is decades out of date, but as long as it exists, it would be wise for Japan to position itself for permanent membership.

    2 Responses to “A place at the table”

    1. tom bridgeland says:

      … But officially remaining a sitting duck–even if, as most analysts seem to believe, Japan has been for years quietly developing the ability to project force outside the archipelago–…
      I think so. The PKO operations in Cambodia, E. Timor, and now Iraq seem a clearly graduated effort by the political class to return Japan to the position of a normal nation, with a normal military structure. This would be a big help for the US, Japan could take some of the burden now carried by Britain. Few countries have a technologically advanced military that can project force.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      I agree. One thing that I find disquieting, though, is that Japan keeps launching rockets and having to shoot them down when they malfunction. This is the kind of country in which 70% of everything works to intimidating perfection and the other 30% is inept. It’s just not clear right now whether the armed forces engineers are more like Honda or more like Mitsubishi Motors.