Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Rising Sun

Contributed By: Albion Hargrave



The status quo in Asia is shifting. This is most evidenced by the rise of China and an increasingly antagonistic North Korea. At no other time in recent history has Japan been so isolated from fellow Asian states. With the exception of Taiwan, Japan’s state-to-state relations with its North Asian neighbors are at all time lows. Indeed, over the last twenty years, strong anti-Japanese sentiment was mostly limited to China and North Korea. However, given Japan’s recent revision of history South Korea has also begun to demonstrate a more assertive stance, promoting pro-Korean policies and denouncing Japanese historical revisions of its imperialistic past.

To Asia watchers, it seems as if Japan is adrift at sea and lacks any definitive foreign policy direction. While this may appear to be the case, it is also true that Tokyo seeks an increased international presence as evidenced by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s dispatch of Japan’s SDF (Self-Defense Forces) in support of US and UN military action in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has served Japan’s nationalists well. Under Koizumi’s leadership, the LDP has subtly altered Japan’s constitution by assisting in US military action, joining the US missile defense system, and in 2005, for the first time signaling political and economic support for Taiwan as a ‘strategic interest’. This flies in the face of Chinese officials who view issues with the rogue state as an internal matter. Since 9/11, Japan has thrust itself into the international arena like never before. As Tokyo seeks to expand its military abilities vis-à-vis Article 9 provisional constraints, there is an underlying blueprint for Japan’s future. It is here where the issue of whether Japan should be awarded a veto-yielding UN Security Council seat begins.

As China and India’s economic growth have boosted Asia, Japan is perhaps the country that has benefited the most. Japan is experiencing change on all fronts; economic, political and military. With power comes responsibility and with the political climate as it is in Asia, it comes as no surprise that Japan seeks full UN admission. Japan faces a precarious situation with a militarily aggressive North Korea and a nuclear powered China. In both 1998 and 2006, Pyongyang launched missiles into the Sea of Japan, generating international condemnation and calls for sanctions. However, any United Nations legislated economic sanctions against the DPRK have been impeded by both Russia and China’s veto power on the UN Security Council. This is where a security seat for Japan comes in. As a strong US ally, should Japan be suscessulful in acquiring a veto seat, Russia and China would be much harder pressed to obstruct both US and international actions in the future. However, for Tokyo to be ultimately successful in gaining a seat, it must formulate a coherent foreign policy and support UN reforms. So far, it seems Japanese leaders are preoccupied with the status that a UN seat brings, not the reforms mandated by US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton.

Tokyo is Washington’s strongest Asian ally. It should serve that Washington’s support for a Japanese seat is assumed. However, in contrast, there are hawks in Washington that do not feel Japan is ready and are generally not supportive of UN expansion. In fact, Washington was not nearly as supportive as Tokyo wanted when the so-called Group of Four (Germany, Brazil, India and Japan) attempted to gain veto seats. This is where US foreign policy is murky. On the one hand, the US seeks to promote Japan and is incurably engaged in Japanese political and military affairs. On the other, some US leaders remain hawkish against supporting Japan openly for a UN seat. In truth, Washington would like nothing less than seeing a robust Japan as a fellow Security Council member. It may well be a bit early in Japan’s quest. As Tokyo embraces a more assertive international stance and political leaders move to amend its pacifist constitution, Washington is keen to encourage relations as a way to both stabilize the region and constrain China.

So far, Japan’s ability to directly articulate its own foreign policy objectives remains out of grasp for LDP leaders. This is likely to change however as Japan sheds its pacifist ideals. For LDP nationalists, there is a push to catapult Japan back into the world of international affairs and to reassert itself as a global power. As Japan seeks to ‘normalize’ its military capacities and pull equal to that of other world powers, Washington must promote, guide and facilitate Tokyo’s evolving nature. Can a UN seat be far behind?

For Japan to have a chance at becoming a full, veto-yielding member of the UN Security Council, several key obstacles must be overcome. (1) Tokyo’s leaders must form clear foreign policy initiatives, (2) Tokyo must successfully legislate an amendment to the Article 9 provision, (3) official Japanese government visits to the Yasukuni Shrine must be curtailed, (4) Washington must support Tokyo against Chinese opposition while encouraging political dialogue, and (5) As Japan continues down the road towards increased international involvement, Japan must embrace international responsibility and encourage UN reforms as an affirmative step towards veto-yielding membership.