Thursday, August 26, 2010

The US-Japanese Friendship Festival at Yokota Air Base

I went to the US-Japanese Friendship Festival at Yokota US Air Force Base in Fussa city, north west of Tokyo, on August 22. The festival is held once a year, co-hosted by the US Forces in Japan and Fussa Tourism Association. Yokota Air Base is a keystone of US military operations in the Asia-Pacific region, and the headquarters of the US Forces in Japan is located there.

During the festival, the air base is open to the public, and visitors enjoy shop stands and aircraft exhibitions. For Japanese people, it is a good opportunity to enjoy American culture and life style close at hand, and 130,000 visitors came to the air base. I was marveled to see a sheer number of people coming to Yokota. The festival lasts for two days, and various entertainment attractions are performed on the stage.

As soon as I arrived at the base, I walked around shop stands to buy lunch. I had a BLT (bacon, lettuce, tomato) sandwich and soft drink. Although both dollar and yen were used at the shop, the change bills in yen I received were wrinkled. This is very American, because people receive neatly pressed bills at the shop and the bank in Japan.

Having eaten lunch, I walked toward the airfield to see military planes of the US armed forces and the Japanese Self Defense Force. The aircrafts displayed were F4, F15, F16, and F22 fighters; A10 attackers; SH60 and UH60 helicopters; and so forth. F22 stealth fighters were very popular. They came from Okinawa.

F22 Raptor, very popular

Quite interestingly, I found four short vinyl strings in the hind part of the helicopter. I asked a US serviceman what they were. He told me that they were electric wires to release static electricity. Those wires are not equipped with jet fighters, according to him. Seeing is believing! I would not have found such an interesting fact, even if I made well-designed plastic models.

Visitors were not necessarily military manias. I saw innumerable families, couples, and so forth. Some of them came to the base only to see fireworks at night. It was extremely hot, atomospheric temprature of 35℃ or 95°F, and there were hardly any shades in a vast and open asphalt air field. I was impressed with physical endurance of American soldiers because they were not exhausted by the heat wave at all. No wonder they can fight anywhere in the world once ordered by the president.

Strangely enough, I did not find any leftist rallies. At Yokota, tens of thousand of visitors enjoyed the festival. Can people in Okinawa enjoy some events like this? There seems to be a huge perception gap between mainland Japanese and Okinawans, as to US bases in Japan.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Defense Reform by Secretary Gates

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that he would close the Joint Forces Command (See 1 and 2) to cut military spending in view of recession. In addition, Gates considers lowering the budget for defense contractors, and cutting civilian and military positions in the Department of Defense. Those cuts are expected to offset the cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars and increasing domestic spending (“Gates announces major cuts in military spending”; Boston Globe; August 10, 2010).

The new defense budget plan has inflicted damages on defense contractors and investors. The Joint Forces Command employs 6,100 contractors, civilians and military personnel in Norfolk, Virginia. According to the plan by Gates, the Pentagon will reduce the number of contractors for 10% annually over three years. Loren Thompson, a consultant to major defense contractors including Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and BAE, comments that hardware producers will be all right but administrative work outsourcers be hit by the plan (“Defense secretary's planned cuts upset investors and defense contractors”; Washington Post; August 11, 2010).

At the Marines’ Memorial Club in San Francisco, Gates told the audience, “It means shifting resources from bureaucracies and overhead to military combat capabilities needed by our combat forces now and in the future.” On the other hand, Gates demanded the Congress not to repeat the same mistake of slashing military spending too deeply at the end of the Cold War, simply because of rising federal deficit (“Gates Urges Congress to Avoid `Mistake' of Harmful Cuts in Military Budget”; Bloomberg News; August 14, 2010). Even though Secretary Gates said he would resign in 2011, he wants to maintain his influence on President Obama as a senior advisor through this plan (“Defense secretary Gates says he would like to leave next year”; Washington Post; August 17, 2010).

However, some people cast doubt on the plan by Gates. Stephen Daggett, a specialist in defense policy and budgets at the Congressional Research Service, said that defense spending would not be cut simply by closing the Joint Forces Command, because some of its duties, including developing doctrine and training, would be done other sections of the military (“Will Gates' proposed Pentagon spending cuts really save money?”; Top Secret America ―― Washington Post Blog; August 10, 2010). It is more important to discuss whether the United States can manage state and non-state threats around the world under a scaled down defense budget. In the House, Rep. Buck McKeon and Rep. Eric Cantor criticize the plan because they see the Joint Forces Command necessary to manage growing and intertwined threats(”Lawmakers Question Gates Defense Cuts in Face of 'Growing Threats'”; FOX News; August 11, 2010).

This issue is much more deep rooted than it appears. The day before 9-11 attack, Secretary of Defense-then Donald Rumsfeld declared structural reform in Pentagon bureaucracy, such as lowering dependence on administrative work outsourcing. However, the terrorist attack forced Rumsfeld to shift his attention away from the reform to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Robert Gates tackles an incomplete job of his predecessor beyond partisan constraints (“Gates takes on the bureaucracy”; Shadow Government――Foreign Policy Blog; August 10, 2010). In addition to structural reform of the Pentagon and armed forces, Gates stopped some “Cold War” arsenals like F22 stealth fighters, DDG-1000 destroyers, and so forth. However, Secretary Gates must strike a delicate balance between large arsenals for traditional state-to-state conflict and small and quick arsenals for post Cold War combat like counterterrorism (“The Transformer”; Foreign Policy; September/October 2010).

Thomas Donnelly, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, agrees that the Joint Forces Command should be scrapped because it did not work well to pursue joint defense objectives beyond armed forces sectionalism. However, he says that the reform make the United States safer only marginally (“Gates is Wielding the Budget Axe”; AEI Center for Defense Studies; August 9, 2010). The rise of terrorism and the economic crisis make it necessary to reform bureaucratic and command structure in the armed forces and the Pentagon. However, the United States still must be prepared for traditional threats, as Russia and China reemerge in the post Cold War era. This reform is an unfinished job of his predecessor. Will Gates make solid foundations for the future of American defense policy until his resignation in 2011?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hurdles for a Nuclear Free World

Has global security started to move toward a nuclear free world this year? Based on the Prague speech, President Barack Obama hosted the 1st Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on April 12 and 13. Also, Ambassador John Roos attended the Atomic Bomb Memorial Ceremony in Hiroshima on August 6 as the first US representative in history. Those actions are impressive, but it is a long way to go to achieve this goal, because old geopolitics has reemerged in the post Cold War era, and rogue states are pursuing nuclear development projects.

First, let me talk about fundamental points regarding the idea of a nuclear free world. This is not original to Barack Obama. It was senior American politicians, including Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Former Secretary of State George Schultz, Former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and Former Senator Sam Nunn that presented theoretical foundations for a world without nuclear weapons in the Wall Street Journal in 2007. In the article, bipartisan leaders insist that policymakers change Cold War mindset of MAD as nuclear deterrence is becoming decreasingly effective due to the challenge of rogue states like Iran and North Korea, and the emergence of non-state actors like terrorist groups. The four leaders argued just from realist viewpoints, and never remarked something controversial, like a highlighted phrase in the Prague speech, “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act.”

Regarding this phrase, George Perkovich, Vice President at the Carnegie Endowment points out that Obama articulated to maintain nuclear deterrence to defend the United States and free allies as long as nuclear threats continue to exist (“The Obama Nuclear Agenda: One Year after Prague”; Carnegie Policy Outlook; March 31, 2010).

The most critical hurdle for a nuclear free world is old geopolitical rivalries posed by Russia and China. Russia wants to maintain its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Union. As to China, Gordon Chang says, “Beijing’s ruthlessly pragmatic leaders see our failure to press human rights as a sign that we think we are weak. And if they think we are weak, they see little reason to cooperate. So promoting human rights is protecting American security."

While the Obama administration explores a win-win deal with Russia, conservatives are concerned with new START because Kremlin simply wants to achieve nuclear parity with the United States. Former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton criticizes Obama’s obsession with arms reduction and says, “The positions of the United States and Russia are not parallel, and roughly equivalent warhead limits impair Washington far more than Moscow." I agree with Bolton that the United States must defend allies around the globe, but Russia does not have to.

Quite importantly, neither Russia nor China share concerns with the West regarding nuclear proliferation to rogue states and terrorist groups. Russia sold S300 surface to air missiles to Iran. In addition, Kremlin decided to supply uranium to Iran’s first nuclear reactor in Bushehr, though the United States worries that Iran will interpret this as a signal of tolerance to its nuclear ambition (“Russian nuclear agency says Iran's first nuclear plant will start getting fuel next week”; FOX News; August 13, 2010). China still endorses the repressive regime in North Korea, simply because the Beijing government worries confusions associated with the collapse of the Pyongyang dictatorship, rather than nuclear proliferation. Stark gaps are found on nuclear terrorism. As Liz Cheney mentioned in the debate with Former Secretary of State Colin Powell this February, American policymakers are keenly aware of terrorist acquisition of WMDs, from conservative to liberal. Until Russians and Chinese face further serious attacks by radical Muslims of Chechnya and Uighur respectively, they may not assume common understandings on nuclear terrorism with the United States.

Also, it has become apparent that China does not respect the Obama initiative. In June, China proposed to sell nuclear reactors to Pakistan, despite the fear of intensified nuclear rivalries with India. Beijing Communists assume “If America can bend the rules for India, then China can break them for Pakistan” (“Nuclear proliferation in South Asia: The power of nightmares”; Economist; June 24, 2010). In theory, such a geopolitical game will happen. However, China was more cautious to avoid provoking America during the Bush era. Applying a phrase by an Iraq veteran Captain Pete Hegseth, founder of Vets for Freedom, I would like to say “China sees Obama as weak.”

Henry Sokolski, Executive Director at the Nonproliferaion Education Center, points out that even if America reaches a model nuclear deal with developing courtiers, other nuclear suppliers ruin nonproliferation efforts by Washington. Regarding the nuclear cooperation deal with the United Arab Emirates finalized by the Obama administration, Sokolski says that the UAE chose South Korean facilities because of lower price and looser nonproliferation requirements than those of the United States (“Nuclear Nonproliferation Games”; National Review Online; August 5, 2010). In other words, the Obama administration failed to bind the UAE, and simply lost business opportunity with this country. It is not lofty ideals cited by Barack Obama but commercial interests that have significant influences on nonproliferation efforts.

President Obama may have taken some impressive actions for a nuclear free world, but his initiative is not respected among major nuclear powers and possible proliferators. As long as they see America weak, none of nuclear elimination initiatives will make any progress. Particularly, autocratic regimes pursue interests of their leaders, not global peace. Yes, a nuclear free world is much safer. To achieve this goal, the United States must impress its strength, rather than hinting America's moralistic drawbacks that Obama mentioned in the Prague speech.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

A New Contribution to Another Thinktank Online

I have contributed a commentary to another think tank online called Hyakka Somei of the Council on the East Asian Community, which is an affiliate organization of the Japan Forum on International Relations and the Global Forum of Japan.

The commentary is based on a post on this blog which explores Japan’s distinct position in East Asian history. Japan had been out of the Chinese Confucianist order in the pre-modern era. After the Opium War, Japan has become one of the Great Powers along with Europe and America. Considering such Japanese national identity, Japanese foreign policy should be founded on a staunch alliance with the United States, rather than meddling between America and China.

If you understand Japanese, see the link 1 and 2 to read the commentary. I consider writing a column for journals and papers, to make myself much more widely known and draw public attention to my advocacy as argued on this blog.