Saturday, March 31, 2012

Nagatacho Must Reconsider Japan’s Relations with Iran

As I mentioned before, Japanese leaders and citizens dismiss that horrific nature of current regime in Iran is utterly incompatible with our national identity. In view of this, the dietary debate between Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and Dietman Takao Fujii of the Liberal Democratic Party, at the Budget Committee in the House of Councilors on March 26 is appalling. Both of them lauded Japan’s “friendship” with a communist Prime Minister Mohhamad Mossadegh during the Anglo-Iranian oil dispute. That means, they declared in public that they would stand up for Joseph Stalin against Sir Winston Churchill. Considering geopolitics of Iranian modern history, their remarks are absolutely reckless.

Let me narrate geopolitical history of Iran in the modern era. Iran has been an arena of Great Power clash since the 19th century. In the era of colonial imperialism, Britain and Russia competed there in the Great Game. During World War Ⅱ, the Allied Forces used Iran a military supply route for the Soviet Union. However, Stalin maintained Soviet military presence in northern Iran, even though the war had already ended. The Iran crisis in 1946 is the first case brought to United Nations Security Council, and with strong support by the United States and Britain, the imperial government of Iran succeeded in driving the Red Army out of its territory.

Considering such a critical position that Iran holds in great power rivalries, Mossadegh was too reckless to hint Soviet influences behind him. During the Anglo Iranian oil dispute, Japan did not follow sanction initiatives by Britain and America. Idemitsu Kosan sent a tanker to import oil from Iran through British naval blockade. However, that is not so glorious as Gemba and Fujii said in the diet. It was not Idemitsu that led to Japanese postwar recovery and economic miracle. Had the Mossadegh administration survived, it could have caused a domino effect of red nationalism throughout the Gulf region. Contrary to what Gemba and Fijii remarked in the House of Councilors, Japan was able to “free ride” stability in the Middle East from the 1950s to 1970s, and concentrate on being a “transistor radio sales man” to pursue economic growth, because the coup d’état by Britain and America succeeded to overthrow Mossadegh and re-throne the shah. We all understand that the shah's Iran provided global public goods of security in the Middle East as the Guard of the Persian Gulf, since then.

During the 1960 and the 70s, Japan had a friendly relation with the Pahlavi regime. The Iran Japan Petro Chemical project was agreed with the shah. We, Japanese, shall never be able to make a deal with neither communist Mossadegh nor Dark Age minded mullahs. Both Gemba and Fujii should rather quit the Democratic Party and the Liberal Democratic Party respectively, and join the Communist Party instead, as they expressed their favor of Stalin over Churchill. Strangely, there were no hecklers to such dreadful remarks at the Councilor session. Nagatacho politicians are utterly insensitive to Japan’s position in the Middle East, though it is a key member of Western democracies.

Also, we must remember that President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech was bitterly blamed in America because it was too apologetic to the CIA-MI6 coup d’état in the Anglo Iranian oil dispute. A real Iran-Japan friendship was achieved when Western educated elites took leadership in the shah’s regime. Many of them are now in exile in America and Europe. They act for freedom of their home land, along with Green Movement supporters in Iran. Therefore, I regard any kind of appeasement to current Shiite theocracy and praise of communist Mossadegh, which Gemba and Fujii remarked in the House of Councilors, is an insult and a betrayal to our real friends fighting against the evil regime.

As in the case of the Mossadegh regime, we must consider short term gains and long term loss to allow Iran’s misguided behavior. Regretfully, Japanese opinion leaders are preoccupied with short term surge of oil price, but history tells us that Chamberlainian pacifism will help the threat grow substantially in the long term. If we were to contain a nuclear ambitious Iran, we must manage various destabilizing activities, notably supporting terrorism, by the Shiite regime in Tehran (“Containing Iran will cost untold blood, treasure”; Jerusalem Post; March 18, 2012). That could be more costly than preemptive attack against Iran in the long term. A right understanding of history is a prerequisite for a right choice of policy. Nagatacho politicians must reconsider our national identity and modern history of Iran.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Attention to China on the Iran Crisis

In a previous post, I argued that China’s westward expansion to Central Asia and the Middle East is no less dangerous than its eastward expansion to the Asian sea lane. Particularly, China’s ties with Iran and Pakistan are critical to global security, because Beijing’s assistance in nuclear and missile technology to both countries has inflicted negative impacts on nonproliferation. Also, I warned that a premature US withdrawal from the Middle East, including Iraq and Afghanistan, would provoke Chinese penetration to this region. Therefore, I questioned whether China acts for global public interest or geopolitical rivalry against the West. However, as the tension over the Iran nuclear crisis is growing increasingly strained since the IAEA report last November, Sino-Iranian relations stand at the crossroads now. This is a vital test whether Western and Asian democracies can really found a peaceful and win-win relation with China.

After the fall of the shah regime, Iran has been a keystone in China’s Middle East policy. China exported Silkworm surface to ship missile secretly to Iran despite strong concerns over the safety of the Strait of Hormuz (“U.S. Knew of Iran Arms, Officials Say”; New York Times; June 16, 1987), until the Reagan administration demanded to stop it (“China Says It Will Stop Arms for Iran”; New York Times; November 4, 1987). In addition to providing military assistance to Iran for many years, senior officials of the Chinese military have been exploring to build a naval outpost there to dominate the sea lane east of Suez. Will China really abandon such a long term ambition for the sake of peace and security in the Middle East?

Quite interestingly, China and Iran emerge as two major ideological and strategic adversaries to the West. Let me review an article by a Manila based foreign policy analyst Javad Heydarian, to explore the Sino-Iranian relationship over the nuclear crisis (“China and Iran Breaking up?”; Diplomat Magazine; March 8, 2012). He points out a historical analogy between both countries, that is, “The Persian Empire and Imperial China served as the two pillars of power at the far ends of the Asian continent.” In terms of the economy, China and Iran are mutually complementary. Iran is a key supplier of oil and natural gas for China to satisfy its growing economy. As the West adopts tougher sanctions, Iran is becoming increasingly dependent on the Chinese market. However, he comments that China needs a Strait of Hormuz safe to import oil from the Gulf. Therefore, he says that China opposes Iran’s military action in the area, and demands transparency of suspected sites for international verification.

The problem is that Heydarian’s analysis is rather optimistic. Does China act so willingly to explore joint security initiatives with the West? Nonproliferation may be a vital security agenda for both China and the West. However, China perceives the threat of a nuclear Iran less serious than the West, which makes it difficult to pursue a win-win relation between both sides. China can get along with a nuclear Iran, because both of them share common ideological and geopolitical standpoints to rival against the West. Also, their “understandings of history” overlap each other. In case of Iraq, China fiercely opposed to the Anglo-American intervention for fear of a unipolar world order rather than removing the threats of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambition and potential links between autocrats and terrorists. China can give priority to power politics against the West over global public interest.

Previously, I criticized Yoichi Masuzoe, Leader of the New Renaissance Party of Japan, for his lenient view on China. But I strongly agree with him that we must not allow China to expand business chance in Iran, while Japan tightens sanctions along with Western allies including Israel. I mentioned him bitterly just because we are not in a position to “solicit” their cooperation to manage the Iran crisis. Such an attitude reminds me of a kowtow, and I would reject it firmly as George Macartney and William Amherst did. We must watch this deeply embedded and unpredictable relationship between China and Iran vigilantly to manage this nuclear crisis.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Remember 3-11 Earthquake

One year has passed since 3-11 earthquake in Japan. Emperor Akihito expressed heartfelt condolence to the victims of the earthquake and subsequent nuclear power plant accident in Fukushima prefecture.

Rising up, back on the street! Pray for Japan.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Can Asia Accept Obama’s Superpower Suicide?

The Obama administration revealed a new defense strategy at the beginning of this year that articulates the shift of national security focus from the Middle East to the Asia Pacific region. However, we must not dismiss that this new strategy widely known as the “Pivot to Asia” is coincided with massive cuts in military expenditure. In view of the rise of China and its unpredictable impacts, it is understandable that Asian people welcome Obama’s new defense strategy. However, conservative policymakers bitterly criticize precipitous cuts of defense spending and withdrawal from the Middle East, and call the strategy “superpower suicide”. Robert Kagan, Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, stresses indispensable role of US hard power to bolster global stability (“The Importance of U.S. Military Might Shouldn't Be Underestimated”; Washington Post; February 2, 2012). On the Hill, Republican legislators criticize that current cut of defense spending. Senator John McCain argues “[President Obama’s] announcement was unsupported by any type of comprehensive strategic review or risk assessment.” Chairman Buck McKeon of the House Armed Services Committee denounces furthermore that the president wanted to cut “at least $400 billion from defense last April, in advance of any strategic review” (“Fight over Defense budget has familiar ring”; DEFCON Hill; February 21, 2012).

Since the inauguration, President Barack Obama implicitly has been suggesting to scale down US role on the global stage, particularly in the Middle East, in order to placate anti-American sentiments among Islamic nations. The Prague and the Cairo speeches were bitterly criticized by conservative opinion leaders. Nile Gardiner, Director of Margaret Thatcher Center at the Heritage Foundation, commented that Obama was too apologetic to US foreign policy. Therefore, I suspect that the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia will paradoxically ruin security interests of Asia because it is coincided with a superpower suicide. From this point of view, I asked a question at the Japan-US-China Dialogue by the Global Forum Japan on February 24. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to kind replies to my question from Vice President Douglas Paal at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Professor Akio Takahara of Tokyo University, and Professor Koji Murata of Doshisha University. Having ruminated over the event, I would like to discuss furthermore on this issue.

First, the rise of Chinese military power inflicts critical influences beyond the Asia-Pacific region. It is expanding westward as well. In Central Asia, China tightens its grip on East Turkistan and Tibet by repressing Uighur, Tibetans, and so forth. In addition, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization helps Chinese influence grow toward the Caspian Sea. Moreover, the shadow of China penetrates into the Middle East. China has made a nuclear deal with Pakistan despite global concerns with proliferation to terrorists. Also, Beijing helped Iran make access denial anti-ship missiles despite nuclear ambitions of the Shiite regime. China even considers having a naval base in Iran to dominate the sea lane east of Suez. US withdrawal from the Middle East can provoke China to fill the vacuum. With a rapid increase in defense spending this year, China intends to augment power projection capability around the globe (“China military spending to top $100 billion this year”; Washington Post; March 4, 2012). China’s defense spending can rise more precipitously when Vice President Xi Jinping succeeds the position from President Hu Jintao, as he has much closer contacts with the People’s Liberation Army than his predecessor (“China’s defence spending to rise 11.2%”; Financial Times; March 4, 2012).

The Middle East is an important area for Asian nations as well. Islamic terrorism is a common security issue. Some Asian nations, such as India, Thailand, and the Philippines, also face threats of radical Muslims. Muslims accounts for the majority of population in Indonesia and Malaysia. Regarding the Arab Spring, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Research Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, points out that the clash between Muslims and local Christians is being intensified (Ayaan Hirsi Ali:The Global War on Christians in the Muslim World”; News Week; February 6, 2012). Therefore, political stability in the Middle East is a vital security interest for many Asian nations. The advent of a nuclear Iran will bring further political turmoil in the Middle East. Nuclear nonproliferation is a common security agenda for Asia-Pacific nations. More importantly, strategic partnership must be reciprocal. While President Obama mentioned India a key partner in his new strategy, US-Indian relations have deepened since the War on Terror. Unilateral withdrawal from the Middle East will ruin the US-Indian strategic partnership since the Bush administration.

In addition, Asian economy cannot grow by itself. Asian prosperity is strongly tied with natural resource supply and export market outside the region. Rapid industrialization and urbanization in Asia is supported by oil import from the Middle East. Also, the Middle East is the sea lane from Asia to Europe. The Euro zone financial crisis has brought Asian nations home that European market is important for their economy. It is a halfway measure to defend just Senkaku and Spratly Islands. Remember that Asian navies joined counter-piracy operations off Somalia, along with US and NATO forces. This implies how important the Middle East sea lane is for Asia.

Let me mention Asia Pacific interests in the Middle East furthermore. Japan sent troops to Iraq for post Baathist reconstruction, despite substantial pressures from leftwing dogmatist who still dream of free rider diplomacy under the pacifist constitution. It is quite hard to understand why Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia was so naïvely glad to hear Obama’s new strategy despite the fear of “superpower suicide”. Australia is a nation of both the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. It sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq to help US and British forces as a sovereign state. This is completely different from the troop dispatch to Egypt, Palestine, and Mesopotamia, during World War Ⅰ as a loyal dominion of the British Empire. Current Australia made a decision to send its own forces to Afghanistan and Iraq because it was their vital national interest. I wonder why Prime Minister Gillard accepts the “pivot to Asia” so happily.

Defense speeding cut imposes unexpected strains on the allies, particularly as to F-35 joint strike fighter. As the Obama administration reduced the purchase order of F-35, the cost per plane has risen, and the development of this fighter has been delayed furthermore. Therefore, Asian people need to think of the reality behind the new strategy. The problem of F-35 fighter shows deadly impacts of “superpower suicide” by the Obama administration. Should Asians really welcome the “pivot to Asia” so naïvely?

Of course, I agree that the rise of China poses critical challenges to US supremacy and regional security. I do not object to everything of the new Obama strategy. I agree with Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell that security efforts in North East Asia, South East Asia, Australia, and India, need to be well coordinated, in order to manage maritime challenges by China. As Professor Murata replied to my question in the Japan-US-China Dialogue, China will be the primary contender to Pax Americana. The problem is, Asian nations are too passive in security partnership with the United States, as Alexander McLachlan, First Counselor of EU Delegation in Tokyo, commented in the Dialogue. I would like to mention some passive examples. While people in Okinawa express NIMBY wishes over the Futemma US base issue, Japanese policymakers and general public are YIMBY (Yes, in my backyard) to keep US forces nearby, without giving sufficient consideration to global War on terror and Middle East security. Similarly, Indonesians are preoccupied with its neighborhood rather than their Muslim brothers in the Middle East. At the Diplomatic Roundtable by the Japan Forum on International Relations in December 2010, I asked a question about Indonesian contribution to Middle East democracy to Rizal Skuma, Executive Director at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies of Indonesia. He replied to me that Indonesia had no influence on the Middle East, because it was a periphery of Islamic civilization. He even said that my question was quite “European”. It appears to me that such a mindset among Asia-Pacific nations is the very reason why people accept the “superpower suicide” by the Obama administration so innocently, without casting any doubt on it.

From those perspectives I mentioned here, I would like to ask a question again, whether Asia-Pacific nations accept the “pivot to Asia” by the Obama administration with banzai. Professor Murata is right to assert that China will be the most critical challenger to the American world order for a decade or more. However, Iran is the most imminent threat at present. Military tensions over the Strait of Hormuz can push oil price upward, but it will be far more costly to leave Iran’s nuclear ambition intact in the long term. When the debate on the Iran nuclear crisis was held in NHK’s TV program “News in Depth” on January 28, Professor Murata insisted on close US-Japanese ties against Tehran’s ambition. I was impressed with his keen awareness on Iran, because Japanese opinion leaders do not pay sufficient attention to this problem. However, he replied to my question that it is Japan’s interest not to let the United States start another war in the Middle East, to focus on Asia.

The problem is, Iran will be emboldened, if America is reluctant to the war. Remember that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait because he had the slightest idea US intervention. Willingness to fight is the key to deterrence. Frederick Kagan and Maseh Zarif of the American Enterprise Institute warns that Iran is making progress to develop nuclear weapons, while the global community does not take any measures to stop the project (“America's Iranian Self-Deception”; Wall Street Journal; February 27, 2012). Under such a circumstance, Israel even says it will attack Iran by surprise if necessary (“Israelis reportedly don't plan to notify US if decision made to strike Iran”; FOX News; February 27, 2012). Apparently Israel feel worried of Obama’s Chamberlainian attitude to Iran. When the Iraq War broke out, war opponents in Japan argued that the Bush administration did not necessarily represent all American public opinion, and we must be well prepared to possible policy changes if liberals took power. Then, why should we bow down and praise Obama like Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee does.

When we talk of implications of Obama’s new strategy to Asia Pacific nations, it is necessary to reconsider the real meaning of the alliance with the United States. Asia needs a superpower America, not a regional power America. The security umbrella defends Asia from regional contenders, notably China, Russia, and North Korea. Also, it manages threats outside the region and those of non traditional security challenges. Therefore, we must be more alert to the superpower suicide. The problem of the new strategy is not just withdrawal from the Middle East. It hardly mentions how to deal with North Korea, while telling rosy dreams of taking Asian growth into US economy. However, we must remember that any kind of free trade frameworks like the TPP shall never guarantee economic prosperity without solid security foundation globally. Students of US foreign policy must thoroughly reconsider the real implication of “superpower suicide”. As an Asia Pacific citizen, I shall never accept the new strategy of the Obama administration with banzai!