Monday, January 18, 2010

Why DPJ said 'no' to an Indian Ocean mission

It shouldn’t really be necessary to explain why the Hatoyama government allowed the refueling mission in the Indian Ocean to lapse this week.

For several years, Democratic Party of Japan leaders have made their objections to this military operation loud and clear. Yet somehow, the message doesn’t seem to have penetrated many quarters.

It is true that the DPJ didn’t really find a unified voice on this issue until around 2007, but under the leadership of Ichiro Ozawa an articulate party stance on the Maritime Self-Defence Force refueling mission was forged that was accepted by all but a handful of DPJ members. Ozawa’s position remains, in effect, the DPJ position.

Ozawa’s main argument has been that the Japanese Constitution permits the existence of the SDF and allows them to be deployed abroad on humanitarian relief missions and when specifically authorized by the UN Security Council. Ozawa has indicated, however, that the SDF may not participate in any “Coalition of the Willing” exercises, as this falls outside the bounds of his understanding of Article Nine of the Constitution.

Since taking power, the Hatoyama administration has put some degree of distance between itself and the very clear principles enunciated by Ichiro Ozawa in 2007, saying that Ozawa’s view is not necessarily the official view of the DPJ government. In practical terms, however, the DPJ has so far acted in a manner consistent with the Ozawa line.

Let's not forget that the DPJ has campaigned through several elections against the continuation of the MSDF refueling mission. Were they to suddenly come out in favor of the mission after fighting against it so fiercely for some years, this would raise many legitimate questions about the DPJ’s commitment to any of its stated goals.

Some commentators have made the questionable assertion that the August 2009 electoral victory of the DPJ was entirely attributable to the deficiencies of the LDP and had nothing to do with the manner in which the US-Japan alliance has functioned in recent years. As evidence, they point to polls that find large majorities of Japanese in favor of the alliance.

But this assertion is disingenuous. It is obviously quite a different thing to feel dissatisfied with the way the alliance has been operating and opposing the very notion of the alliance altogether. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most Japanese people have some misgivings about their American allies, but nevertheless see the importance and utility of the alliance for Japanese security interests.

While the LDP’s fall from power was related primarily to failures in its domestic policies, the demands made upon the former government by the US contributed significantly to that failure by tying up Diet affairs in battles over foreign policy irrelevant to Japanese interests. Doing the Pentagon's bidding did the LDP no electoral favors.

The DPJ also wants to assert civilian control of the military. The most alarming of recent scandals was the emergence of the outspoken ASDF General Toshio Tamogami, who has made a second career in shooting his mouth off not exactly in the spirit of the Japanese Constitution. Among those DPJ leaders who were clearly shaken by the Tamogami Tiff is Toshimi Kitazawa, the current defense minister. Ending the MSDF refueling mission now is an important measure to demonstrate the generals can't always get what they want.

Many of the intellectual leaders of the DPJ wish to move Japan’s anti-terrorism policies away from a military-oriented approach. Their thinking revolves around the notion that military action against terrorism only feeds the cycle of violence. Sure, the political coalition with the pacifist Social Democratic Party, which currently holds crucial votes in the House of Councillors, is a factor. To remain part of the governing coalition—and even to survive as a credible political party—the SDP must gain key concessions from Hatoyama and his cabinet.

Terminating the MSDF refueling mission is a necessary step to maintain harmony within DPJ-SDP coalition. Some analysts see this as a political accommodation that will soon be and can be easily compromised. It is important, therefore, to understand that the ideological distance between some DPJ members and the SDP is not very wide. Policy officials need to realize that they are dealing with a bigger intellectual shift in Japanese foreign policy than they suspect.

Michael Penn
APP Nonresident Senior Fellow
Executive Director Shingetsu Institute

Picture from here.

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