Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Using belligerence to forget

On April 8th,  U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter gave a speech to CSIS outlining American military capabilities and plans in the Indo-Pacific region. [TRANSCRIPT] He emphasized that "U.S. interests in the region are enduring, and so also will be our political and economic presence." Five times "enduring" was mentioned in the speech.

He justified American presence in the region as a responsibility accompanied by values worth defending:
I'm more accustomed to listening to people question why the U.S. spends more on defense than the next 16 largest militaries in the world combined. This statistic is true and won't change much in coming years. It's also worth noting that most of the rest of the money that the world spends on defense is spent by countries that are allies and friends of the United States. These levels of defense spending are a reflection of the amount of responsibility that the U.S. and its friends and allies share for providing peace and security.
It was not, however, until nearly the last question in the Qs&As that he said something substantive about Japan. Australian National University Professor Rikki Kersten asked "how important is it for Japan to embrace collective self-defense for the American rebalancing to work effectively" [53.09 in the video above].

He responded that it would be very constructive for Japan to open the way to exercising its right to collective self-defense. "Japan's increasing awareness of their own abilities, their own capabilities and their increasing freeing of themselves from the strictures they imposed upon themselves some decades a constructive thing. They're doing that with respect to arms exports, with respect to the kinds of activities that they are willing to engage in internationally," he said, adding that "I think that's a good thing."

But then he added something unexpected. He implied that the militarily stronger Japan would supersede regional hesitations about trusting Japan. And this is the strategy that the U.S. is encouraging Japan to pursue.
It's part of the U.S.-assisted, if I may be so bold, process of healing and putting history behind in that part of the world. It gives Japan the opportunity to play a role that it can, which is a very constructive one around the world in security affairs. They are already involved in counter-piracy activities,  maritime domain awareness, and so forth. These are areas where the world has a need, and if Japan can be a part of fulfilling that need,  that is good for everyone.
This answer startled many. What exactly is the Defense Department doing to help Japan address its history of aggression and unhealed wounds? And how is this expected to encourage Japan's neighbors to welcome the country's more overt military presence? And does this mean that the United States will be signing on to Prime Minister Abe's constitutional change campaign?

Later: As reported by Kyodo in the Japan Times, April 9th.

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