With every missile that flies eastward out of North Korea and with every loose-lipped threat by the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il to turn Seoul or Tokyo into a “sea of fire,” the gut instinct in Japan to defend itself intensifies. As a result of Kim’s blustering, the 61 year-old paradigm of a de-militarized Japan constrained to maintain defensive forces only, Constitutionally renouncing war as an instrument of policy, and content to rest under a protective U.S. umbrella, is rapidly dissolving. Less than a century is an eyeblink historically, but Americans along with most of the world seem to operate on the false premise that nothing will change in this relationship.
To be certain we have already seen a slow but steady erosion of the original non-military fiat imposed on a defeated, occupied Japan by pro-consul General of the Armies Douglas MacArthur. The world is a dynamic place and the rise of communism in the form of an aggressive Soviet Union and Peoples Republic of China accompanied by a brutal, indecisive war on the Korean Peninsula first brought Japan out of its submissive Occupation Japan status. Very real Soviet threats to northern Japan, particularly the large island of Hokkaido and continued occupation of the Kurile Islands saw the euphemistically named Self Defense Forces begin to grown in size and most importantly in quality of arms.
By the time Vietnam collapsed and all of East Asia questioned the staying power and reliability of a seemingly impotent United States, Japan was already preparing – mentally at least - for the unwelcome eventuality that it might have to go it alone. Other than within small, somewhat anachronistic elements of the society that yearned for a return to a Bushido state and glorified in the way of the warrior, the vast majority of Japanese were delighted to be able to forget about military spending and were happily watching their country expand economically. At the time the running joke was that what Japan was unable to hold in wartime it conquered economically in peacetime.
As times changed and old enemies like the Soviet Union eventually collapsed in heaps of corruption and ineffectuality, Japan began to assume an increasingly important role worldwide. As a member of the economic superpower class it was present at meetings with American and European peers, in fact quickly outgrowing the latter. Japan was cautiously invited to participate in more international functions and by the mid-1980s had sent international military peacekeeping units abroad, the first time since the War that uniformed Japanese soldiers deployed in foreign lands. Originally deployed to post-Pol Pot Cambodia, Japanese peacekeepers have appeared in Mozambique, Indonesia (after the tsunami), and in post-war Iraq. One swallow does not make a spring, but the stern anti-militarism prohibition about troop deployment was severely bent if not broken.
By the 1990s the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force had submarines and blue water capable ships of cruiser class. The MSDF participated regularly with U.S. and allied forces in exercises like RimPac held annually off the islands of Hawaii. Japanese Air Self-Defense forces fly F-15E Eagles and control their airspace with E2C AWACS aircraft. The Ground Self-Defense Force has modern tanks of Japanese design, an airborne brigade, and a Special Forces component. While not a military superpower, Japan is far more capable than say France of force projection, as its fleet actually goes to sea rather than rusts in LaHarve. Japan is, indeed, more than capable of handling the “1,000 mile radius of defense” that was agreed upon as a Japanese responsibility since the 1980s.
With the addition of Aegis class cruisers Japan has also increased its missile defense system but not to a degree that would give absolute confidence against a nearby aggressor like North Korea. Acting in what many might view as an irrational, Lilliputian role, Kim insists on tweaking the Japanese tiger’s tail by “testing” missiles aimed in the direction of or over the main islands. The Korean dictator risks awakening Japan from its rather brief military slumber amidst a long, blood-soaked history. Testing Japanese nerve is not a situation at all guaranteed to enhance the life expectancy of Kim’s regime (nor, it might be noted, of him personally).
Historically relations between the two peoples has rarely been cordial. Korea’s greatest heroes date from 1597, what Korean people call the Imjin Wars, the time of the Japanese Shogun Hideoshi, when Admiral Yi Sun Shin routed the Japanese navy with great losses (550 of 600 Japanese ships sunk) and successfully repelled the invaders. Japan for its part, has continually lusted for conquest of China. And from Tokyo Korea looks like a natural invasion bridge to Beijing. Trying to make that happen Japan brutally occupied Korea for nearly half a century. Unlike Americans who reckon history with an individual’s first cognitive memory, these stories are taught to schoolchildren in both countries. The pride of conquest and the shame of defeat motivate as if the events were yesterday.
Consequently, when Japan brands Kim a nasty, upstart threatening dictator, the present-day loathing is backed up by centuries of animus and distrust. The Japanese see Kim Jong Il as a repressive ruler of a country that cannot survive without massive outside assistance, and an enemy who pollutes Japan with counterfeit ¥10,000 notes, bogus pachinko tickets, tons of methamphetamines and heroin, and kidnaps innocent Japanese civilians in order to train infiltrating Japanese agents and spies. In fact it was the kidnapping scandal that broke about three years ago, focused originally on a young woman named Megume, whose story ignited a firestorm of anti-North Korean emotions among the Japanese populace. Since then Japan has participated patiently in the ineffectual Six Party talks, steadily demanding accountability of its citizens but continually frustrated by urgings of restraint from South Korea and China.
It has been speculated by some who watch Japan as to how thin its national patience was becoming and how much longer it would stand for missiles “test fired” in its direction. The answer appears to be: no longer. Even the Japanese press, usually a bastion of anti-militaristic action, reported on Friday, July 14, 2006 that “the threat posed by North Korea’s missiles has grown more serious.” The Yomiuri Shinbun, out of Tokyo, supports its government’s plan to “introduce a missile defense system to defend…against ballistic missile attacks.” But it also laments that “if several missiles are launched…the missile defense system cannot deal with them.” Japan wanted a missile defense system in the 1990s but allowed itself to be bullied out of it by the Clinton foreign policy gang. Once burned Japan is unlikely to risk national security on future fickle American political leaders. Hence there is no where to go intellectually from this stance but to willingness to conduct a preemptive strike.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, an astute foreign policy analyst, postulated on Sean Hannity’s radio show that unless an international team can certify that the warhead is benign, any North Korean missile stood up to launch must be “killed on the pad.” This is a good policy. While local neighbors such as China, Russia, and in all probability South Korea would not support a strike publicly, privately they might be relieved to see it happen. South Korea’s blatant appeasement policy is cracking under the weight of continued missile launches and both Vladimir Putin and Hu Jin Tao might like to see Kim taken down a peg or two. None of them would support regime change because Kim’s continued presence is a guaranteed distraction for rivals Japan and the U.S., but with the Middle East exploding, a lessening of tension in Northeast Asia might be welcome.
Meanwhile, if the Kim regime continues a policy of bluff, bluster, and blatant disregard for international standards of behavior, then expect a major shift in Japanese policy that would in turn force consequent changes across the region. Whether this new stance from Japan would be desirable may be moot because absent some order of magnitude reduction in Kim Jong Il’s aggressive actions, it will happen regardless.
Click Here to support Frontpagemag.com.