Friday, August 28, 2009

DPJ Coming to Power: How Does It Impact on the US-Japan Security Alliance?


Here's an anlysis on the weekend electios in Japan and how if the opposition party, DPJ comes into power, will affect US-Japan security alliance. The analysis first appeared on the ORF website.

Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the DPJ, who could become Japan’s next Prime Minister, has stated that he will ban US nuclear weapons from Japanese soil if the DPJ is elected. The DPJ is also reported to be developing a stance that is “more independent of the United States.” However, it is unlikely that Japan will shift policies radically even under the DPJ; Tokyo rather wait and watch the unfolding US policies under Obama and respond accordingly. The US-Japan security alliance will continue to be the cornerstone of its foreign and security policy, whether it is an LDP or DPJ government in power.



With the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) set to come to power following the weekend elections, the issue of US nuclear weapons on Japanese soil is in the news. Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the DPJ, who could become Japan’s next Prime Minister, has stated that he will ban US nuclear weapons from Japanese soil if the DPJ is elected. However, it is unlikely that Japan will shift policies radically even under the DPJ; Tokyo rather wait and watch the unfolding US policies under Obama and respond accordingly. The US-Japan security alliance will continue to be the cornerstone of its foreign and security policy, whether it is an LDP or DPJ government in power.
Hatoyama’s comments relate to the controversial and “secret” pact between US and Japan to allow the US to bring nuclear weapons into Japan even unannounced and without prior bilateral consultations. In his remarks on a television programme, Hatoyama is reported to have said that he will follow up the issue “with firm determination” with the Obama Administration, in getting a guarantee from President Barack Obama on not deploying American nuclear weapons on Japanese territory. Some documents declassified in 1999 showed that both the countries had reached an agreement in 1959 that would allow US warships and aircrafts carrying nuclear weapons to make a stop-over in Japan as also pass through Japanese air space and/or territorial waters even without prior consultation with Tokyo. These documents were reclassified immediately after the Japanese request to cancel the declassification, as these documents dealt with issues that are sensitive to Japan. The original US-Japan security Treaty was concluded in 1951 but it was the revised treaty of 1960 that included provisions for prior consultations on the issue of US bringing in nuclear weapons into Japan. However, nuclear-armed US warships and aircrafts passing through Japan was exempted from these consultations. This secret deal is in clear violation of the “three principles” that Japan has put in place, of not producing, possessing or allowing nuclear weapons to be brought into Japan. While this is not legally binding, there is significant opposition to nuclear weapons among the public. This is despite the fact there is a new sense of nationalism developing particularly among the younger generation. Some Japanese security analysts are reportedly of the view that this new nationalism could affect Japan significantly in the sense that they may not feel the need to be relying on the US for their security and be beholden to US objectives and principles. They may even result in questioning the need to continue with a pacifist constitution imposed upon them by the US. If that be the case, it could lead to an independent foreign and security policy, including the nuclear option.
The DPJ is also reported to be developing a stance that is “more independent of the United States.” The opposition party in fact has vowed to question the US on several foreign and security policies issues, while seeking to improve ties with countries like North Korea and China, which have been Japan’s traditional adversaries. While improving relations with Beijing and Pyongyang may be in the interests of Japan, distancing from the US may prove to be difficult. Japan, having been under the US security umbrella for the last fifty years, has not developed adequate military capability. While there is skepticism in the minds of Japanese policy makers and leaders about the reliability of the US as a credible partner, they believe the US security cover still remains the best option. Moving away from that cover may not prove to be a viable option, as several Japanese policy analysts have pointed out. However, if US power is in serious decline and if it is not able to provide extended deterrence, it could lead to some regional powers taking security on their shoulders rather than relying on the US. Second, given the kind of highly interdependent relationship between China and the US, especially in the current scenario of global economic crisis, Japanese security analysts wonder whether the US would provide that kind of security to Japan if there is a catastrophic attack on Japan from North Korea or China. A related but similar concern in Japan stems from the fact that closer Sino-US partnership could possibly widen the “gap between Tokyo’s and Washington’s security perspectives” and could weaken the US security commitment.
The DPJ has also been in clear opposition to the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) policy of extending and widening the scope of Japanese military capability. In the post-Cold War era, particularly during the first War, Japan came under sharp criticism from the US that Tokyo was enjoying a free ride without taking any security roles or responsibilities. Following such critique, Japan began to assume larger politico-strategic and security roles by increasingly engaging power in ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), East Asia Summit (EAS) as well as sending its Self Defence Forces (SDFs) to distant theatres such as the Indian Ocean, Iraq, and the Gulf of Aden on anti-piracy missions. The LDP has continued to argue that these measures are necessary for strengthening the US-Japan security alliance. The DPJ, being in opposition, has continued to oppose these laws, including blocking one of the military missions. On the current agreement on extending refueling support to the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, the DPJ has maintained that instead of withdrawing the support immediately, it will continue till the end of the term (December 2009).
While the DPJ may argue for peace and cooperation with North Korea and China, the reality of missile strikes or nuclear threats and the lack of transparency of the Chinese military programme will hit them once they are in power. It is possible that once they are in positions of power, these realities will force them to become more realistic and pragmatic. The question of nuclear weapons and a more assertive and independent foreign and security policy approach too is likely to be corrected after assuming power. It should be noted that the DPJ has hardly been in power, except for a brief period of 11 months in the mid-1990s. Serious geopolitical developments in the region such as a possible Korean reunification, although a distant possibility, too will have serious consequences for Japan. If re-unification of the Koreas takes place, another question that will gain immediate prominence will be whether that it would be a nuclear Korea. In such a scenario, distancing from the US may not be a realistic option for Japan. Instead, one may witness a further strengthening of the US-Japan alliance, irrespective of the fact whether a DPJ or an LDP government in power. In the years ahead, as the US power is seen to be gradually waning, Japan may have to shoulder more of its security responsibilities.

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1 Emma Chanlett-Avery and Mary Beth Nikitin, “Japan’s Nuclear Future: Policy Debate, Prospects, and US Interests,” CRS Report for Congress, February 19, 2009, available at http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RL34487.pdf.
2 Brad Glosserman, “Japan Peers into the Abyss,” PacNet Newsletter #20, March 20, 2008, cited in Emma Chanlett-Avery and Mary Beth Nikitin, “Japan’s Nuclear Future: Policy Debate, Prospects, and US Interests,” CRS Report for Congress, February 19, 2009, available at http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RL34487.pdf.

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