20 Août 2017
August 19, 2017
EDITORIAL: Japan forgetting that diplomacy is key to crisis with N. Korea
A meeting of foreign and defense policy chiefs from Japan and the United States on Aug. 17 was disturbingly dominated by military issues, with diplomacy taking a backseat.
It was the first gathering of the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee since Donald Trump became president of the United States, and was held amid concerns over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera met in Washington with their U.S. counterparts, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Of course, we understand that a show of unity between the two allies based on their bilateral security alliance can serve as an effective deterrence with regard to North Korea, which has displayed provocative behavior with its repeated ballistic missile launches.
What is worrisome is the message that emerged from the meeting is focusing on defense policy issues, especially on an expanded role for Japan's Self-Defense Forces.
During the meeting, Japan promised the United States to implement a set of new defense policy actions. Tokyo said it will revise the National Defense Program Guidelines and introduce the land-based Aegis Ashore interceptor missile system, developed by the United States.
It also pledged to pursue “forms of further cooperation” between the two countries under new national security legislation and explore new types of military actions in such areas as intelligence, reconnaissance and training.
What Tokyo got from Washington in return was a promise to maintain “the nuclear umbrella” to protect Japan and reconfirmation of the U.S. commitment to applying Article 5 of the bilateral security treaty to the disputed Senkaku Islands, which means the United States remains obliged to defend the islands under Japanese administration from enemy attack.
The promises made by Japan will all lead to an enhancement of the SDF’s capabilities and an increase in Tokyo’s defense spending.
The promise to purchase the costly U.S. missile defense system is apparently in line with the Trump administration’s request.
But how does the Japanese government assess the wisdom of a further increase in its defense spending, which already tops 5 trillion yen ($45.76 billion) annually? In particular, how does it view the cost effectiveness of the missile defense system?
The government should not be allowed to push through these measures without Diet debate on them simply because of promises made to the United States.
Prior to the Washington meeting, Onodera made comments that seemed to signal a military-oriented security policy agenda on the part of the Abe administration.
At a Lower House Security Committee meeting Aug. 10, Onodera said a North Korean missile attack against Guam, a U.S. military hub, would weaken the power of the United States, thereby putting Japan’s existence in danger. This would allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.
In such a situation, Japan would try to intercept the North Korean missiles.
Onodera argued that a U.S. loss of strike power would give Japan the right to engage in collective self-defense. But such a situation was not discussed during the process of enacting national security legislation.
Onodera’s words underscored afresh the possibility that the government could arbitrarily interpret the security legislation in ways that suit its agenda.
It would also be technically difficult for Japan to intercept Pyongyang’s ballistic missiles flying toward Guam in the first place. Onodera’s remark about shooting down North Korean missiles is divorced from reality.
Earlier this month, Mattis pointed out the tremendous risk of a military action against North Korea, saying the “tragedy of war” with the country would be “catastrophic.”
The tragedy he referred to would take place in South Korea and Japan.
In the final analysis, there is no other option than pursuing a peaceful solution to the situation.
At the moment, Japan should focus on diplomatic actions to defuse the crisis that are based on cooperation with the United States and South Korea and involve China and Russia as well.
The Abe administration needs to make greater efforts to help ease the escalating tension between the United States and North Korea and move the situation toward dialogue with the aim of freezing North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 19