Japan Election Could Reduce Overseas Military Ventures
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — Japan’s recent ventures past its home waters might be curtailed or canceled if the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the self-declared pacifist social liberal party, wins the nation’s Aug. 30 election.
After a half-century in nearly continuous power, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has seen its public support erode. On July 21, Prime Minister Taro Aso dissolved the Diet, or national parliament. The resulting elections are expected to put the DPJ in control.
Elements within the DPJ, which has a nonintervention and mutual coexistence foreign policy, have long voiced opposition to Japan’s “remilitarization” and participation in peacekeeping and military support missions with coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The DPJ also has been hostile to the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).
That has the national security world speculating about the future of Japan’s defense policy.
Yoichiro Sato, professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, says optimists predict the DPJ will expand “civilian-based activism” in coordination with U.S.-led global peacekeeping missions, while pessimists “foresee termination of the ongoing Japanese military contributions to such U.S. efforts.”
Sato believes that both are wrong, and that little change is to be expected in Japan’s policy of offering “symbolic, minimalist and risk-averse contributions to global peacebuilding efforts.”
Still, the DPJ has opposed even small ventures abroad. For example, it fought the deployment of forces to help refuel allied naval vessels in the Indian Ocean, and long called for their immediate withdrawal.
DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama said July 29 that the refueling missions will be terminated Jan. 15 if his party wins. But the DPJ appears to be “modifying its position on Japan’s participation in international peacekeeping missions,” said Masashi Nishihara, president of the Tokyo-based Research Institute for Peace and Security.
Regarding anti-piracy patrols, the DPJ has shifted its focus on what agency — Coast Guard or Navy — takes the lead on patrols, “rather than on participation per se in the multilateral operation off Somali coasts,” Sato said.
It remains unclear what the DPJ position will be on the ballistic and nuclear threat from North Korea.
“DPJ has not taken a clear stand on BMD [ballistic missile defense]. Its manifesto, which was released to the public on July 27, makes no reference to it,” Nishihara said.
“However, one can interpret DPJ support for BMD since its manifesto states that it wants to build a close and equal relationship with the U.S. and that it feels that Japan should fulfill its responsibility through role-sharing with the U.S.”
The DPJ manifesto also says North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests are unacceptable, which suggests support for BMD deployment, he said.
The U.S.-Japan alliance is unlikely to be severely damaged by the DPJ, despite rhetoric suggesting otherwise.
“Rather, a DPJ government that wants to work closely with the U.S. has already disappointed, or even betrayed, the Democratic Socialists, who are an important coalition partner in the upper house of the Diet,” Nishihara said.
The DPJ has modified its push for revision of the SOFA.
“Once, the DPJ claimed in its previous policies that the party would drastically revise the SOFA, but the latest policies only state the party will propose revision,” said Sumihiko Kawamura, who is deputy director of the Okazaki Institute in Tokyo.
Kawamura said the DPJ should not be allowed to “remain vague regarding a basic security policy, and the party is urged to explain its position thoroughly to the public before and during the election campaign.”
It is unclear how the DPJ will reshape Japan’s military, which has gone through an impressive modernization effort over the last 10 years. Motivated strongly by North Korean saber-rattling, Japan has procured Patriot PAC-3 missile interceptors, four E-767 airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft, four KC-767J aerial refuelers, and Aegis-equipped destroyers armed with Standard Missiles.
The country also is still pushing hard for the U.S. to release the expensive F-22 Raptor for its nextgeneration fighter requirement, despite a U.S. decision not to go forward with more Raptors.
However, DPJ plans to expand social programs — child care, tuition, health care — during an economic downturn could hurt defense procurement efforts.