Japan Issues Defense Paper Despite Leadership Gap
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) abruptly resigned on Sept. 1 after 11 months in office, plunging the government into an unexpected political crisis and leaving defense issues in limbo.
The resignation came just days before the Sept. 5 release of the Ministry of Defense’s annual “Defense of Japan” white paper.
The paper has traditionally been uncontroversial, but the report is expected to be “parsed now more than ever before” as analysts dissect every word and sentence looking for “subtle signs of policy shifts in what it says, or doesn’t say, or says differently from the previous year,” said Peter Woolley, author of “Geography and Japan’s Strategic Choices.”
The new white paper contains no official claim on the Dokdo/Takeshima islets that are also claimed by South Korea, but it does say the issue remains unsettled. Media reports out of Seoul earlier in the week erroneously claimed the report would reinforce Japan’s territorial claim of the islets that are currently occupied by South Korea. There are reportedly oil reserves in the area and rich fishing grounds.
The paper says that China deserves the “increasingly close attention of many countries” as it continues to boost defense spending and modernize its armed forces.
“Moreover, due to the insufficient transparency, other nations might have distrust and misunderstandings about the process of decision-making concerning the security and the military of China,” the paper said.
The paper discusses North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapon programs at length, citing numerous examples of ways Pyongyang has helped rogue nations develop and make weapons of mass destruction.
“China and North Korea also exported DF3 (CSS-2) and Scud missiles, respectively. As a result, a considerable number of countries now possess ballistic missiles. Pakistan’s Ghauri and Iran’s Hahab-3 missiles are said to be based on North Korea’s No-Dong missiles,” the paper said.
The apparent front-runner for the prime minister’s job is LDP Secretary General Taro Aso, who is considered strong on defense.
“Should [Aso] become a prime minister, his conservative stance, pro-alliance, pro-Taiwan and pro-U.S.-Japan-Australia-India cooperation may strengthen the alliance with the U.S.,” said Masashi Nishihara, president of the Tokyo-based Research Institute for Peace and Security.
But Aso may find it hard to get defense legislation past the upper house of the Diet, which is controlled by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).
“The opposition DPJ has consistently out-maneuvered LDP leadership in recent years,” Woolley said.
For example, the Democratic Party of Japan has fought Japan’s participation in maritime refueling operations for allied forces in support of operations in Afghanistan.
“Symptomatic of the LDP’s troubles is that they allowed support for the U.S. naval operations to become a very visible political poker chip,” Woolley said.
In January, Fukuda overcame DPJ efforts in the upper house of the Diet to kill the refueling missions by using LDP’s majority in the lower house. But a weakened prime minister may be unable to continue the missions.
“Whoever becomes Fukuda’s successor, he will face difficulties in amending the law for the Maritime Self-Defense Force to operate in the Indian Ocean to support Operation Enduring Freedom, so that the law can be extended beyond Jan. 15, 2009,” Nishihara said.
A weakened LDP could further delay the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps base in Okinawa and a delay in the acquisition of new U.S. weapons, Nishihara said.
Whoever takes the reins as the next prime minister, progress on a variety of issues appears unlikely before the general election in September 2009, when the DPJ and LDP will battle for leadership of the country.
“It’s difficult to see what kind of a policy impact another LDP prime minister will have,” Woolley said. “With the clock ticking toward new elections, there is little incentive for any of the opposition to cooperate with the LDP, much less let the LDP claim credit for new initiatives.”