Patience?

So, perhaps I should politely ask some of the Americans in the Japan blogosphere to account for their country’s “irresponsible actions” in playing politics with the Futenma issue. (笑)

To be sure, (I think) I know what is going on behind the scenes here and understand that it does not signal a (poorly thought-out) intention or desire on the US side to change the balance of power within the U.S.-Japan alliance (cf. Hatoyama) – not yet anyway (Let’s assume no double dip recession for now). Nevertheless, while as the article suggests the Japanese alliance managers might understand how the US system works, the Japanese public may not – at times like these, the Japanese government must find it useful to have a media that knows how to behave and is generally sensible in regards to security issues. It certainly would not be hard to stir up a bit of “strategic insecurity” on this issue if desired. If nothing else can be read into it, certainly it is that Japanese politicians may not have a monopoly on discursive unreliability.

Furthermore, assuming the Japanese public is good enough to see the political context in which these discussions are taking place, maybe it is not too much after all to ask that the DC establishment, educated and powerful and all, to show a similar level of sensitivity to Japan’s own political context. Last of all, are not some of the questions that the likes of Franks etc are asking not so much unlike those that some in Japan have been asking and are pilloried for, you know, because they “do not understand security”.

To be sure, I am not saying I agree with their insights. I am skeptical of some claims of the utility for Japan of the alliance to be sure, but I am not a military strategy expert so I will withhold final judgement. But I do think it shows the need to be vigilant in appropriately framing the narrative around Japanese political behaviour within the context of the U.S.-Japan alliance. Democracy (and now fiscal solvency) is hard work everywhere, after all.

Now in practical terms, the Futenma issue was hard enough. Nejibana has already detailed the likely return of the Futenma issue and the implications for the DPJ and PM Kan in particular. In short, the issue is that Okinawa seems pretty fired up still, and that makes things hard for everyone. Now just to add a little bit more spice to the curry, according to the first article above, some of the politics around funding for the previously promised Marine transition to Guam have as much to do with hold ups in Guam than as a reaction against Japanese politicians behavior on Futenma. Sovereign island outposts are hard work too, aren’t they!?

But if the Okinawans are fired up now about the Futenma to Henoko relocation issue, I can imagine some degree of incredulity will be detectable in their reaction to news that due to practical reasons the US government has failed to find anywhere for the Marines to move, and thus, they will have to stay put for a while. So sorry about annoying you on Futenma, and extra sorry on really annoying you on the broader promised force transition.

If this really is the problem that the article suggests I don’t see how that could NOT be a big deal, to be honest.

And this all assumes that someone in the US congress down the line does not ask the question “shouldn’t they be paying more for all this?”

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3 thoughts on “Patience?

  1. Pingback: The 2006 roadmap’s impasses | East Asia Forum

  2. Some thoughts, not necessarily coherent (I’m sleepy from medication and sitting across from a teenager compulsively bobbing his head like a chicken.)

    1. The U.S. – Japan alliance has been around for so long that the Washington establishment takes it for granted. It takes Japan for granted, so much so that it panicked when the Hatoyama government said it wanted a “more equal relationship”. The U.S. has become lazy about engaging Japan, particularly about engaging the Japanese public.

    2. That having been said, there are reasons why we’ve become lazy. Japan has basically been off the American radar screen for fifteen years. For ten of those years, we’ve been fighting wars–not all of which have been of necessity. In all respects its been a drain on America’s relationships with its traditional allies.

    3. Since 9/11, America has been in “force protection mode”. That is, it feels its paramount responsibility is security. Security first, and possibly an explanation later–if that doesn’t compromise some sort of operational security, and the bureaucrats in charge more or less feel like it. You can see this everywhere, from the explanation of why Futenma exists to security screeners at American airports. It has permeated this country and it is disturbing.

    4. America is running out of money. I can understand why the Senate might not appropriate the funds for the base, on fiscal grounds. The American defense budget needs to go down. The Senate is (sort of) aiming for fiscal responsibility and not always hitting the target. But misfires like this look like hypocrisy, and to be fair, hypocrisy it is.

    I’ve come around to the idea that Futenma needs to go. The base has become too much an issue. America has other ways of projecting military power that doesn’t involve stationing 4,000 Marines and helicopters in the middle of a Japanese city.

  3. Kyle – interesting points. I think it is only reasonable that the US asks themselves the important questions about the projection of its power within the limitations it now faces.

    One of the interesting things about tight fiscal situations is that they force bloated bureaucratic organisations/complexes to ask themselves “what is really important?” In the same way when things are going well, organisations don’t prepare for the worse, when things are going badly, they assume that that will continue also. Given the right intellectual and political environment, this can force these organisations to really get to the core of what their strategic organisational goal(s)is(are). Then when they do come to come back into money, that money is devoted to more strategically valuable endeavours than what that same dollar was used for before (rinse and repeat, of course!).

    Perhaps this is what the US defense establishment will be faced with for the next couple of years. Japan also. Which makes for a very interesting time for security researchers.

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