Following up on my previous entry, a couple of other interesting developments in the “national conversation” on security. First, the government itself has said that it is going to consider the possibility of entering into a facilities sharing agreement (jp) at the new Marine base installation at Henoko. The stated benefits of such an arrangement, aside from increased interoperability between US and Japanese forces, is that by having the SDF sharing the facilities information on the environmental damage of the base and accident would become more accessible and transparent, and having the SDF forces there would somehow lessen the psychological burden of hosting for local residents. And I suspect keeping an eye on US forces. While I could accept overall that Okinawans might prefer Japanese to US troops, I am not convinced that this is exactly what “lessening the burden” really means.
However, after these explanations follows a key point – that such a new arrangement could serve as a way of indicating the gradual handing over management of the facility to Japanese forces. I think that this is a solid principle that the Japanese would be sensible to insist upon – first it communicates a stronger message about Japan’s commitment to its own security without remilitarising as such. Secondly, the financial cost of the alliance vis-a-vis its benefits are coming under increasing scrutiny – yes Japan is getting a relatively good deal in terms of simple financial costs, but are the benefits strategically aligned with what Japan, if it had a fuller commitment to defense planning, would desire?
The US according to the article has knocked back the idea, although no further detail is given. The government, probably realizing that it is pushing its luck already on security issues, does not seem to be pursuing this any further.
However, Ishiba Shigeru, a former Defense Minister and JDA director-general, who is the LDP expert on defense issues came out on a Sunday TV program (en) and stated in typically sensible and straightforward terms:
“I think it’s strange for an island country like Japan not to have marines in the future….Isn’t there anything Japan can do at a time when it has made the United States (provide Marine functions)?”
He added that it would be possible that the US Marines and Japanese Marines (sic) could function at the same time in Okinawa. I think this is an interesting time to put forward such a suggestion. One outcome of the Futenma discussion, aside from the supposed education of Prime Minister Hatoyama on the need for bases in Okinawa,* is that there was at least some genuine discussion about the purpose of US forces in Japan – I don’t think it got to a particularly sophisticated level, but the controversy did allow for the Japanese public to be informed on the issues and be treated like adults by their government, even if temporarily, on issues of their own security. One online excerpt from a Japanese TV program I saw showed the discussion of the various functions of the US defense force and showed some tarento being surprised to find out, the function of a Marine Corp is an explicitly “offensive” one. One could deduce that through the Futenma issue, while the Japanese public are not “in the mood” for a national conversation on security just yet, they will hopefully have a better information base if and when the discussion does arise, possibly in a few years time.
Either way, while it is hardly a deluge, and the conversation is not yet “vigorous” enough to justify reading too much into Japanese strategic and identity preferences, I wonder if this is not more evidence of the beginning at least, of the maturing of the national security debate. For the main opposition party to be openly talking about putting “Collective Self-Defense” into their manifesto, to draft a permanent General Measures Law, for the government to be talking about sharing Marine base facilities, and for Ishiba, a credible person to be sure, to feel comfortable putting out the idea of Japan having an “offensive” capability of its own, is surely a healthy thing in the long-term. And hey, while we are at it, former PM Abe Shinzō’s bill enshrining in law the procedures for the constitutionally mandated Citizen’s referenda for constitutional change, passed in 2007, is now officially legitimate.
To be sure, as I argued previously the LDP’s specific interest might well be a deliberate tactic to align itself with a coherent and specific party identity now that there are few economic “reformists” left in the party after the departures of Masuzoe, Yosano etc. If this is not accidental, then it could be interesting to see how much traction they get at the bicameral 2013 election.
And I do not say this so as to prejudge the outcome. But wherever the Japanese public draws this long line in the sand, I wonder if, in amongst all of the agonizing over Japan’s alliance with the US and its place in the world, the current state of Japanese politics and society, and so on, if Japan’s political representatives have finally decided to pick up the stick with the intention of starting to draw this line.