Terashima Jitsuro @Japan Focus

I am in the provisional year of my PhD and it has now come time for me to actually deliver something. This means I have been deepening my attention towards scholarly work rather than current events, which has been useful and productive.

But I have decided to interrupt radio silence to direct people to Terashima Jitsuro’s new piece over at Japan Focus.

It is a very self-confident and straight-talking piece, much like the style of foreign policy he suggests Japan should be pursuing. A bit more Gaulle-ism, a bit less Blair-ism is perhaps one way to put it. It seems no one gets off lightly in this article. Hatoyama (who Terashima advised and considers a friend), Funabashi Yoichi (Asashi Shimbun editor), alliance managers in the US, and even MOFA bureaucrats, who he compares to Qing era bureaucrats:

Many of these bureaucrats are highly capable, with good balance and rich humanity, but engaging in serious discussion with them brings to mind the spirit of the Chinese bureaucrats who led their country to ruin at the end of the Qing dynasty. To the Qing bureaucrats in 1900, at the time of the Boxer Rebellion some 60 years after the Opium War, the British Empire was an indisputable proposition. In others words, the Qing dynasty was run by specialists who regarded pressure from Britain and the other great powers as a given, and had fallen into the psychology that, rather than seeking a breakthrough, it was better to accept the existence of the great powers as a natural fact and to hope that the situation would resolve itself peaceably. The bureaucrats were well educated and knowledgeable, but they were mired in a rigid understanding of the era. They became captives of the incident, exhausted by repeating their daily routines, and their inertia brought about the downfall of their government. In today’s Japan as well, rather than deciding policy based on an objective evaluation of conditions, policy is first assessed for its impact on US-Japan relations. As such, there can be no expectation of a tough and flexible foreign policy, responsive to changing conditions.

Terashima also rightfully points to the fact that while many in both the US and Japan have been arguing for the alliance status quo to remain in place or undergo nothing more than a minor adjustment, the US itself has been looking at making changes in terms of defense spending and strategic orientation, which will certainly have implications for Japan sooner rather than later.

On reflection in reading the narratives surrounding the US-Japan alliance, it certainly does seem that it is permissible for US foreign policy to evolve into new directions, should it be deemed strategically justifiable, while certain parties on both sides of the Pacific assume Japan should not move far from the status quo. Or is that Japan should not move from the status quo until instructed to do so?

Tobias Harris has rightfully suggested that Japanese politicians and strategic thinkers need to learn the discourse of security if they want to attain a more equal position within the alliance for Japan. But as the article implies, the discursive terrain bold Japanese strategic thinkers have to operate within is a steep one where such thinkers have to battle two sets of powerful elites, a complacent media, and a disengaged public. Attempts by politicians to awake Japan from its supposed “peace stupor” are often met with a tranquilizing reaction from elites and pundits (on both sides), and needless to say opposition parties. This allows little room for strategic uncertainty to be recognised, as well as for strategic differences to be accepted in public discourse, even with a view to them being eventually resolved. Suggested deviations from the status quo are met with that politician or thinker being labelled as “irresponsible,” an accusation all the more serious in Japan than perhaps many other countries.  Strategic consensus and its supporting logic are seldom fully formed at inception, but little room is made for that conversation to progress in Japan – and thus so few attempt to initiate it.

Terashima also goes on to make a very relevant point about what the alliance-enabling Yoshida doctrine itself:

One should not misunderstand the essence of Yoshida’s foreign policy. He did prioritize harmony with the US, but this did not mean he endorsed extreme dependence on or subordination to the US. It was his firm belief that “there can be no state without a spirit of independence,” as his memoirs and the accounts of those around him attest. Until the revision of the treaty in 1960, his successors continued his efforts to move toward a more equal military alliance, including the introduction of a system of prior consultation regarding the American bases in Japan. But as Yoshida’s figure receded after his death in 1967, imitators began to abound, purveying a distorted version of his foreign policy. By the time the security treaty was renewed in 1970, the will to reexamine the relationship with the US had slipped from the national consciousness.

After a very challenging critique, Terashima also signs off with some practical and strategically robust steps (importantly both practical AND strategically robust given the current Futenma impasse). First, there is a need for a Cabinet-level strategic dialogue.  Peter Ennis has likewise already alluded to the necessity for US Cabinet-level engagement in order to resolve the Futenma issue satisfactorily. This is obviously a prerequisite step that would allow for the US-Japan alliance to continue to remain robust and perhaps set up a platform for it to evolve in light of modern strategic realities. Terashima also advocates a substantial and rational review of the “deterrence” value of US bases, and shift to joint basing arrangements in some cases, such as has been done in Singapore. He finally suggests that this will in its own time be with a view to removing US bases as Japan commits more to its own defense, in line with global movements away from alliance arrangements. The last point is based on a view of geopolitics that deserves a little more reflection. However it is one that seems very reasonable to prepare for, and one Japan, in pursuing its own rational self-interest as a regional bloc mediating “middle-power”1, should probably in particular prepare for.2

1 Of course, it is hard to imagine a more bold and political active Japan being justifiably described as a mere “middle-power” especially if it economy grows – at all.

2 Note of course that is not suggesting a dissolution of the alliance. This is an important point. Terashima’s view still allows for much significant and muscular engagement between the two, such as detailed at Dispatch Japan here and Japan Security Watch. Increasing force and equipment interoperability, rather than “dependence” on capabilities,  may well become the key to reconfiguring the US-Japan alliance in a meaningful way to both parties.

2 thoughts on “Terashima Jitsuro @Japan Focus

  1. I thought that Terashima’s point regarding the real truth about US strategic interest in the region being to maintain detente interesting. It was interesting because Japan did not appear to realise that and Japan continued to pay the bulk of support for the bases there. Or is that a simplistic view and in reality Japan is happy to support an effort that maintains strategic security balance in the region.

    • Colin, certainly that was a very unequivocal analysis of US interests. The reality is of course more complex – the US presence certainly performs both explicitly defensive and broader functions. But I guess if we were to follow Terashima’s logic, there is a (perhaps a conscious/intended?) disconnect between what the Japanese elite understand to be the purpose of the US military presence, and what that of the public and a number of politicians believe it to be. From the point of view of a great number of government agencies operating under the logic of the Yoshida doctrine, having a peaceful external security environment was crucial to Japan’s development, so they certainly would have not been under any misapprehensions about the purpose of the US military presence (and the (cheap) price of that presence relatively speaking). The Japanese public on the other hand has, and still is to a large degree, a little bit squeamish when we cross over to discussing broader projection capabilities, so it has been essential for many people to nominally at least believe the US presence was there explicitly for deterrence and defensive purposes, even if there was some understanding there was another need in terms of pacifying Japan’s neighbours. I guess the difference now is that there is more acceptance recently in public and elite discourse about the possibility that Japan may and should be able to take up such a role in the long-term should it be able to develop the capabilities.

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