Time to Energize Diplomacy

January 16, 2023

Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited France, Italy, Britain, Canada, and the US. In the background was the war in Ukraine, China’s growing military might, North Korea’s becoming a de facto nuclear power, and Japan’s “National Security Strategy”, made public on December 16, 2022.

Under this new strategy, Japan will double its defense spending over the next five years to an amount equivalent to 2% of its gross domestic product as NATO member states had agreed at the 2014 Wales summit. And it will develop a “counterstrike capability” for retaliatory attacks on enemy territory, a significant shift from its traditional policy of military restraint.

The highlight of Prime Minister Kishida’s tour was his visit to Washington where in remarks to the press before the talks President Biden said, “I don’t think there’s ever been a time when we’ve been closer to Japan in the United States.” And in a policy speech at Johns Hopkins University where he addressed the multiple challenges facing Japan, Mr. Kishida called the Japan-U.S. alliance “the anchor”. Considering the fierce opposition in Japan to the Japan-US Security Treaty of 1960 at the time of its signing and ratification, the change is indeed remarkable.

“ARTICLE V” of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty says, “Each Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes”.

The language must have been inspired somehow by Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty but does not go as far since the latter says that an armed attack against one or more of NATO’s member states in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.

Nonetheless, to underline the US commitment to Japan’s security, President Biden in remarks to the press before his meeting with Prime Minister Kishida said, “Let me be crystal clear: The United States is fully, thoroughly, completely committed to the alliance and, more importantly, to Japan’s defense — the defense of Japan.” Moreover, the Joint Statement issued at the end of the talks in Washington says, “Our security Alliance has never been stronger. The two leaders reaffirmed that the Alliance remains the cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific. President Biden reiterated the unwavering commitment of the United States to the defense of Japan under Article V of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, using its full range of capabilities, including nuclear. He also reaffirmed that Article V applies to the Senkaku Islands.”[i]

In his speech at Johns Hopkins University, Prime Minister Kishida said that it is imperative for Japan, the United States, and Europe to stand united in managing our respective relationship with China.

The US dimension of such unity appears assured but the European dimension could prove a challenge. NATO’s European partners who were reluctant to meet the 2% defense spending target as set at the Wales summit are now more eager to do so as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but they would focus on the European theatre rather than the Indo-Pacific.

Brussels Summit Communiqué of June 14, 2021, said that China’s stated ambitions and assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and areas relevant to Alliance security. The Communiqué then said, “NATO maintains a constructive dialogue with China where possible.  Based on our interests, we welcome opportunities to engage with China on areas of relevance to the Alliance and on common challenges such as climate change… Allies urge China to engage meaningfully in dialogue, confidence-building, and transparency measures regarding its nuclear capabilities and doctrine.  Reciprocal transparency and understanding would benefit both NATO and China.”

Understandably, the National Security Strategy of Japan, an Indo-Pacific nation, goes well beyond what is said in the Brussels Summit Communiqué. It says that China has been rapidly enhancing its military power;  that it has intensified its attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force in the maritime and air domains including in the East and South China Seas; that it is strengthening its strategic ties with Russia and attempting to challenge the international order; that while maintaining its policy of peaceful reunification of Taiwan, China has not denied the possibility of using military force.

One might add to these concerns the legacy of history, in particular Japan’s invasion of China from 1937 to 1945 which led to the death of millions of Chinese.

The National Security Strategy also says that Japan and China have important responsibilities for the peace and prosperity of the region and the international community adding that Japan will build “a constructive and stable relationship with China” through communication at various levels.

The Strategy, while stressing Tokyo’s determination to invest more in the country’s security, also says that Japan will adhere to the basic policy of maintaining an exclusively national defense-oriented policy, not becoming a military power that poses a threat to other countries and observing the Three Non-Nuclear Principles which are not possessing nuclear weapons, not producing them, and not permitting their entry into the country. It also says that considering regional non-proliferation issues such as North Korea and Iran, Japan will maintain and strengthen the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime, with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) as its cornerstone.

The problem is efforts to revive the JCPOA have gone nowhere and North Korea is already a nuclear power all but in name and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula remains elusive as ever.

Japan’s National Security Strategy says that today the world is at an inflection point, in an era where confrontation and cooperation are intricately intertwined in international relations.

Indeed, this is the case and the world must chart a course. One of the options is effective multilateralism. The other option is pursuing strategic competition with a growing emphasis on military power as well as conflict prevention at best, and an arms race with nuclear proliferation at worst. That Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ended the post-Cold War era is a widely shared opinion. But NATO had named China a strategic competitor two years before the invasion. In other words, tensions were already rising in the Indo-Pacific region. But the invasion, coming on top of the pandemic, has led to additional economic challenges, inflation, recession fears, worsening income inequalities, food and energy insecurity. Such problems are threats to democracy, paving the path for populist leaders, and would-be dictators.

The world took a sigh of relief when the “grain deal” was struck but this is what the EU Science Hub says for Ukraine:

“Based on our regional forecasts, we estimate that 22% of soft wheat production, 20% of the barley, 13% of the rapeseed, 4% of the grain maize, 10% of the sunflowers, and 7% of the soybean production at country level is in areas currently subject to hostilities due to Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, which is likely to reduce harvestable crops and thus final production figures.”[ii]

Ending the war in Ukraine, climate change, and food security, if nothing else, call for constructive engagement.

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[i] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/01/13/joint-statement-of-the-united-states-and-japan/

[ii] https://joint-research-centre.ec.europa.eu/jrc-news/fair-yield-outlook-reduced-production-areas-ukraine-2022-09-12_en

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