сряда, 26 февруари 2014 г.

Interview with Gavan Gray - Part I

For our second interview here at JFPO I have had the opportunity to talk to Gavan Gray. What follows is the first part of a two-parts interview:

First of all let me express my gratitude for being willing to meet and have this interview recorded. I must inform the readership that unlike previous interviews, this one was held face-to-face on a breezy Spring morning on March 1, in Kyoto University's main campus. I met Gavan once before in Ritsumeikan University, also in Kyoto city, where he currently works as a lecturer, after his submission to JFPO of an article concerning the US-Iran crisis and Japan's response to it.

It is important to state that Gavan Gray is also a PhD Candidate at the University of Exeter, England, specializing in Japan's defence industry. He has been living in Japan for the past 10 years and, in addition to an interest in the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and the use of military propaganda, focuses his research on Japan's national security system, in particular its defense production and intelligence capabilities.


Gavan, can you tell our readership a few words about your past academic and professional experience, what made you become interested in Japanese studies and eventually pursue PhD-level education in its defence industry?

    I'm from Dublin in Ireland and originally studied journalism there, although when I finished that the economy, especially the newspaper industry, was in a very bad state. Realizing the need for more commercial skills I went on to study computer programming and worked at a consultancy designing systems for financial institutions. I made very good money doing that but after several years felt the need to do something more personally rewarding. After some careful consideration I decided I would go to Japan and work as an English teacher, something I came to enjoy far more than writing and debugging computer code. In 2003 the Iraq War began and amid all the controversy it generated I felt my interest in journalism stirring again. I decided that now that I had a job that I both liked and was well paid for, I could begin to look beyond my own needs and look at some issues that I felt were important on a wider scale, in regard my country, by that stage Japan as much as Ireland, and international society in general. 

    It was largely the failing of the anti-war movement to impact the Iraq War in any significant way that led me to decide to study again rather than simply begin writing. I felt that if I wanted people to listen to my views I would need qualifications in the relevant areas. The plan was to do a new BA, then an MA and finally a PhD in the field of Terrorism, which, of course, had been the driver of the Bush-era military system. I did the BA with Murdoch University and the MA with Macquarie University, both in Australia and both covering Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence. By the stage where I was ready to begin my PhD studies though, this was about 2008-2009, the War on Terror had kind of wound down to the extent that while it was still ongoing in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, people as a whole seemed far less focused on the threat of terrorism as the driving force. In a way it seemed that the idea of the 'long war', that the US would be involved in nation building in the Middle East for decades, had been quietly accepted.

    So I changed my focus at that point and shifted to Japanese national security, specifically the Defense Industry. Originally I had felt that the threat of a terrorist attack would be the biggest motivator for Japan to aggressively remilitarize, but in the new climate I felt that changes occurring in the defense industry had the potential to become a stronger force. In England, Mark Phythian of Leicester University is one of the leading experts on the British defense industry and so I applied to study for a research doctorate under his supervision and was luckily accepted.

Do you think there is a common thread that connects all these different dots. From informatics to matters of the War on Terror, national security and now the defence industry, do you see it is a natural progression in your academic career?

    Well, computer consulting was definitely an offshoot. Journalism had been my original interest and that is definitely what motivated me to study more about events during the Invasion of Iraq and the wider War on Terror. I realized that writing articles, newspaper articles at least, does not really influence the people making the decisions, and that academic think-tanks and higher-level academics had much more power to whisper in the ears of the policy-makers. It might have been nice if I could have gone straight from my original study of journalism into my current study of International Relations, both the computer consulting and English teaching were completely separate and unrelated careers, however, I believe that if I had done that I might not have been able to develop the perspective needed to take a wider view. I might have gone instead into just one narrow area and lost my focus or the ability to look critically at my own work. There is definitely though, a progression between the study of counter-terrorism and intelligence and the study of the defense industry and the national security system.

    While I went from studying intelligence to the defence industry, my supervisor Mark went the opposite way, starting with the defense industry and then going on to intelligence studies, so there are definitely connecting paths that link the two.

How come you decided to study the defence industry in Japan, considering the studies especially concerning the Self-Defence Forces and therefore the defence industry, are not that mainstream?

    During the War on Terror, once America had invaded Iraq, its allies, England and Spain, both suffered terrorist attacks stemming from their commitment to the war and because Japan was involved in giving America support, even if only logistical support, it made it a potential target for such bombings. I believed at the time, and still do, that if Japan had been hit by terrorist attacks, the government would have responded very quickly by militarising rapidly and committing themselves to military action. While people think of Japan as a pacifist country, its politicians are very realist and it has a huge military capability that could be switched into a more aggressive form rather quickly.

    Looking at Japan's security and the vulnerabilities and dangers of it being turned into an aggressive force, I wanted to study the different aspects that I felt were potential threats, not so much to Japan itself, but threats that could be used to drag Japan into war. One of them was terrorism, another was the weakness of Japan's intelligence capabilities, and a third one was what I saw as the weakness of the defence industry. As I said though, by then the first of these, the focus on terrorism, was kind of winding down; people were looking more to so-called 'humanitarian intervention' and nation-building rather than directly combatting Al-Qaeda.

    So in my opinion, the weakness of the defence sector was a bigger danger and one that people were focusing a lot less on. There are still a huge amount of people focusing on terrorism, but Japan's defence industry remains relatively underanalyzed.

There are some voices which argue that the Japanese defence industry is reaching a critical phase in which it is losing its critical mass to sustain itself in the long-term. This is can be due to some the contracts being providing increasingly to US contracts, and also because some of the main industries here in Japan, such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for instance, are now getting severe cuts in the budgets because of the recent legal restrains for bidding too high a price for their equipment. Thus we see some external and internal factors putting the Japanese defence industry further down the track from where it might not be able to recover. Is this an opinion you share?

    When I originally started my research I believed this was one of the dangers. I saw two possibilities that were based around the fact that for over 30 years Japan has forbidden its companies from exporting weapons internationally. Because of this prohibition on weapons exports, the industry was declining, only barely able to sustain itself on serving the Jieitai (Japanese Self-Defence Forces). As a result, many companies have completely pulled out of the defense and military aerospace sectors, while some of the larger ones that remain have become embroiled in legal disputes with the government over the abrupt cancellation, for budgetary reasons, of vital contracts. Even the Keidanren (Japanese Business Federation) had gone so far as to advise executives and company stockholders that they did not think that the defence sector was a safe area for investment. But the major problem was the prohibition on exports and when I started my studies I thought that if it was maintained, it would lead to a collapse of the Japanese defence sector.

    If that had happened, there would have been two primary problems: one would have been the weaknesses it would have created within the Japanese military. These would have been an inability to provide military cover for specific areas or a reliance on outdated systems, flaws that if exploited, perhaps by seizing outlying islands or seabed resources, would have caused a huge shock for the Japanese public. This fear could in turn be used by political demagogues to advocate more aggressive military remilitarization.

    The other problem was that without its own defence sector, Japan would be forced to rely even more heavily on American systems, something that would create its own difficulties and which would leave America with even greater influence over Japan's security policy. These two possibilities were, again, the dangers of a collapsing industry.

    The alternative option was that the export prohibitions would be removed and Japan would be allowed to start selling internationally, something which would create the potential for Japan to become a major player in the international arms market, and so doing create a number of new security issues that would also impact heavily upon both economic and societal affairs. As it turns out, this is the path the industry has taken. The government finally decided, in December of 2011, to relax the export prohibitions and it seems that Japan will begin to, step by step, re-enter the international arms market.

Some of the material that I have been reading on the defence industry in Japan seem not to focus that much on matters of national security per se, but rather on the trade-offs that allow for the defence industry itself to exist, in the framework of a pacifist country. What do you think are the benefits for Japan to have its defence industry, vis-à-vis countries like the United States, United Kingdom, France and Sweden, which do have a strong defence industry and make use of it in their foreign policy? What kind of spin-offs can it have in its economy, foreign policy and general strategic outlook on the region of interest?

    The impacts of the defence industry on a country relate to so many different areas. In the case of Japan's defence industry, while the left-wing here consistently attack Japan's military, you have to accept that throughout the country's history, it was very frequently military development that pushed the economy: during the initial Meiji industrialization, in the 1890s, during World War I, during the 1920s and 30s, in the postwar period from the 1950s on. In all of these periods, the Japanese defence industry was the primary force for bringing new technology into the country which would then be spun-off into domestic industry. Without the influence of its defence industry, it is unlikely that Japan would have ever developed beyond a semi-colonial state, certainly could never have become the world's second largest economy, and would likely not have the influence, or I should say the potential for influence, that it has now.

    Of course, there are negative aspects to defense development, Japan's past aggressive militarism is the obvious one, but the potential for the defence industry to produce new technology and diversify that throughout other industrial sectors is hugely important for Japan's future economic development. Additionally, without an independent defence sector, it will always remain tied to American foreign policy. There are too many modern defence systems that are interlinked that, without its own capability to produce alternatives, Japan will remain bound to the US alliance. I'm not saying Japan should develop such alternatives or move away from America but, for its independence as a sovereign state, it needs to have the capability to do so.

In Japanese politics we are now witnessing very interesting things. First we have the relaxation of the arms exports prohibitions. Then we have Hashimoto Toru as the Mayor of Osaka trying to advocate Constitutional revision. The Governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara is also trying to promote a greater role for Japan in the international arena. Lately you have these bans on defence industry companies for their outbidding. In the political landscape, we see many forces taking shape which potentially affect the way that the defence industry is built and also the way in which Japan relates to the world insofar as security and defence issues are concerned. Where do you see these trends going?

    Well, for the the defence industry itself, there are two restrictions that are still likely to apply to its development. First, the smart one, will be for Japan to focus its defence research and development on narrow areas of expertise, areas in which Japan is particularly strong, for instance naval vessels, composite ceramics and other materials, nanotechnology, drones, robotics and other electronic fields such as communications and circuitry. These are all areas that Japan already has a lot of civilian industrial high-level expertise in and so it can easily use spin-on technology from civilian industry to promote its military development. That's the smart thing it should be doing and it is likely that it will do this because modern military production is increasingly becoming a process of joint-development between several countries, where each focuses on one aspect of a common project. So it is likely, and one must hope, that Japan will specialize more in these areas.

    The second, possible restriction is the moral imperative, something likely to be taken as a concession to Japan's pacifist elements. This would be to focus on defensive rather than offensive systems. People who oppose military development - and the left-wing in Japan will frequently oppose absolutely anything military -, should accept that there are systems, like anti-aircraft weapons, communications systems or satellite technology, that while used by the military are not weapons of destruction and can be used in a purely defensive way that will not lead to the death of civilians. As such, there are certain systems that Japan could develop that even the left-wing could perhaps accept. This is what I would call the moral option for defence production but, while I think this might hold for the beginning, to placate opponents of military development per se, once people become used to the idea, or if the issue can be pursued quietly without drawing public attention, the government will very quickly begin to 'normalize' production with the dictates of the open market leading them to, like other major producers such as the US and UK, sell whatever is most profitable. And this of course gives rise to an entirely new set of problems and dangers.

The second and final part of this interview with be published soon, so stay tuned!

If you want to read more from Gavan Gray, please visit the reflection blog he directs: Ristumeikan University's Peace and Human Security Critical Discussion Group.

Submitted by. Tiago Alexandre Fernandes Mauricio
Guest. Gavan Gray
Subject. Japanese security,
Defence industry
Delivered. March 15, 2012
Arms Control and Disarmament, China, Domestic Policies, Economic Affairs, Foreign Policy, Interviews, Japan, JSDF, PKO and Peace Operations, Russia, Security and Defence, Taiwan, United States | Links to this post |
East Asian Security & Defence Digest 14
Posted by Tiago On 3/12/2012 11:14:00 PM 0 comments
East Asia Security and Defence Digest 14
East Asian Security n Defence Digest, News briefings | Links to this post |
Is Japan Lagging Behind? Air-Sea Battle, Technology and Security
Posted by Tiago On 3/09/2012 06:44:00 PM 0 comments
There have been doubts expressing concern and confusion over the latest development in US strategic thought. Dubbed Air-Sea Battle, it is aimed at providing the military with a new orientation in the Asia-Pacific basin. Cutting a very long story short, one could claim without indulging in many obscenities that such a strategy is aimed at preserving current power projection capabilities and thus bypassing possible Anti-Access/Area-Denial capabilities potential adversaries (read China) are developing. This response to A2/AD, with an appropriate acronym to ensure it becomes jargon, clearly suggests an emphasis on high-end military hardware that has been somewhat neglected over the course of the Global War on Terror (GWoT), which in turn prioritized an intelligence-gathering and counter-terrorism military profile.

Dwelling in the publications of the military-prone, there are two news which have created some buzz amongst specialists of 21st warfare. They tell of two important developments which if successfully concluded and later deployed, promise to alter the strategic balance in the entire region, needless to say in Washington's favour. And no, I will not be talking of the winding dispute over the F-35's actual capabilities, even if its program head recently claimed the critical stealth and sensors & communications components to be working perfectly, as the controversial aircraft now enters final test phases.

The first concerns the development of a new strategic bomber. There have not been many words coming out of Pentagon or Air Force officials concerning this program but early remarks indicate that by the mid-2020s, up to one hundred of these new bombers will be acquired, their cost estimated at US$ 550 million each. The exciting news is that it will allegedly allow un-manned flights much in the same way as today's UAVs, which will represent substantial challenges considering the technicalities involved.

Hollywood might have captured the essence of this bomber in advance in the famous movie "Stealth" (2005).

The second announcement is something also drawn from sci-fi flicks from the latter half of the 20th century. The US Navy, in a joint programme with BAE Systems, has been developing a rail-gun capable of delivering a 40-pound projectile at seven times the speed of sound. I have seen the first clip showing preliminary testing, but a new one has been produced which officials claim have reached the 50 nautical miles threshold (roughly 92 km or 57 miles).

Again, Hollywood moved in to make the first hit and portrayed it in Transformers 2 (2009). Jump to 2:10

Now with this new concept brought to the fore and with the Pentagon creating a Air-Sea Battle Office (via The Diplomat) to oversee its implementation, it is not yet clear what, when and how US partners in the region can commit to this unfolding strategy, should they have a role at all. The implications for Japanese security and prosperity are obvious though not yet clearly enunciated, or reflected upon for that matter. In this regard, in a forthcoming interview with Gavan Gray we shall discuss Japan's defence industry and how it can develop beyond its current restrictions, considering the latent potential it has at its disposal.

As of now, no major steps have been taken in Tokyo to tackle this issue. With the December 2011 Diet decision to relax the arms exports prohibitions and growing regional security problems related to territorial disputes, the rise of China among others, it should not be unreasonable to see Japan riding the waves of a renewed US military presence in Asia-Pacific. From naval components to nanotechnology, drones and signals and communications equipment, Japan could be at an advantage should it decide to invest in high-technology R&D with potential use for military purposes, if only for self-defence. But even there, bureaucracy, internal constrains and lack of strategic foresight are likely to cut Japan's actions short of any decisive actions.

I remember Japan's Ministry of Defence coming out with a ball-shaped drone model before a startled audience in mid-2011 that promised to trigger a succession of more audacious projects that could catapult Japan to the top positions in the profitable drone market. After all, Singer's widely appraised and immediate bestseller "Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and 21st Century Conflict" (2009) had laid out some of these trends and how they could impact the conduct of warfare, so today's drone-o'mania cannot be said to have been a surprise.

But the evolution of drone technology has nevertheless witnessed incredible results that convince even the most conservative of modern warfare theorists. Micah Zenko expressed these trends with some numerical figures in his latest article at Foreign Policy, stating that:

    As with most military programs, the United States is far and away the leader in developing drone technology, and the country is projected to account for 77 percent of drone R&D and 69 percent of procurement in the coming decade. Nevertheless, estimates of how many other countries have at least some drone capability now range from 44 to 70, for an estimated 680 drone programs around the world, up greatly from 195 in 2005. China is escalating its drone program, with at least 25 types of systems in development.

The potential for Japan - already a tech-savvy powerhouse - are huge but so far I have read no follow-up on the success of that MOD's drone, or lack thereof. Is Japan lagging behind? It certainly seems so, for even the robots employed in Fukushima's Dai'ichi nuclear power plant inspections were American made and have shown great difficulties moving around the rubble and performing delicate missions. Compare such robots with the US's Big Dog (http://www.bostondynamics.com/robot_bigdog.html) or the latest record speed-breaker for a land robot called Cheetah and you can get a glimpse of the technological divide separating the two allies, which could boost this Air-Sea Battle concept into another Strategic Defence Initiative-type strategic enterprise. (Out of curiosity, both Big Dog and Cheetah are projects from the labs of the same company, Boston Dynamics).

So two preliminary conclusions can be made of available evidence. First, the US appears to be a lone wolf leading its own pack of high-end, high-technology military hardware in Asia-Pacific. Second, Japan is more likely to fall behind than to catch up to these trends in 21st century warfare, thus losing much of its leeway that it once enjoyed, having once boasted the 3rd largest defence budget in the world. Lacking the defence capabilities of the Cold War era and losing the initiative to engage proactively in shaping a Japan-US alliance for the new era, Tokyo must wonder what the future holds for its national security, economic recovery and peaceful existence.

The implications are thus manifold, so expect to read more about it next week, when I shall publish the said interview with Gavan Gray about Japan's defence industry. Till then, I leave with you the following video for an extended discussion of PW Singer's book "Wired for War", featuring Singer himself and hosted by Fora.tv

P. W. Singer: Wired for War from Australian Broadcasting Corporation on FORA.tv

post scriptum. After this article was published, I found an article published on the Asahi Shimbun (March 9) giving notice of Japan's response to the latest US Defense Strategy. The article can be accessed: here.
China, Japan, JSDF, United States | Links to this post |
Additional thoughts on Japan-Russia relations with Putin 2.0
Posted by Tiago On 3/06/2012 06:01:00 PM 0 comments
Following yesterday's article on Russian presidential elections and what Putin's victory will mean to Japan-Russia relations, Nippon.com has published the English version of a very insightful commentary on the subject by Suzuki Yoshikatsu. The title is "Prospects for Japan-Russia Relations After Putin's Return to Power". The author is a senior political analyst for Jiji News and has worked in New York and Washington DC, in addition to his academic education in Waseda University.

We seem to have, coincidentally, expressed a few similar points that are noteworthy, the first of which being that Putin's latest comments on the interest to improve bilateral relations are not at all shallow. Although Suzuki primarily preferred to allude to Sergei Lavrov's controlling hand at wheel of the Russian Foreign Ministry, instead of considering him Putin's diplomacy poster boy , the bottom line is the same:

    "What this means [Constitutional amendment extending presidential terms from 4 to 6 years], according to a source at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is that the return of President Putin, the Russian politician who knows Japan best, would provide Japan with an excellent opportunity. On the other hand, if Japan fails to establish a relationship of trust with Putin’s third government, unhealthy relations with Russia could be extended for as long as twelve years."

It is also interesting to note that Suzuki's view on Russia's credibility as an international partner, and for that matter Japan's views as well, differ from those held on other regional partners, most notably North Korea. Despite the different interests, there is a common platform for dialogue and understanding that can be promoted and used to improving bilateral ties. In this regard, Mr. Suzuki noted that:

    "As summarized on the website of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, both ministers agreed that 'while the two countries’ standpoints differ considerably, based on the growing atmosphere of mutual trust the issue will not be shelved, and that debate toward resolving the issue will continue in a calm environment based on the principles of law and justice and the two countries’ various agreements and documents thus far.' The two sides did not step further into the controversy, however, and maintained a posture of self-restraint throughout."

And this is where it gets interesting. Whereas my article referred to Putin's savoir faire in dealing with foreign dignitaries and the international press, Suzuki instead opted to reflect on Lavrov's traits as a diplomatic towering figure steering Russia's Foreign Ministry in today's murky waters. Here are the complimentary remarks the author made about Lavrov:

    "Foreign Minister Lavrov, once characterized by former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a natural-born debater who won’t shy away from an argument, is known among Japanese diplomatic personnel for his seemingly arrogant and provocative comments and behavior. He projected a different persona, however, at the joint press conference following ministerial summit in late January.

    He carefully explained the cooperative agreements reached by the two countries, touching lightly on the issue of the Northern Territories only at the end of his remarks, which were mild in tone. He expressed hope that a mutually acceptable means of resolving the issue could be found, indicated an intention to approach the matter dispassionately, and said efforts would be made to avoid provocative statements.

    The mere fact that Lavrov has lasted for more than seven years as Russia’s foreign minister testifies to his diplomatic finesse and remarkable eloquence. Near the end of the press conference, he abruptly faced forward and leaned toward the microphone to say: 'Let me reiterate that while [we seek resumption of] the six-party talks, Russia also insists that the issue of abductees must be resolved. We support Japan’s position entirely.'

    The high-level foreign ministry official with whom I was sitting was visibly astonished. 'That’s the first time Lavrov has said anything like that about the issue of abductees,' he said. 'It shows he’s trying to improve his image with the Japanese public. That was definitely done for Putin’s benefit.'"

To make it a perfect match of 4 coincidental points out of 4, Suzuki would only have to mention the 'China factor'. To my relief, no mention of it is to be found in the article, being replaced instead with far more enlightening reflections on some of the internal divides that characterize Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs policy-making. The observations are made when assessing the possible outcomes of new talks on the territorial disputes (Northern Territories/Kuril Islands). The Japanese media, Suzuki claims, can be divided along the lines of two distinct camps: those advocating the return of all four islands; or those contemplating a compromise with only two of the islands being returned, or a 50-50 split that could save both countries from more hazardous negotiations.

Concerning this potential divide and how it can, in the future affect the government's diplomatic posture in this matter, Suzuki states that:

    "One factor at work here is that an anti-foreign ministry faction, whose members include former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Suzuki Muneo and former Ministry of Foreign Affairs senior analyst Satō Masaru, is asserting its views on these issues.

    There are complicated personal connections involved as well, foremost among them those between Minister for Foreign Affairs Gemba and his predecessor Maehara Seiji, who is the current chairman of the Democratic Party of Japan Policy Research Council. The two were classmates at the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management. Both have begun to entertain hopes of attaining the office of prime minister, and they are now engaged in a growing rivalry concerning relations with Russia. The fact that Foreign Minister Lavrov followed up his ministerial meeting by meeting separately both with former Prime Minister Mori Yoshirō, who is well acquainted with Prime Minister Putin, and with former Foreign Minister Maehara, suggests that Lavrov is looking ahead to Russia’s relations with Japan after Putin is restored to power."

It is a timely and interesting read for those concerned about the future of Japan-Russia relations and the making of what some consider to be a new Asian century. After shamelessly piggybacking Mr. Suzuki's opinions - though I must say I published my post prior to learning about the said article -, let us see how Putin will enact the first acts of a renewed play taking the leading role ahead of Russia.

If you want to read more on some of the earliest comments on "Putin 2.0" and possible foreign policy implications, please refer to the following websites:
"The End of the 'Reset'", at Foreign Affairs
"Putin's Pyrrhic victory", at American Enterprise Institute
"Interview with Fyodor Lukyanov about the Future of the Russian Foreign Policy", at CSIS
Foreign Policy, Japan, Russia | Links to this post |
East Asian Security & Defence Digest 13
Posted by Tiago On 3/05/2012 09:11:00 PM 0 comments
East Asian Security and Defence Digest 13
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Russia and Japan may hold talks over disputed territories
Posted by Tiago On 3/05/2012 05:00:00 PM 0 comments
Satellite image of the Northern Territories/Kurile Islands,
disputed between Japan and Russia.
Source: NASA.
There has been an interesting dialogue unfolding between Japanese and Russian authorities regarding the territorial dispute of the Northern Territories/Kurile Islands. Last week, Russian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin said in a press conference that he was willing to come to the negotiation table with Japan regarding this dispute, if elected president. Prime Minister Noda, on the Japanese side, has expressed his satisfaction in welcoming Putin's remarks and looks forward establishing the necessary negotiation channels to positively engage Russia on this issue.

Before taking on an overtly optimistic view of these promising signs for dialogue, however, one must point out a few caveats that are likely to interfere with the equation.

Firstly, these statements were made in the last week of the presidential race, from which Putin would undoubtedly emerge as president in Sunday's elections. The point here is not to claim that presidential election platforms in Russia, especially on matters of foreign policy, as not as thin as those in the United States. Furthermore, with his presidency almost guaranteed, there is reason to give Putin's remarks a bit more credibility as a way to probe future Russian policies in the future. Judging by Putin's record, we shall expect another period of high-level decisions in matters of foreign policy as a way to complement - and sometimes overcome - internal deadlocks he is sure to expect during the upcoming term. The president-to-be is thus not paying lip service to appease internal factions that need assurance to facilitate Putin's governance.

Secondly, Russia is not North Korea. Japan's response to DPRK's recent promises to suspend its uranium enrichment and to hold nuclear inspections by an international body and mostly fallen on deaf hears in Tokyo. As Pyongyang's diplomatic swinging has put Tokyo on the lookout for future breaches of trust in such confidence-building measures, it not surprising to see Japan holding some of the bargaining chips away from negotiations with North Korea, namely in the 6-Part Talks. With Russia, however, the case might be different as the conditionalities which affect bilateral ties are of an entirely different order. Presidential statements do have a positive impact in foreign policy-making, but the question is of what sort.

Source: Asahi Shimbun
Thirdly, Putin stepped up the rhetoric a few notches by conceding some analogies with Judo, one of Japan's traditional budo. A black belt in that martial art, Putin eloquently said:

    "If I become president, we would have the Russian Foreign Ministry sit on one side and the Japanese Foreign Ministry sit on the other and we would give out the order 'Hajime' (begin)."

When later pressed to give out Russia's expectations toward the possible negotiations, Asahi Shimbun reports, Putin scored a few extra points on the savoir faire scoreboard by claiming that:

    "A judoka must take a brave step forward not only to win, but also to avoid losing. We don't have to achieve victory. In this situation, we have to reach an acceptable compromise. That would be like a 'hikiwake' (draw)."

Putin is of course alluding to the different claims that have characterized the negotiations throughout the Cold War right until today. Moving from denial of the existence of any problem to an offer made by Gorbachev to let Japan have two of the disputed islands, Japan then saw an opportunity to go all-in and lay claim to all four islands. As expected, Moscow backed down but not without having revealed a weaker position in conceding territory for a good enough offer.

Fourthly, there is the China factor. The geo-strategic power struggles in East and Central Asia between USSR/Russia and China have had a tremendous impact on Japan-Russia relations and this time it is no different. It is hard to make sense of the complex web of cooperation and competition elements between the two mainland giants, but history seems to suggest that Japan has often played the role of countering dominance from any of these two players. This has been accomplished either by going directly into Korea and China to oppose Russian imperial expansionism until WWII, or boosting bilateral ties with the PRC to counter the Soviet Union, or by moving closer to Russia in order to offset some of China's strategic developments in the post-Cold War era. It is also unclear what role Russia might play in Japanese foreign policy to move away from its strategic dependence on the United States.

Perhaps more important to the current state-of-affairs in East Asia, talks with Moscow could trigger a set of other negotiations in the security and economic realms in a win-win scenario. Development of Russia's Far East has long been a promising area of interest to Japan and with China's rise and pressure on its Siberian territories, internal political and socio-economic cohesion could indeed benefit from a push by Japan. Dealing with this territorial dispute could also have a positive effect on other such disputes, namely with China in the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands and others.

Now that Putin has been elected and is due to take office (will the opposition act against his election?), it is time for PM Noda and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to engage Russia on these very important issues. Stability and prosperity in East Asia has much to benefit from a more proactive engagement between the two countries.

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Interview with James Simpson from Japan Security Watch
Posted by Tiago On 3/01/2012 07:03:00 PM 0 comments
Opening up JFPO's Interviews Section we have the great privilege of talking to James Simpson, a former contributor to World Intelligence at Japan Military Review, and now writing for Japan Security Watch, a New Pacific Institute's initiative which has for two years provided information and reflections on some of Japan's most pressing security and defence issues.

James has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.

You can find him at Japan Security Watch:


James, thank you very much for taking the time to write to us and answer this series of questions. First of all, what made you become interested in Japan's security and defence policies?

    I guess it came about from the conjunction of a few areas of interest, starting with the fact that my parents both served in the British Royal Air Force and I spent my childhood on military bases in Britain and Germany. In my teens, I started to become interested in global and particularly military/security affairs, strengthened by watching 9/11 on television when I was 16.

    As I pursued this interest into university through a Bachelors in International Politics and Strategic Studies, I also began to be interested in Japanese culture and language. This personal and academic interest merged in Japan's intriguing security situation and continuing historical memory issues, a topic of international interest at the time with Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni shrine. In my final year of my undergraduate studies, I conducted a survey (albeit poorly sampled) of Japanese university students in Japan and abroad to address the question of whether normalisation was at all desirable for the Japanese people. It was flawed in many ways, but it was my first step on what I imagine will be a lifelong personal engagement with Japanese security and defence.

What are, in your view, Japan's main security concerns and how would you characterize the debate amongst academics and policy-makers to address them?

    Northeast Asia is a region stabilised by the security dilemma, riddled with competition and distrust. How Japan navigates these waters of distrust while forging its own future will continue to be one of the most important security concerns for its policymakers.

    China has usurped Japan’s economic strength and is bringing forth a diplomatic and military strength of its own. It is seen as Japan’s main rival rather than as a partner that can be worked with, but managing China’s rise and securing itself through partnership with the US, Australia and ASEAN is a theme that repeatedly crops up in the media and from policymakers.

    The strategic element of this competition with China can be seen in the National Defense Program Guidelines for FY2011-2015 (NDPG), which explicitly called out China as a concern. The NDPG marked a shift away from the Cold War security posture against Russia and towards strengthening Japan’s southwestern islands. This shift received a lot of media and political attention when it was released in December 2010, and despite being perceived by some as a toothless document, it really seems to have taken effect: last year saw one the GSDF’s largest ever exercises across Kyushu and the Okinawan islands and a push to develop a coastal surveillance unit on Yonaguni island, to name only the two most notable developments.

    North Korea is an unknown quantity in this. It has previously provided a pretext for the strengthening of Japanese defense such as ballistic missile defense cooperation, the Special Forces Group, and loosening the restrictions on use of lethal weapons by the Coast Guard (see David Leheny’s Think Global, Fear Local [2006]). The missile and nuclear threat is still a very potent one, but with the recent leadership succession, the government seems particularly eager to bring North Korea back to the table.

    One thing that is clear is that despite the work of right-wing military-independence-seekers such as Toshio Tamogami and Shintaro Ishihara, the competition with China will not lead to a remilitarised Japan, primarily due to being tempered by the postwar pacifist culture and Japan’s coming population crunch, previously discussed at JFPO, which could likely result in less people and money for the Self-Defense Forces.

Much has been written on Japan's allegedly atypical defence posture toward her security threats. Whilst some authors praise her "civilian power" and the pacifistic legacy of Article 9 of the Constitution, others condemn it as safety clause that ensure's Japan's subservience toward the United States' security umbrella, thus hampering the country's ability to tackle her perceived threats according to her own means and interests. Should Japan "normalize her security and if so, what are the main issues standing in the way?

    I don't buy in to the "passing the buck" view of Japanese security, but the compelling Yoshida doctrine has certainly lost its sheen. Japan is already in the process of "normalising", i.e. opening itself up to the full range of security options available to sovereign states. I believe it's the right way to go.

    The Japanese people, or at least their policymakers, appear to be willing to accept a larger international security role, even if they are only somewhat minimally engaged. The anti-piracy mission strikes me as one of the most important examples of this - although we've yet to see what would happen if the mere presence of its warships were not enough to deter acts of piracy. The continuing 20-year role of the SDF in UN peacekeeping operations [pdf] is also important.

    One of the main obstacles to this greater international engagement is the current system of authorising these deployments with special measure laws (as with the SDF's deployment to Iraq) is far too clunky to suit a larger international security role.

    Another obstacle is the constitution itself. Japan has stretched the second clause of Article 9 to breaking point: “To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

    Recently, Shintaro Ishihara made a comment to effect that it is strange to talk of self-defense when the SDF deployed in other countries. Article 9 is overdue a revision, but the barriers to revision are immense: it would required a two-thirds majority in the Diet, and public opinion is against it, while 54% of respondents in an Asahi Shimbun poll welcomed constitutional reform, only 14% wanted a reform of Article 9.

    Thankfully, a side-benefit of this cultural strength of the “peace constitution” is that the pro-active military vision of people like Tamogami is highly unlikely to come about - there is simply not enough support among the people, their policymakers or the SDF itself. I very much subscribe to the notion of Japan as a middle power as discussed by Yoshihide Soeya. I don't see Japan looking at aircraft carriers or nuclear weapons in the current security climate, not unless some very specific pressures are placed on her by the US - particularly abandonment or the failure of the nuclear umbrella.

You also have an interest in North Korea and how Pyongyang's regime affects Japanese security. What impact does the abduction issue have on bilateral ties, domestic politics and ultimately the security of Japan?

    The abduction issue should have had a very low impact on Japanese security, but I believe opposite is the case. The history of the abduction issue's rise as a security issue shadows the rise of Shinzo Abe, who skillfully attached himself to the issue following his seeming unwillingness to want to deal with the North Koreans during Koizumi’s visit to Pyongyang in 2002. Abe enshrined the abduction issue at the heart of his cabinet while building the Japanese defence apparatus, with eyes on a future confrontation with China, a notion that preoccupies Japanese hawks.

    The abduction issue, along with the nuclear and missile issues, and the incursion of suspected North Korean spy ship into Japanese waters in the late 1990s/early 2000s kept North Korea in the public eye and raised its perceived threat.

    There is a correlation of factors that suggest to me that the abduction issue was a hook used by policymakers (particularly Abe) to get the public onboard with the establishment of the Ministry of Defence, increased military ties with Australia, discussion of constitutional reform, and the missile defence programme.

    However, I don’t want to paint Shinzo Abe as being entirely Machiavellian, indeed I believe Abe and those around him were enthused with a desire to help the families of the victims as well as secure Japan, but I do believe they were wrong to focus so heavily on the abduction issue.

    My interest in the abduction came at its height, from the DNA scandal of 2006 and Abe’s support for the internationalisation of the issue (latching onto the excellent documentary Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story and Paul Stookey’s Song for Megumi in particular) through to his quick decline from power and the gradual fading away of the issue.

    The abduction issue remains unresolved to many here in Japan, of course, and few would dare openly question the fact that it is probably far too late for the abductees to return home.

    The leadership succession in North Korea has raised the hopes of the families once again, but personally I find reports of the survival of the abductees difficult to believe – I believe North Korea when they tell us that they are dead, however the circumstances of their deaths to be highly questionable. This seems to be a widespread view in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but a view that would be political suicide for any politician to state outright.

    As a result, the issue has had a significant impact not only on bilateral ties with North Korea, but with all the nations participating in the previous round of the Six-Party Talks. The abduction issue was used as an impassable barrier to progress as Japan tried to get the US and South Korea onside to resolve the abduction issue before aid could be distributed. The US government was willing to entertain this, but there were undoubtedly private tensions. The South Korean government at the time was far more interested in pushing its Sunshine Policy ahead of resolving their larger abduction issue, on which is rooted in the Korean War and division of the peninsula.

    As the abduction issue (again, not to the exclusion of the nuclear and missile issues) hardened the Japanese stance towards North Korea, it became impossible to see how North Korea could ever satisfy Japanese demands for resolution: the North Koreans had already said that the remaining abductees were dead, and proving their death has been difficult, supposedly due to the widespread flooding across the country in the 1990s. Yet at the same time, it is impossible to imagine the Japanese stance softening if the abductees really were alive and returned. Dead or alive, they were a sticking point that arguably should have been kept to bilateral talks and not been allowed to overtake serious security concerns. Instead, they helped derail the Six-Party Talks and increase frustrations with the US and gave the North Koreans reason to drag their feet.

Your attentive articles and informative reflections on Japanese contemporary security and defence policies throughout the past two years has witnessed many risks and threats escalating, others waning down. The general atmosphere in East Asia is certainly one of greater volatility in recent years, which demands increasing insight to root out those issues which are fundamental toward regional stability from those which are merely circumstantial. Where do you see Japan's security debate going in the next few years?

    I think Japan's primary security debate will be very similar to that occurring in the US right now: how to manage a more confident and capable China while reining in the defence budget.

    The Japanese defence budget has received a shock from the earthquake last year, including the salvage of its F2B fighter-trainers, as well as the burden placed upon its troops and equipment. With the difficult and controversial selection of the F35 as Japan's next-generation fighter - the most expensive option and the one most likely to fall behind schedule) - you can see further problems: maintaining the life of its equipment so that that the expansion of its security mission does not outstrip the far more modest capabilities of its equipment. The ASDF in particular has had an awful few years, but it will be charged with a heavier burden if the realignment of US forces in Okinawa gains steam.

    In the conjunction of these two issues, we are seeing the SDF learning to love chartered private-sector transportation as a means of filling the gaps in its capabilities without hitting the budget too deeply, particularly well-demonstrated during the Tohoku Earthquake response and the recent exercise across Okinawa and Kyushu where materiel was shipped from Hokkaido by chartered ferry.

    The real question in all this is just what China's intentions are. The Japanese hawks have always been concerned about China, but the recent flare up over the Senkaku Islands and the increased power of China has seemed to increase the public's threat perception into the favour of political hawks, but what lies ahead is, as ever, a blank slate. However, increased competition over energy supplies and trade will only add to the perceived growing military threat, as will China's handling of the South China Sea territorial crisis – Japan will be watching with consideration of its own dispute with China in the East China Sea.

To enrich our understanding of Japanese security issues, as well as to provide a broader and more comprehensive grasp of East Asian politics, what books or articles would you recommend the audience to read?

    I've been out of the academic loop for quite a while with a huge gap of 3 years between my student days and the revival of my attempts at blogging, so I'm ashamed to say that I have some awful gaps in my reading - and with a energy-sapping day job, those gaps don't get any smaller, but I'll do my best.

    My key interest in the previous year has been to improve my understanding of the Self-Defence Force, rather than Japanese security, and I think Sabine Frühstück's Uneasy Warriors [2007] was an essential watershed for me in getting into the organisational culture of the SDF. I also highly recommend people to take the time to read the printed media if they want to understand what's going on, in particular Sankei Shimbun, who are much better at covering the ministerial turf-wars and getting people on record.

    Besides that, I also highly recommend Japan as a 'Normal Country'? (edited by Yoshihide Soeya, Masayuki Tadokoro and David A Welch [2011]) which handles the 'normalisation' debate from a regional as well as national perspective, along with Richard Samuels' Securing Japan [2007]. As for some older but equally enlightening materials, I really recommend reading Trip Ritter’s article in the Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, ‘The Regional Command of the Commons: Japan's Military Power’ [Spring 2005], which makes an excellent case for recognising Japan's relative military power.

    In terms of the wider regional perspective, I am at a loss for recommendations I'm afraid.

Lastly, could you briefly introduce our readers to what the concept behind Japan Security Watch is, how it branched out into Asia Security Watch and what we can expect from the New Pacific Institute in the coming months?

    Japan Security Watch was started in February 2010 by Kyle Mizokami, a Japanese security enthusiast in the US. As a blog, it was a means for him to explore and broaden his knowledge of Japanese security and to contact others with this rather rare interest.

    At the beginning of 2011, after a break of a few years, Kyle convinced me to start blogging on Japanese security again. During my university studies, I created the blog Abduction Politics to allow me to work through the questions and issues my research raised but in the interim, I'd largely lost touch with my research due to work and marriage, so it was exciting to get blogging again. Soon after I'd started my new blog, Kyle asked me to consider joining forces to work on not only Japan Security Watch, but also the New Pacific Institute umbrella that he had created months before. Then Corey Wallace of Sigma1 joined a month later, an insanely knowledgeable guy who brought a broader and more academic perspective to our blog.

    For me, Japan Security Watch represents the joint efforts of enthusiasts of Japanese security - we don't believe ourselves to be experts, just hobbyists with varying interests and minimal editorial control. Kyle is, for example, keen on the military/strategic side of the equation, Corey has more academic and politically focused approach, and I am more of a news-watcher. The blog retains that amateur, passionate feel, which is something we wanted to export to the regional picture.

    Asia Security Watch was launched in January this year, with other security enthusiasts brought in to cover China and the Koreas, with Craig Scanlan, Ray Kwong and Wilson Chau rapidly forming the core team. They've been doing an excellent job, and we're really happy to see them breaking away and running with the same blog ethic we've worked with at JSW for the past year.

    As for what's next for the New Pacific Institute, I think our main goal will be to consolidate our work at JSW and ASW, perhaps including more primary sourced work. JSW in particular has been through several changes in the past year and personally I'm excited to take my foot off the clutch and back on the accelerator. So this year we'll continue to find our feet and build our network - whether that results in another major project depends on whether those roots stick. Either way, it’s an exciting process and one I wish I had more time to devote to.

I would like to conclude by adding that it was a great pleasure having you as our first interviewee and sharing your thoughts with us. Thank you also for taking the time to reply to our questions, it has been a pleasure.

If you want to know more about James Simpson, please visit his profile: here.
You should also keep a close eye on Japan Security Watch, the most exhaustive, comprehensive and interesting on Japan's security and defence issues.

Submitted by. Tiago Alexandre Fernandes Mauricio
Guest. James Simpson
Subject. "Normalization" of Japan
North Korean abductions
Published. March 1, 2012
Alliances and Partnerships, Arms Control and Disarmament, ASDF, China, GSDF, Interviews, JSDF, MSDF, North Korea, Political and Security Issues, Security and Defence, South Korea, United States | Links to this post |
JFPO features Interviews
Posted by JFPO On 2/29/2012 07:43:00 PM 0 comments
The Japan Foreign Policy Observatory (JFPO) will soon be launching a new initiative featuring interviews with some of the most reputed and acknowledged specialists in the field of Japanese foreign and security policies.

This is an initiative that will be rolled out tomorrow as we feature an interview with James Simpson from Japan Security Watch (New Pacific Institute). James has been writing for the outstanding JSW for two years now and has provided regular and quality content on Japan's contemporary security policies, including news which would not otherwise be read by a non-Japanese speaking audience.

Due to the inherent difficulties of preparing, organising and editing a interviews, this is an initiative that has no fixed schedule and will therefore be published as they are made. If you would like to suggest a specialist who you would like to see commenting on any matter of Japan's foreign and security policies, please feel free to send us an email at jfpo(at)gmail.com and we will try our best to make that happen.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for tomorrow the first interview of this series will be published!
About JFPO | Links to this post |
An Account of Local Conditions in South Sudan
Posted by Tiago On 2/29/2012 07:22:00 PM 0 comments
GSDF Engineers arrive in South Sudan.
Source: United Nations
In previous articles we had raised concerns over the conditions the Self-Defense Forces would find in Juba, South Sudan, once they begin their United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), in the central African state, as well as their level of preparedness. You can read them here and here.

A few days ago, a Yomiuri article gave us an account of some of the main difficulties the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) engineering unit is facing, and it does not sound promising. Here's a small excerpt:

    The weather in South Sudan is among the harshest in Africa, with daytime temperatures often exceeding 40 C in the current dry season. A thermometer at the camp site read 48 C on Tuesday.

    In the tents, daytime temperatures often rise to as high as 50 C.

    The SDF personnel sleep in tents in groups of five or six. Some have already suffered heatstroke. They keep the tent doors open as much as possible to let heat out, but this allows sand to blow in.

    To protect their personal belongings from sand, members have no other option but keeping them in large plastic bags.

    An additional problem is that only 10 percent of South Sudan has a water supply system. Forced to secure water for daily use on their own, members must drive a tanker 20 minutes to the While Nile to pump water, bring it back to the camp and then purify it.

For truth's sake, these missions are not summer camps for some troops to go and earn UN-indexed salaries that allow them to make decent saving in paradise destinations. Whether we are talking about Haiti (MINUSTAH), Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) or Afghanistan (UNAMA), conditions are always harsh which only add to the necessity of sending these troops in the first place. But there are various ways to make them a little less daunting, and good planning and a good local support network are key in making the experience the smoothest and most successful possible.

It would be extremely valuable to have a media crew accompany the unit's day-to-day tasks, to reveal the greatest difficulties that beset them as well as the ways the GSDF is coping with them. With Japan increasingly committed to participate in this kind of missions, it would be a terrific public service to inform the general Japanese audience about its engagement with the international community at this level.

Meanwhile, one has only to wait for the first reports to be published by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and expect for the best results.

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