July 7, 2006; Volume 02, Number 25

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

The Oops Corner
North Korea’s Missile Diplomatic Initiative
Japan’s Reaction
North Korea Defies Expectations and Launches Missiles
Comments by former White House Official, Dr. Michael Green
Comments from Dr. Robert Orr from Tokyo
Concluding Comments

Good Morning! From the overcast but warm campus of the University of South Carolina. Today is Friday, July 7th, 2006. And you are listening to Volume 02, Number 25, of the Japan Considered Podcast.


Thanks for tuning in again. Or, for tuning in for the first time if you just found the program. I hope it meets your expectations. Each week at this time we spend between twenty and twenty-five minutes considering the longer-term implications of events in the news related to Japan’s domestic politics and international relations.

I can’t claim to provide a comprehensive news summary. Since there’s so much to cover. I can’t even claim to cover more specific topics comprehensively. Again for the same reason. Rather, each week I select a few topics that appear most likely to help us understand the inner workings of Japan’s domestic politics, and conduct of foreign relations. And we focus on those. So, you might say the program each week ends up like a cross between a poorly run radio news program and a university lecture.

This week we’ll spend most of our time on Japanese reaction to North Korea’s ballistic missile diplomacy. And, as time permits we’ll look into the surprising results of the Shiga Prefecture gubernatorial race earlier in the week, and DPJ Leader, Ichiro Ozawa’s visit to China.

The Oops Corner

But first, a visit to the “Oops Corner” for last week’s program. A couple of weeks ago I suggested that this may become a regular feature of the program, and that prediction seems to be panning out!

Apologies to Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania. Last week I identified him as the author of the letter to House Speaker Hastert demanding that Prime Minister Koizumi renounce Yasukuni Shrine visits if he expected to be allowed to address a joint session of Congress. Of course, the author of the letter was Congressman Henry Hyde, as several listeners mentioned in their e-mails. Two very different people. Different political parties, even! I have no idea how I confused the two. And apologies to both. The basic point about the utility of Gai-Atsu remains valid, however. 

The second feature of this week’s Oops Corner was dual entry of the last audio clip in last week’s podcast. Easy enough to do. But as fate would have it, this was an unusually long one. I replaced the file early the next morning. But apologies to those of you who downloaded it early. Once was enough!

Thanks for the folks who wrote in with notice of the “oops moments” in the podcast. I should begin distributing prizes of some kind … Well, not right away. But please keep sending your comments in. They are gratefully received, and very helpful.

North Korea’s Missile Diplomatic Initiative

Our first topic today has to be the surprising decision of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to join American Independence Day festivities with his own ballistic missile fireworks display. This is a complex subject. And, as usual, our focus here will be on the longer-term significance of the incident for Japan’s domestic politics and conduct of international relations. But to do that, we’ll need some background on how we got to where we are. Then some effort to figure out just where, in fact, that is. And finally, something on the significance of the whole business for our understanding of Japan.

First, what’s happened? In mid-May of this year, the Japanese public learned that that North Korea was placing a Taepodong 2 ICBM into launch position at a site in the northeastern province of Hamgyong Bukdo. Koizumi Cabinet members, including Foreign Minister Aso and Defense Minister Nukaga, when asked by reporters, publicly confirmed the information. They said they’d been aware of the situation for some time.

They both took pains to add that they didn’t expect the North to fire the missile, even if preparations were made. More put up for show. They reminded their questioners that North Korea had agreed, in return for certain considerations, to a moratorium on missile testing during negotiations with the United States in 1999. And that Kim Jong Il had agreed, during Prime Minister Koizumi’s September 2002 visit to Pyongyang, to extend that moratorium beyond 2003. So, a launch wasn’t likely since it would violate both of those agreements.

The mid-May revelations attracted considerable attention in missile-wary Japan. Memories of North Korea’s 1998 missile launch over Japanese territory remained fresh. Indeed, the news even attracted attention in the United States. The Taepodong 2 is a three-stage missile said to be capable of reaching even the Westernmost parts of the United States when it works properly.

Japan’s Reaction

North Korea’s missile preparations remained big news in Japan throughout May and June. Newspapers and television news reports almost daily featured commentary, photos, and video related to missile launches. File tape from the 1998 experience featured heavily in much of the coverage.

In addition, and ultimately more significant, Japan’s news media reported on preparations being made for missile countermeasures. Both by U.S. forces in and around Japan, and by the Japanese Self Defense Forces themselves. Such things as installation of more sophisticated radar, joint U.S.-Japan anti-missile naval maneuvers, and acceleration of Japan’s overall anti-missile defense program.  

This, I think, will prove the most important consequence of the North Korean missile initiative. The Koizumi Cabinet and its supporters have consistently supported strengthening Japan’s own military defense capabilities. Including anti-missile technology. As is proper in a genuine democracy, these efforts have met with a good measure of skeptical response – and opposition – in the Diet, and in prefectural and local Assemblies. And, of course, in much of Japan’s communications media. I doubt that absent the support provided by North Korea’s missile initiative, so much progress on military preparedness could have been made so quickly. More comments on this later.

Throughout this period, Japan, Russia, the United States, and even Mainland China, urged North Korea to suspend their missile launch preparations, and to honor their long-standing agreements not to conduct such tests. The overall consensus in Japan up until early morning on the 5th of July [the afternoon of July 4th, U.S. Eastern Standard Time] was that common sense would prevail in Pyongyang. That the Kim regime would realize that a missile test of the sort threatened would do North Korea much more harm than good.  Though the reports continued of fuel truck visiting the launch site and other preparations required for a launch.

North Korea Defies Expectations and Launches Missiles

All of this changed beginning around 3:30 AM, Tokyo time. During the next few hours, North Korea launched a veritable bouquet of missiles, seven in all. One was the three-stage Taepodong 2 ICBM to which most attention had been directed since mid-May. The rest were shorter-range Scuds and mid-range Nodongs.   

All seven missiles landed harmlessly in the Sea of Japan. The Taepodong 2 reportedly flew for only 40 seconds or so before breaking apart and tumbling into the water.

Response to Pyongyang’s provocation was immediate in Tokyo. The Kantei immediately established a task force headed by the prime minister to follow developments in Korea and determine Japan’s response. It was clear the Kantei, or central political executive, would take the lead on this, with the support of the Foreign Ministry and Defense Agency. Not the other way around. That’s worth noting. An important change.

Later in the day, Kantei spokesmen announced that Japan would impose immediate countermeasures. These included banning the North Korean Ferry, Mangyongbong-92, from Japanese ports, urging Japanese citizens and tour groups to cancel plans to visit North Korea, refusing North Korean official representatives entry to Japan, and strict adherence to in-place export prohibitions on missile-sensitive products. The government further hinted it was considering imposition of more stringent hard currency transfers from Japan to North Korea.

Most important, though, the Kantei Task Force prepared a draft resolution for the UN Security Council. Tokyo pressed for a Security Council meeting the following day. Japan also maintained close communication and coordination with Washington on all points.

It is important to note here, I think, that by any realistic measure, Japan’s response throughout has been deliberate and moderate. No hysterical reaction or irresponsible behavior. No exaggeration of the threat in the press. No effort by the central government to stir up public sentiment against North Korea, or against any other country.

In situations such as this it’s important to understand the real objectives of all parties involved. That’s hard to do when it comes to North Korea. What were they trying to accomplish? Official statements from Pyongyang don’t help us much. North Korean spokesmen, including the deputy chief of the North Korea UN Mission, responded angrily to international criticism of the missile tests. He argued that North Korea as a sovereign nation has every right to test missiles. He said the moratorium on testing no longer counts because talks have been suspended.

Some observers, especially in the United States, have argued that North Korea launched the missiles just to “get Washington’s attention.” As a protest against Bush Administration refusal to negotiate bilaterally. Or as a protest against the U.S. freezing the Macao bank accounts suspected of playing a role in the transfer of counterfeiting and drug traffic money back to Pyongyang. Or, more simply, as a marketing tool for North Korean missile technology – to demonstrate to potential customers that the missiles actually work.    

U.S. commentary on the North Korean missile launch has been clouded by U.S. partisan politics. It’s become just one more topic in the debate between supporters and opponents of the current Bush Administration. Most Washington commentators discussing the North Korean situation really aren’t interested in or well informed about North Korea. They’re interested in the outcome of the next U.S. presidential election! That’s too bad, since the resulting debate produces more heat than light. Senator Vandenberg’s celebrated 1945 observation that “Politics ends at the water’s edge” has become as quaint as Henry Stimson’s 1929 admonition that “Gentlemen don’t read other gentlemen’s mail.”

Comments by former White House Official, Dr. Michael Green.

Seeking more information, on Thursday, July 6th, I called Dr. Michael Green via the Skype phone for his comments on the North Korean situation. Mike since the beginning of the year has been Japan Chair and Senior Adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and an associate professor at Georgetown University. Prior to that he spent five years in the White House, serving from April 2001 to January 2004 as Director of Asian Affairs for both Japan and Korea. And from January 2004 to December 2005 as Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and the NSC’s Senior Director for Asian Affairs. That’s unusual experience, and I hope to have a full Japan Considered Interview with Mike up on the Japan Considered website before long. Here are his comments on the current situation.

RCA: Good Afternoon Mike, thanks for agreeing to talk about the current flap over North Korean missiles. What are your thoughts on the North Korean missile launch? And what were they trying to accomplish?

MG: Well, the North Korean missile launch is not justifiable as a tool of statecraft. Period. The North Koreans are threatening, provoking, and demanding concessions. Meanwhile, they’re violating every agreement they’ve made with Japan. And the Pyongyang Declaration with the ROK, and, the North-South Declarations, and, of course, the Six Parties in the September statement that was put out on denuclearization. So, it’s not conscionable, any way you look at it.

There is a good chance that North Korea is launching the missiles on the 4th of July to create a sense of crisis, to see if they can get more pressure on the U.S. to agree to concessions. The North Koreans always prefer to push this whole issue into a US-DPRK prism for a whole host of reasons. One reason is the U.S. actually has much less leverage in that kind of negotiation. Because we have no trade to sanction or take away. And our only sticks, therefore, are military, which clearly is not acceptable right now to the rest of the region. And we have no carrots that we can give, except diplomatic recognition, or opening and releasing some sanctions, which we simply are not willing to do as a down-payment to North Korea for denuclearization.

So, it’s much more advantageous for the U.S., and the international community generally, if this is a regional issue, so everyone’s at the table, bringing their weight to the problem. Both sticks and carrots. Even if we’re not all on the same page.

So, North Korea always is trying to angle us back, to put the monkey on the U.S. back, to say the U.S. needs to make concessions. It’s their hostile policies … And that probably is part of this.

But they’re also doing it, I’m sure, for internal propaganda reasons, to market their wares. They export these missiles, or try to, to countries like Iran.

RCA: That’s interesting. What’s the Iran connection here?

MG: Well, there is ample evidence they are sending groups of people back and forth. The North Koreans have reportedly sold a variety of systems – missiles and other weapons systems – to Iran. There’s no evidence that North Korea is helping Iran with its nuclear program. Because for North Korea that really would be a red line. That would cause significant hardening of the international position.

But at a minimum you can say that there is a lot of back-and-forth between Teheran and Pyongyang. They’re probably comparing notes and strategies. The Taepodong 2 missile and the Shahab long-range Iranian missile are essentially the same missile. They’re probably sharing data and information.

RCA: We seem to know very little about the internal workings of the North Korean regime. Do you think domestic considerations play a role in Kim’s decision to launch the missiles?

MG: Kim Jong Il could take care of his problems – collapsed economy, massive malnutrition, if not starvation, in some parts of the country, an increasingly, by all accounts, disaffected elite, even in this cult of personality that is North Korea – he could take care of a lot of those problems, perhaps, by taking up the Six Party Talk Proposal, and opening up, and having more trade, improved diplomatic negotiations with the U.S. and Japan. The U.S. has said clearly, and so has Japan, that if they start giving up the nuclear weapons, if they sign on and implementing the September Agreement, we’ll negotiate with them about how to remove obstacles to normalization. And so has Japan.

So they could go down that path. But he clearly, to me, fears his own people more than anything else. And to go down that path would be to expose them to the outside world, and undercut his entire reason for ruling the country. And I think the choice he is making is to take the international pressure, to use his nuclear weapons, to defy the international community, to see if he can extract attention, cash, diplomatic legitimacy, without making fundamental changes.

RCA: Well, that strategy has worked well for him in the past, hasn’t it? He seems to have quite an appetite for carrots.

MG: They may have gone too far this time. Because they’re moving up the escalation ladder much faster than China anticipated. And, in fact, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, told them, “Don’t launch.” He publicly told them. And they did it, not only with one missile, but with seven. So, China, I think, recognizes this escalation pattern. And it’s not that many rungs on the ladder until they get to a nuclear test. Which for China is a nightmare.

China’s worst-case scenarios are two. One is a nuclear test, with all of the knock-on effects around the region, with Taiwan, Japan, Korea. The other is the collapse of North Korea. Which means refugees, a unified Korea aligned with the U.S., and all the rest. They’ve tried to balance those two fears by putting a little pressure on North Korea, but not so much that they might become unruly and maybe unstable. So I think the North Koreans are demonstrating that the Chinese bet that they can coax North Korea onto a better path with trade isn’t working. And the Chinese now have to be seriously debating the approach they’ve taken. And, they, I think, they’re going to come out a little tougher than -- significantly tougher than – in the past in the Security Council and elsewhere. It won’t be where the US and Japan are. It won’t even be where South Korea is. But it will be tougher than where China has been in the past. Which North Korea needs to hear.

RCA: How do you think all of this will affect Japan’s domestic politics and conduct of international relations?

MG: The Japanese strategic culture has undergone very significant change over the past ten years. As you will remember well, in the late eighties, and in the early nineties, as the Cold War was ending, there was a lot of confidence – almost hubris – in Japan, that they could ride out this new international system, based on technological and economic power. And in the nineties the Japanese economy underwent stagnation, the old model didn’t work. China became far more influential than before, and didn’t listen to Japan’s entreaties. And North Korea started launching missiles. Most significantly the 1998 first Taepodong launch.

And all of this, I think, has shaken the Japanese system up. So that the Japanese people have a real sense that it’s a dangerous world, and that they need allies like the U.S., and they need their own defense capabilities. That’s probably healthy. But it means that for the first time since the War, over the past ten years, the Japanese public is really thinking hard about their own security. And it puts, I think, much more of an obligation on the U.S., as an ally, to prove that we’re there, to prove that we’re a good ally. I personally have no problem with Japan expanding its security role. But I think that the U.S. should always be very attuned and very sensitive to how credible we are. Because we’re still Japan’s first and most important line of defense.

RCA: Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Mike, and for your time. I hope to have a more comprehensive interview with you up on the Japan Considered website in the near future.

Comments from Dr. Robert Orr from Tokyo.

Dr. Robert Orr, president of Boeing Japan, expressed similar views via e-mail earlier today. Skipp has spent a long time in Tokyo, and has developed a keen sense of Japanese public, political, and bureaucratic sentiment. You can read more about him in his Japan Considered interview. I’ll put a link to the interview in the transcript and the show notes. He commented that Japan’s appreciation of the value of the alliance with the United States now is far greater than it was in the past. During the Cold War, he said, the Soviet-American conflict was seen in Japan as largely a European problem, and therefore more abstract. Now, it’s no longer so abstract.    

Concluding Comments.

Well, we’re already out of time. Comments on DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa’s visit to Mainland China and on the significance of the Shiga gubernatorial election will have to wait until next week. And I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of the North Korean missile launch fallout either. Please continue to send your comments and suggestions to me by e-mail at RobertCAngel@gmail.com. And visit the website at www.JapanConsidered.org. Tune in next week when we’ll again consider how current events are affecting Japan’s domestic politics and international relations. No time for bluegrass again! This has to stop. I’ve got a lot of inspiring clips waiting that you should hear. So …

Goodbye all. Until next week.