January 2, 2009; Volume 05, Number 01

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

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Dr. James Auer on Japan and Collective Self Defense
Concluding Comments

Good Morning! From Beautiful Spring Valley. In the Midlands of South Carolina. Today is Friday, January 2nd, 2009. And you are listening to Volume 05, Number 01, of the Japan Considered Podcast.


A chilly and overcast South Carolina today. But, Happy New Year to you all, far and near. Yes, Volume 5 already. We’ve been at this business for a while now. Three full years-worth of programs in the can, so to speak. And a month-and-a-half more from 2005. Lots of material on Japan’s domestic politics and conduct of international relations!  All maintained in the Japan Considered Project archives files. Both audio files and program transcripts. You can search through hundreds of pages of text for topics of interest. Just punch your search string into the Google search window on the main page of the Podcast section. It works pretty well. Though sometimes it’s embarrassing to me at times to be reminded of errors and misinterpretations in the past !

Today, we’ll begin by returning to the topic of collective self defense. We considered that on the last program of 2008 in the context of Japan’s response to the Gulf of Aden piracy issue. And I received a good bit of e-mail on the subject. Not about the anti-piracy issue specifically. But about Japan’s position on collective self defense.

Then, if time permits, we’ll turn to the hottest topic in Japan’s political news these days by far: the timing of the next general election. Considering why there hasn’t been one since 2005. And what that means for Japan overall.

Dr. James Auer on Japan and Collective Self Defense

First, though, we have to look again at this issue of Japan and collective self defense. On our last program, we considered Japan’s response to the growing problem of piracy in the Gulf of Aden. And the United Nations’ call for member nations to support the effort to neutralize the piracy threat. By deploying “naval vessels and military aircraft” in the region, as the Security Council put it. Nothing ambiguous about that.

Japan is a long-standing member of the United Nations. In fact, serving, at the moment, another two-year term as an elected member of the Security Council itself. Arguing persuasively that it should be a permanent member of that important body. Yet Prime Minister Taro Aso has had difficulty developing a consensus even within the government on the dispatch of Japanese military assets to join the U.N. effort.

Since this is well beyond my own areas of expertise – real or presumed! – it’s wise to ask for help from a real expert. As we often do on this program. This issue of collective self defense is far too important, and sensitive, to risk errors of fact or interpretation. And, with a new Administration about to assume office in Washington, we may be hearing more about it in the near future. I hope not, but we may.

[Begin Auer SkypePhone Interview]

RCA: So let’s give Dr. Jim Auer a call. Jim’s the director of the Center for U.S.-Japan Studies and Cooperation at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, and a frequent contributor to this program. He’s worked on this issue since at least the 1960s.


JA: Good Morning. Happy New Year.

RCA: Happy New Year to you. And thanks for taking the call today.

JA: Surely

RCA: Last program I tried to present a few of the concerns in Japan about responding to the current rash of piracy in the Gulf of Aden. And raised the question of collective self defense. That inspired quite a number of e-mail inquiries asking for some more information. So, here we are, coming to you on January 2nd to get your views on this. Where did this problem all begin?

JA: Well, way back when, we all remember the Constitution and Article Nine. Now, Article Nine was re-worded, and the rewording was done by then Member of the House of Representatives, Hitoshi Ashida, later to become prime minister. He said at the time, 1946, to clarify the Constitution. But later he admitted that he changed the wording to allow Japan to have self defense forces some day. And the Occupation accepted that.

In 1952, Japan did make a decision that it could defend itself, at least minimally, and the San Francisco Peace Treaty very clearly said that Japan has the right of individual and collective self defense. In 1955 Japan joined the United Nations. And the United Nations is essentially a collective defense organization. And its charter grants the right of collective self defense to all members.

But some fifteen years later, in the early 1970s, when the Opposition was boycotting the Diet over, I believe, passage of the annual budget, the Sato Cabinet’s Legislative Office put out a statement that as a sovereign nation Japan has the right of individual and collective self defense. But because of Article Nine of the Constitution, Japan could not exercise collective self defense.

I call that, at the time, a ten-pound gorilla. Because the military capability, the self defense capability, of Japan at that time was so limited. If we fast-forward to the 1980s, and continuing today, Japan has quite a significant defense capability. One of the larger defense budgets in the world. Especially if you take out the super-power, the United States.

So, today, that ten-pound gorilla is a 300-pound gorilla. Japan does not mind having the United States defend Japan. In fact, the Japanese say that the U.S.-Japan Alliance is the foundation of Japan’s security. But Japan at the same time says, unfortunately we can’t help you do that. We can be helped, but we cannot help you.

And this is the problem that exists today. There are some people who say Japan should not do anything. But, in fact, what are the purposes of the Japanese Self Defense Forces? Quite significant forces. 100 anti-submarine warfare planes; 200 modern F-15 fighters, that they’re trying to upgrade into even more modern fighters now; 12 divisions in its Army. What are these forces for? Japan is very unlikely to be attacked in isolation. So, if Japan can’t use these forces …. And even a lot of young Japanese are asking this question: “What are our self-defense forces for?”

RCA: Is it usual for two countries to have a security treaty in which only one of them is obligated to defend the other?

JA: Again, I think there’s no other situation in the world. And I think very few Americans understand that although the United States can help defend Japan, Japan cannot help the United States. Even in the defense of Japan, unless the actual territory of Japan is attacked. If a North Korean missile is fired, theoretically, the Japanese can’t shoot it down until they’re sure it’s coming to Japan, rather than going to Korea, to the United States, or to some place other than Japan.

RCA: Even if they knew it was going to the United States, they couldn’t shoot it down?

JA: They cannot. That would be collective self defense. And therefore it would be prohibited for them. By that statement of the Cabinet Legislative Office of 1972.

RCA: Let’s get back to that a second, if we can. For Japan to have, I guess, if other countries don’t have this, a “normal” position on collective self defense, would it require a revision of the Constitution? Or would it just require a reinterpretation of that Sato-era Legislative Office interpretation?

JA: The Constitution does not mention the word “collective” or “individual” self defense. The Constitution can be read two ways. The way, essentially, it was read from 1947 to 1952, that Japan is not allowed any military force for any purpose. And then the way it’s been read since 1952. That Japan is allowed to have forces for self defense. But, again, no other nation in the world tries to distinguish between what is individual self defense and what is collective self defense.

When I’m in Japan speaking to Japanese groups I often ask, particularly members of the Self Defense Forces, would you defend your wife, or would you defend your daughter, if she were attacked by a mad man in the streets, or by a wild dog, or something. And, of course, they always say “Yes.” But then I say, according to that principle, that you cannot defend another party unless you yourself are attacked, they should say “No.” They’re not allowed to do that as Japanese. That’s the illogic of the situation we’re talking about here.

RCA: In the beginning you mentioned that membership in the United Nations “allowed” Japan to exercise collective self defense. Does it “allow”? Or does it “require” Japan to do that?

JA: I don’t have the Charter here before me. But I believe it says that members of this organization have the right of collective defense. That decision back in 1972 does not challenge that. But says that because of the second sentence of Article Nine of the Constitution, Japan cannot “exercise” that right that it has.

Now, what we really get down to, Japan itself is very much divided on this issue. People such as former ambassador, and still quite active Japanese strategic analyst and pundit, Okazaki Hisahiko, states that was a legitimate political decision by the government at the time. But that it was not an amendment to the Constitution. We know that the Constitution has never been amended. There was no law passed, stating that this was the case. It was simply a statement of Cabinet policy. I believe Okazaki is correct in that analysis. And essentially, this is what former prime minister Abe was trying to do. By going back and looking at that policy statement, and making a new policy statement. Abe was not prepared to totally renounce the earlier statement. But at least in four cases, several of which involved a missile being shot by a country such as North Korea, that Japan could respond, together with its partner, the United States, in this kind of a scenario.

RCA: That was the finding of the Yanai Commission, wasn’t it?

JA: Correct.

RCA: If I understand this…. And again, this is far from my areas of expertise, either presumed or real. But if I understand, then all this would require would be for an incumbent cabinet to instruct its bureaucrats to issue a reinterpretation of the Constitution.

JA: That is correct. The Cabinet Legislative Office is not an elected body. It’s an organ of the Japanese government under the direction of the prime minister.

RCA: Hmmm. I guess this is an issue … How did you describe it? A 300-pound gorilla?

JA: It’s grown to be a 300-pound gorilla. And, in the case of the current, on-going situation in the Near East, Japan sent ground forces to Iraq for several years. They’ve come back. Japan did have some cargo aircraft in Iraq, which are just in the process of coming back. Japanese ships are still in the Indian Ocean at this time refueling. And may continue that for another year or so, depending on the outcome of the next elections. But these self-defense forces were engaged in very much logistic missions. And I think the United States was quite satisfied with that.

But if there would be a conflict scenario on the Korean Peninsula. Or, if there were, for example, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. And the United States asked the Japanese assistance. And Japan said “Well, we’d like to, but unfortunately we can’t, because of this policy.” Then, I think you could have Americans becoming – and the American government becoming – much more concerned about why are we there helping Japan, if Japan can’t at least help us when we’re acting in a scenario that very much affects Japan’s national security and national interest.

RCA: Exactly. That’s exactly what concerns me. People in Japan who are concerned about this can maintain the position of opposing collective self defense only because of the Security Treaty. If they endanger either the existence or the utility of that Security Treaty, then things would change dramatically in Japan. It doesn’t seem like a sensible policy to me.

JA: Well, it doesn’t seem to me that either. And although the United States has always desired to have military bases in Japan, and still does so today, certainly with the end of the Cold War, the need for U.S. bases in Japan is not as great as it was before. And there’s the potential for a cost-benefit analysis. Is it worth it to stay there? And particularly is it worth it if, in fact, Japan will not participate, and make this a collective, shared effort.

RCA: My. Not too encouraging. Political conditions have changed. We both know why, during the Sato Administration this was done. The Sato-led LDP didn’t want to do battle with the Socialists at the time. But the Socialists are gone. And I can’t imagine that the DPJ, or the more sensible people in the DPJ, would really resist this on anything other than just plain political grounds.

JA: There certainly are some in the DPJ who are as in favor of Japan’s changing that policy as people like Okazaki are. DPJ leader Ozawa himself has said that Japan cannot do anything not connected with the United Nations. Now, whether that’s a fundamental belief of Ozawa’s. Or kind of an opportunistic move to challenge the current government is something I have an opinion on. But that I’m not qualified to say for sure.

RCA: Well, I’m sure Mr. Ozawa looks only at the national interest in all of his prouncements.

JA: I hope so.

RCA: Is there anything else that we should mention on this topic, Jim?

JA: It’s to me unfortunate that Abe was not able to receive the report and implement it while he was still in office. The recommendations of the Yanai Committee which you mentioned. Abe did not fall over this issue. But Fukuda was not as interested in this issue as was Abe. So he let the Committee report lie. I thought Aso might pick it up and implement it. But then he got into his own troubles. Again, not related to this issue. And he has not brought it up, to my knowledge. So, I’m afraid any change in this situation is some distance in the future. Unless some crisis comes along. If some crisis comes along, the policy might be changed very quickly.

RCA: Well, we have a mini-crisis with the pirates in the Gulf of Aden. That doesn’t seem to be serious enough, I guess.

JA: The situation in Aden itself, probably not. There is some pressure now because China is going to Aden and the Japanese don’t want to be showed up on that. But the kind of crisis I’m talking about is some kind of irrational North Korean attack on a Japanese city. That would change the policy over night. But that would come, obviously, at a very, very horrible cost to Japan.

RCA: As always, thank you for your comments, and for your time ….

JA: Sorry to start the New Year so negatively.

RCA: These things need to be understood, though. And understood accurately. It’s far more important than just a political one-upsman-ship operation here, I think.

JA: Well, I think it is important. And I think that Japan ought to consider it very seriously. Obviously, it’s Japan’s decision to make. But I think they ought to take it very seriously. And hopefully before a crisis forces them to take it.

RCA: Good point. Thanks again, Jim. I appreciate your time.

JA: My pleasure.

[End of Interview]

Concluding Comments

Well, there you have it. Hard to get a more qualified source on that particular subject than Jim Auer. For over a decade he was at the very center of the policymaking process on that issue in Washington before retiring to academic life. We’re lucky to have him willing to come on the program. If you haven’t met Jim, be sure to have a look at his academic and professional profile on the Interviews page of the Japan Considered Project Website. I’ll try to remember to put a link in the program transcript to the interview.

Of course, there’s another side to the issue. Or, more accurately, other “sides.” As I’m sure Jim would agree. A number of the e-mails I received following the last program pointed that out. Good point! And I certainly didn’t intend to give the impression last week that there isn’t. Not all opposition to Japan’s exercise of collective self defense is driven by political motives. Pockets of opposition to Japan’s exercise of military force  in any form remain. Even in defense of obvious national interests. Including U.N.-sanctioned operations of the current antipiracy sort. Especially within Japan’s intellectual elite. So we shouldn’t assume that all opposition to Japan’s participation in U.N.-sanctioned antipiracy operations is politically motivated. And we’ll have to keep reminding ourselves of that once the issue is taken up in the Diet. Which seems likely that it will be now.

Also, speaking of political motivation, we also should mention that anti-military forces within Japan aren’t the only ones to “play politics” with the current antipiracy effort participation issue. Supporters of a stronger military within Japan may also politicize the issue in an effort to relax legal restrictions on Japan’s use of military force overall. Especially restrictions on the types of weapons that can and can’t be used by Japan’s deployed military forces. There’s some evidence that that too is happening now in Tokyo. This is an important, but complicated issue. To be further complicated, undoubtedly, by parliamentary politics in Japan this year.

Well, we’re nearly out of time again today. Well worth it, though, since we got to hear Jim Auer’s latest take on this complex defense issue. I’d hoped to discuss the timing of the next general election. That’s the hot topic of the moment in Japan’s political media. All sorts of posturing by various contingents within the LDP. And by the Opposition, of course. And all sorts of speculation on the timing of the next election by journalists and the punditocracy. I myself  haven’t the slightest idea when the next general election will occur. But we certainly should have a look at the issue. Examining the various factors likely to help determine when it will be held. That will have to wait until next program, though. So, thanks again to Dr. Jim Auer, and

Goodbye all. Until next time.