Japan's `pacifism' on test

Published : Aug 27, 2004 00:00 IST

Seen in the context of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, the recent re-organisation of Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs implies a reconsideration of its `pacifism'.

in Singapore

ON August 2 Japan announced a reorganisation of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs - a move that is significant for reasons beyond the bare facts. Japan has now vowed to "develop a pro-active diplomacy" with a "strategic" thrust.

For those outside Japan, the most notable of the new measures in this direction is the establishment of the Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Science Department under the Ministry. For the Japanese themselves, the most important new measure is the "upgradation" of the existing Consular and Migration Affairs Department to the status of the Consular Affairs Bureau.

The Bureau, it is said, "aims at improving consular services" and, more specifically, "enhancing safety measures for Japanese nationals abroad". This aspect is music to the Japanese ears in the context of the people's concern over the safety of their compatriots living abroad - a concern heightened by the killing of two Japanese diplomats by suspected terrorists in Iraq.

Also, the prolonged deployment of several hundred Japanese military personnel belonging to the Self-Defence Forces (SDF) in Iraq at this time has angered sundry militant groups and the anti-U.S. resistance units in that country. Japan's persistent defence of the SDF deployment as a purely "humanitarian mission", with no combat-related mandate, seems to have been ignored by the Iraqi "guerilla" groups. The forces such as the SDF are seen by the Islamic groups as occupation forces, notwithstanding Japan's hope that the recent United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546 on the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq would make a difference to the status of the foreign military units in that country.

Of much importance to Japan's domestic constituencies is the creation of the post of a Deputy Assistant Vice-Minister (Crisis Management), designed to reassure the Japanese that their interests would be protected against any terrorist strike at home or abroad.

APART from the formation of a new department to deal with disarmament and non-proliferation issues, the establishment of the Intelligence and Analysis Service under the Foreign Ministry has international implications.

Post-imperial Japan has never tired of projecting its pacifist foreign policy, the genesis of which can be traced to the Yoshida Doctrine, which legitimised the security umbrella that Washington unfurled over Tokyo to protect American interests in the Asia-Pacific region. The umbrella was gradually enlarged to cover the nuclear security aspects of Japan, especially after China developed an atomic arsenal after first detonating a device in 1964. Prior to the "nuclearisation" of China, the U.S. security guarantees for post-imperial Japan were generally understood to include protection against the Soviet Union, a nuclear superpower.

While the Yoshida Doctrine was known for its economic content, in particular the accent on Japan's re-industrialisation to make up for the terrible losses it suffered during the Second World War, its foreign-policy spin-off was Tokyo's "pacifism". In the international arena, Tokyo's recent decision to deploy troops in Iraq triggered the first genuine apprehensions about its possible move to bid farewell to "pacifism" (Frontline, January 16, 2004).

However, an issue of greater implications for its "pacifism" would be an explicit development or acquisition of nuclear weapons by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea or North Korea, which lies under the political penumbra of an economic superpower such as Japan. Much of Japan's policy orientation on non-proliferation issues, especially in recent years, is directed against the North Korean nuclear weapons programme, although Tokyo reacted furiously to the nuclear-arms detonations by India and Pakistan in 1998. It imposed economic sanctions on these countries, invoking lofty principles under which it hid the reasons of narrow big-power politics. But the sanctions were withdraw about three years later in a changed global geo-political environment.

The creation of the new department in Tokyo to deal with the inter-related issues of disarmament and non-proliferation, besides relevant scientific issues, can be seen, therefore, in the context of Japan's equation, or the lack of it, with North Korea. It has been set up with the stated aim of "enforcing international security efforts, including non-proliferation". In practical diplomacy, this means advocacy of the "enforceable" sanctity of the old (and discriminatory) nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the theoretical principles enshrined in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Japan is actively engaged in the ongoing six-party process aimed at "de-nuclearising" North Korea sooner rather than later. Tokyo's prime trump card is economic diplomacy - the promise of liberal doses of aid under conditions to be defined, in exchange for the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of North Korea's nuclear-weapons programmes (the suspected parallel methods of plutonium-use and uranium-enrichment).

Authoritative Japanese sources indicated to Frontline that Tokyo may come under pressure to take a close look at its "nuclear pacifism". It is still anybody's guess how Japan will at all think of taking a leaf out of India's book on the question of disarmament and make a decisive move in the face of the double-speak of the U.S. and other big powers on non-proliferation.

Yutaka Kawashima, an eminent Japanese diplomat-turned-policy analyst, recently said: "As for Japan, needless to say, the possession of nuclear weapons by North Korea (at some stage in the future) would be a truly nightmarish and totally unacceptable development. It is suspected that North Korea might be eager to develop another MAD (mutually assured destruction) strategy in regard to Japan through the combined threat of nuclear weapons and Nodong missiles, so that it has the luxury of holding two hostages, South Korea and Japan, to ensure its survival."

Japan's new disarmament department will now focus on such scenarios, while at the level of diplomacy the "science" section will probably zero in on such aspects as the ongoing U.S.-Japan research on missile defence.

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