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It has a long time since I last posted here. Following the end of university course and the beginning of life as a graduate, it got gradually harder to write with the quality I expected.

However, in the past few months I have been living and working in Japan, and I have been blogging about my time there. With the move of this other blog to WordPress.com, I will now absorb Abduction Politics into its framework. While there will be less politics per post, the overall number of posts will be greatly increased.

Please join me over at James in Japan: http://jamesinjapan.wordpress.com

So, Japanese-North Korean relations are coming to some kind of crescendo leaving a number of questions in its wake, but first, an overview:

The other side also indicated the notion that there is a need to move forward. We will hold deeper exchanges of views over a longer period next week

- Saiki Akitaka Director-General Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau MOFA (Sunday, June 8, 2008)

If our counterpart makes a significant step forward and takes concrete action, then we, too, will take a big step in response. If it is a small step, ours will also be small. The other side has first to carry out what it should do, and we will evaluate that to see what kind of action is deemed appropriate on our side.

- Komura Masahiko Foreign Minister (Wednesday, June 11, 2008)

We had in-depth exchanges (Thursday) on issues including the abduction problem.

-Saiki Akitaka (Friday, June 13, 2008)

Pyongyang has promised to reopen its investigation into the missing Japanese its spies abducted, and Tokyo will partially lift economic sanctions in response.

The announcement was made Friday by Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, who said, however, that Pyongyang’s new promise is “a small step” and Tokyo will only lift the ban on chartered flights and trips between the two countries, including port calls by ships carrying humanitarian aid from private entities. The North is also willing to hand over one of the four surviving Japanese leftist radicals who hijacked a Japan Airlines jet to Pyongyang in 1970 and two of the radicals’ wives.

- The Japan Times (Saturday, June 14, 2008)

Tobias Harris discusses how this will cause fallout in the Diet, particularly in the context of US-North Korea negotiations.

Even would-be defenders of the move are skeptical. Yamamoto Ichita, a member of the association to promote the prudent advance of North Korean diplomacy, a Diet members’ league that has called for an approach to North Korea that uses both pressure and negotiation with North Korea (as opposed to just pressure), expressed fears that the US will use the new agreement to claim that Japan and North Korea are making progress, thereby enabling the US to remove North Korea from the state sponsors of terrorism list. […]

But it is revealing that even a natural defender of the government’s use of diplomacy to extract concessions from Pyongyang has greeted Friday’s announcement with skepticism for reasons having less to do with North Korea than with the US. The damage of Mr. Abe’s year in office, during which the US and Japan went opposite directions on North Korea without bothering to discuss it openly and frankly. Japanese have some right to be distrustful of the US — but at the same time, it was wrong for Japanese to think that there would be no consequences from the Abe cabinet’s hard line on North Korea. It is time to repair the damage; Friday’s announcement is a good start. After isolating itself from the other five, Japan is at the very least rejoining the process.

When you add Okamura Jun’s comments below, it seems like it was an inevitable result of Japan getting left behind in the Six-Party Talks.

Thus, the more nationalistic/hawkish elements of the media will blast Mr. Fukuda for making the deal—Sankei has already come out strongly against easing the sanctions. But there was no viable alternative. There is no way that an LDP Prime Minister, whatever his personal inclinations may be, could hope to stand in the way of a nuclear programs deal that the U.S. government is determined to push through without losing face, or worse, just possibly throw the whole process off track by giving a somewhat implausible Congressional coalition of human rights advocates and national security hawks ammunition to cut down the main track agreement on North Korea’s nuclear program. The abductees issue has existed only between the lines in the agreement under the Six-Party Talks. There is no way that the Bush administration, or any U.S. administration for that matter, would allow it to take a front seat to the main issue.

If anything, Japan is going through the motion. It is a concession of its lack of influence within the Six-Party Talks which are, if anything, just dressing for US-North Korea negotiations. The power and influence lies within those two poles. The US move towards de-listing North Korea from the list of state-sponsors of terrorism has paid lip service to Japan’s concerns over the abduction issue, but highlighting the worries of being left behind, the Kazokukai were urging the US to consider the abduction issue before de-listing as this most recent phase of abduction fever kicked up.

With the possibility of shedding the excesses of Abe’s handling of the abduction issue, it is possible that Japan can scratch back some meaningful role from the dust that has covered its seat in Beijing. One question remains: at what cost? We’ll have to wait for this to play out before we can truly tell.

The Supreme Court said Monday that 2.9 percent of defendants who pleaded not guilty to criminal charges were found innocent at their initial trials in 2007, marking the highest level in a decade.

- ‘Innocent rate’ rises to highest in decade, The Japan Times, Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

The above quote summarises the progress of legal change in Japan, a country renowned for its incredibly high conviction rate in the region of 99.9%. Note that the 2.9% mentioned above by no means leave a conviction rate of 97.1%: the statistic refers to the rate of people found innocent after having pleaded not guilty.

District courts handed down rulings on 69,238 defendants last year, of whom 4,984 denied the charges against them as their trials opened.

Of the defendants pleading innocent, 97 were found fully innocent and 48 partially innocent. Among their trials were 896 serious cases, such as murder and arson, that will require the involvement of citizen judges. In the serious category, 19 of the defendants were found completely or partially innocent.

The 4,984 denial cases represent just 7.2% of the total cases brought to court. The 145 defendants that were found fully or partially innocent represent only 0.21% of the total cases brought to trial. Thus Japan can be said to have a conviction rate of 99.79%. When seen this way, this news hardly seems spectacular, despite urgings to the contrary:

The so-called innocent rate at the initial trial level was up from 2.6 percent in 2006 after hovering above 2 percent since 2003, according to the Supreme Court’s Criminal Affairs Bureau. It hovered between 1.2 percent and 1.9 percent from 1998 to 2002.

The 0.3% difference between 2006 and 2007, based on 4984 denial cases, translates into just over 14 extra people being let off.

I just finished watching Sou Masayuki’s Soredemo, Boku wa Yattenai starring Kase Ryo and Yakusho Koji. For me, this movie and more particularly its reception represents the culmination of pressure movements against the Japanese legal system. The movie is as much a criticism of the system as any of the Phoenix Wright (Gyakuten Saiban) games – which present very bleak pictures of the flaws in the system: an overly powerful prosecution, biased judges and police, and flawed evidence presentation procedures.

Returning to the movie, it is the story of a false accusation of molestation aboard a train. In this crime there are two victims: the woman who was actually molested, and the man whose life is ruined by her misidentification of him as the culprit. It is this man’s refusal to accept this charge that sets him up against the system as Sou masterfully exposes the flaws of the Japanese justice system.

“As a Japanese citizen, I was very angry to find that such injustice exists in this society. But even though I lived in Japan, I didn’t know this, and I think many others don’t know about it, either,” Suo said. “And having recognized this, I couldn’t just go on with life as if I didn’t know anything about it.”

- ‘I Just Didn’t Do It’ questions court system, The Japan Times, Friday, February 2nd, 2007

I can recommend this movie to anyone for any purpose. It is great entertainment as well as a great insight into both the Japanese style of power and the minutiae of the justice system.

To summarise the problem at hand, I want to leave you with the conclusion to a paper by J. Mark Ramseyer and Eric Rasmusen entitled ‘Why is the Japanese Conviction Rate so High?’ (1999):

Japanese courts convict. Courts convict in America too, of course, but in Japan they convict with a vengeance: over 99 percent of the time. Even in cases where the defendant contests his guilt, they convict over 98 percent of the time. Are courts convicting the guilty and innocent alike, or are prosecutors merely choosing the guiltiest defendants to try? Absent independent evidence of the guilt of the accused, one cannot directly tell.

In this article, we pursue indirect evidence on point. First, Japanese prosecutors are woefully understaffed. Tied as they are to a severe budget constraint, one might expect them to try only the most obviously guilty. Unbiased courts would then convict. The conviction rate would
approach 100 percent, but only because most of the defendants were guilty. […]

Are Japanese courts unbiased? Initially, Japanese judges seem to face significantly biased incentives: judges who acquit seem more likely to suffer a career penalty than those who convict. Yet a closer look at the judges punished for their acquittals suggests a classic omitted-variable problem — and returns us to our hypothesis about prosecutorial resources. The acquittals that generate apparent punishment are sometimes cases where judges sided with opposition parties in politically charged cases, and otherwise cases where the judge may simply have interpreted the law wrongly. Never are they cases where the judge decided that the prosecutors simply brought the wrong man. Instead, we know from other studies that the Japanese courts generally reward politically reliability and intelligence — and the observed punishment may simply reflect that broader phenomenon.

Following the phenomenal success of my piece on Japan’s Future Fighters, I have decided to look at another element of Japan’s forces: the Main Battle Tank (MBT). Japan’s military forces (or if we don’t want to get caught up in semantic arguments: defence forces) are undergoing a change in posture reflecting the increased weakening of Article 9 of the Japanese Post-War Constitution. Japan’s current MBT is the Type-90 (T-90).

Japan\'s Current Main Battle Tank

The T-90 was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which produces among other things licensed defence products such as the PATRIOT anti-ballistic missile platform, the F-15J, and the F-2. It entered service in 1990 (hence the moniker). It is relatively lightweight at 50.2 tonnes when compared to the superlative M1 Abrams (61.4 tonnes), Challenger 2 (62.5 tonnes), or Merkava (65 tonnes), as well as having a smaller profile. The introduction of an ammunition auto-loader eliminated the need for a fourth crewman, one of the first tanks to do so. Its 120mm smoothbore cannon design is produced under license from the German company Rheinmetall, which is also found in both the Merkava and Abrams, but the rest of the design and production is wholly homegrown. It uses multi-layered armour, combined with modular ceramic composite armour, particularly on the frontal areas. In addition, the system has benefited from laser and thermal-guided gun and turret controls, supposedly one of the best fire control systems in the world.

Line Drawing of T-90

The T-90 reflects Japan’s role in the Cold War and its own image of its post-Cold War role, essentially the defence of the Japanese islands against a conventional armed attack. It was designed and built to operate across the range of environments in Japan as an anti-tank weapon. However, with its design over 20 years old, and the concept nearly 30, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has picked up the TK-X or Type-10 (T-10).

The T-10 addresses some of the flaws of the T-90. The weight of the T-90 restricted its operations to Hokkaido as Japanese road laws forbade the use of the heavy transporter trailers needed to cart the tank around the country. The TK-X fundamentally weighs 40 tonnes and can be carried on standard commercial trailers. Furthermore, the T-90 had vertical turret boards that were likely to absorb the brunt of an anti-tank weapon whereas the T-10 has been designed with sloped turret boards to deflect some of the impact. Furthermore, the T-10 allows for more significant side armour by way of modular components.

44-ton Configuration of the T-10

What the T-90 did well, in many cases the T-10 is designed to do those things just a little bit better. It is a mid-generation (‘3.5 generation’) tank continuing the trend towards armour vs. armour conceptions of defence despite the possibility of a wider role for the GSDF in coming years. This particular future MBT may thus, in some ways, be outdated by the time it enters service (if trends continue).

To be fair, however, Japan’s current peacekeeping role better suits medium- or light-armoured vehicles. It is in the future procurement of these systems that we will see how well the SDF has taken onboard expectations of Japanese capabilities in peacekeeping operations. Until that time, we can assume that it is business as usual at the GSDF.

Given that there are only a few months to the July 2008 G8 Summit in Toyako, Hokkaido, it seems awfully seredipitous that the abduction issue is hitting the headlines again. In May, so far, the Japan Times has thrice reported stories relating to the issue.

On May 4th, it reported:

Don’t delist North: abductee group

A senior member representing families of Japanese abducted by North Korea urged the United States on Friday to keep North Korea on its list of terror-sponsoring nations until the abduction issue is resolved.

Teruaki Masumoto, secretary general of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, made the pitch with supporters in a meeting with Christopher Hill, the top U.S. envoy to the six-party North Korea denuclearization talks.

“If North Korea is delisted, it will give the country breathing space and make efforts to rescue our families take longer. So we want North Korea to be kept on the list,” he told reporters after emerging from the meeting at the U.S. State Department.

[…]

“My impression is that Mr. Hill takes what North Korea says at face value and may not believe the victims of the abductions are still alive,” Masumoto said. “We believe the victims are definitely alive.”

Whenever the Kazokukai are in the US, you can be sure that more news will follow as the cohorts renew their politicking.

From May 10th:

Tokyo denies asking Seoul for Yokota meeting

The government Friday denied a media report that Japan asked South Korea to help arrange a meeting between the parents of Megumi Yokota […] and her granddaughter, who still lives in the reclusive state.

“The media report is not based on facts,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told a news conference. “It is a very regrettable article when considering the feelings of the Yokota couple,” he said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported Friday morning that Kyoko Nakayama, an Upper House member and special adviser to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on the abduction issue, asked Seoul to help arrange with North Korea a meeting in South Korea between Shigeru and Sakie Yokota and Megumi’s daughter and former husband.

Citing a source knowledgeable of Japanese-South Korean relations, the article said Nakayama made the request during her visit to Seoul last month and said she intended to return cremated remains that North Korea handed to Japan in 2004 claiming they were those of Megumi, if such a meeting were arranged.

Nakayama flatly denied making such remarks when she visited Seoul on April 25. Nakayama told reporters that while she is aware the Yokotas want to meet with their granddaughter, it is not something that can be achieved by making a request to Seoul for help.

Nakayama also said the issue of the cremated remains was not even mentioned in her talks with the officials and repeated that Japan’s policy is that it will not return them to North Korea.

Has North Korea even asked for those ashes back? Doesn’t it still maintain that they are Yokotas, questioning the DNA testing along with assumedly neutral Nature, the science journal/magazine? The story seems absurd, so much so that I wonder what prompted it. Slow news day, perhaps? That the Yokotas would like to meet their granddaughter seems assured, but to suggest that the government would attempt to use the dodgy ashes to bargain with North Korea by way of the warier Lee Administration seems a little far-fetched. Such a policy doesn’t fit within the framework of dialogue and pressure, but, were it true and if it succeeded, it would have made for a good photoshoot ahead of the G8 Summit, in line with the raised stature of the abduction issue while all (some?) eyes are on Japan. Thus, I am on the fence with this one. Was it the Yomiuri trying to show up the government, or was it the matter of the government trying to prepare to raise the abduction issue in the context of the G8 Summit? I can’t tell.

Finally, from May 12th:

N. Korea suggested existence of other abductees in 2004

North Korea suggested to a Japanese official in early 2004 that there were abductees other than the 15 officially recognized as abduction victims by Tokyo at that time, government sources said Sunday.

Yoshiyuki Inoue, who was in charge of the abduction issue at the Cabinet Office, sought information on abductees other than the 15 when he visited North Korea several times between late 2003 and January 2004, and officials there indicated readiness to reveal the fates of some of them, according to the sources.

[…]Inoue was discussing with North Korea repatriation of family members of five abductees who had returned to Japan in October 2002, and examination of the whereabouts of another 10 abductees, the sources said. But Pyongyang suspended the talks in February 2004 when his visits to North Korea came to light in a media report.

This is the clincher. If North Korea can be shown to willfully withheld information from the Japanese government in its 2002-2004 diplomacy efforts, then there is justification for the further pursuit of the abduction issue (beyond the slightly naive notion that Yokota Megumi is alive). However, that Inoue failed to comment is notable: this is surely untrue. Would Abe Shinzo, most particularly, have failed to have levied such a charge against the North? I doubt that.

Abduction politics comes in fits and starts. How extensive this current concentration of noise becomes will not be clear until the G8 Summit begins, but I imagine that Japan will once again call upon the other 7 members to stand against North Korea’s human rights abuses and finally, although perhaps impossibly, bring Yokota Megumi home.

The Fall of Modern Japan by Alex KerrThere are two well-established traditions when writing about Japan: uncritical praise, and now far more commonly, passionate criticism. I like to think of myself as in the latter category: I love Japan as a country and I love its society, but there are many things wrong that we simply cannot ignore. Alex Kerr loves Japan too, or rather its potential, but despairs of its current state of being. Dogs and Demons (Penguin, 2001) is Kerr’s cry for help on Japan’s behalf. It is dark, pessimistic and woeful.

In contrast to most books by Europeans and Americans on Japan, this one has avoided the words “Japan must” and “Japan should,” for I do not believe that foreigners should make demands on Japan (p. 380).

Kerr does not explicitly say what has to be done, but Dogs and Demons is a liturgy of the country’s ‘modern’ faults. Over the course of 15 chapters, Kerr underlines Japan’s primary failure: its inability to change its mindset from modernism to post-modernism, my terminology; Kerr prefers to talk of modernism thus:

A friend of mine once remarked, “What is modernism? Its not the city but how you live in the city. It’s not the factory but how you manage and maintain the factory.” Technology involves far more than products running off an assembly line or computer software. It could be defined as the science of managing things properly. How to design a museum exhibit, how to manage a zoo, how to renovate an old building, how to build and operate a vacation resort – these all involve very sophisticated techniques and fuel multibillion-dollar industries in Europe and the United States. None of them exist in Japan except in the most primitive form (p. 161-162).

The knock-on result is seen in all strands of Japanese life. Kerr labours over the finer parts of Japanese architecture (namely the ubiquitous use of modern materials such as concrete and Bakelite) and the education system (universal education but underdeveloped further education establishments). This latter point is arguably manifested in the lack of Japanese in the world’s top public intellectuals, and the former in the lack of domestically-established Japanese architects having success abroad (although what I know about such things could be written on the back of a postcard).

Kerr’s consistent theme is of a dystopia held hostage by bureaucratic politics. He seems particularly furious at the rise and perpetuation of the construction state (doken kokka). Anyone who has spent any time in Japan will know what he means: endless over-engineering of rivers, hillsides, and coastlines.

True to their reputation for efficiency, Japanese ministries have done an extremely good job of enlarging their budgets by meticulously observing the principle that each ministry should get the same relative share this year that it received last year. The allowance for construction in the general budget for 1999 was thirteen times larger than it was 1965, around the time of the Tokyo Olympics. Although more than thirty years have passed since that time, when small black-and-white television sets were common and most country roads were still paved – years during which Japan’s infrastructure and lifestyles have changed radically – each ministry continued to receive almost exactly the same share of construction money it has always had, down to a fraction of a percentage point. “Bureaucrats are very skilled at spending it all. It is a fantastic waste, done in a very systematic way that will never stop,” says Diet member Sato Kenichiro.

Budgets that must be spent and programs that must expand in order to maintain the delicate balance among ministries – such is the background for the haunting, even weird aspect of Japan’s continuing blanketing of its landscape with concrete. The situation in Japan enters the realm of manga, of comic-strip fantasy, with bizarre otherworldly landscapes and apocalyptic visions of a topsy-turvy future. This is what the Construction Ministry is busy building in real life: bridges to uninhabited islands, roads to nowhere honeycombing the mountains, and gigantic overpasses to facilitate access to minute country lanes (p. 23).

It is when Kerr writes of bureaucratic politics driving construction and destruction that he is at his best. Throughout the book, he necessarily reverts to anecdotal evidence in light of a lack of intense critical study into the darker side of Japanese modernity. However, even in the weaker portions of the book, namely chapters 13 and 14 (‘After School: Flowers and Cinema’ and ‘Internationalisation: Refugees and Expats’ respectively) where he appears to draw out the foundations of his argument past their elasticity, he is convincing in his passions.

For students of Japan, this book forms an excellent introduction to the history of Japanese modernisation, even if warts-and-all has become especially-warts. Furthermore, it makes a fine introduction to the foundations of Japan’s administrative reforms from the Mori cabinet onwards (backsliding excepted). The book clearly elucidates the role of amakudari and ‘special public corporations’, as well as the thinking behind the amalgamation of the Japanese ministries. However, after reading this book, you can expect to be left deeply concerned for the country’s future. Perhaps former Prime Minister Abe’s ‘beautiful country’ (utsukushii kuni) concept missed the point: to be a truly beautiful country, Japan has to erase years of bureaucratic excess. At least if they did so, the ministries could satisfy the bureaucratic pressures that maintain budget expenditure.

Reportage-style documentary-making can have incredibly impressive results. Hara Kazuo’s The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (ゆきゆきて、神軍 - Yukiukite shingun) is one such example. The voyeurism that Hara draws from the viewer implicates them in the absurd violence of the protagonist Okuzaki Kenzo.

Okuzaki served in the 36th Regiment in New Guinea. For him, that time there shaped him into the twisted man that he is onscreen. Unafraid to admit to killing a man, for which he was jailed prior to the filming, Okuzaki lives on a hair-trigger. At first he calls to mind the black-van driving uyoku rightists, but Okuzaki is a one-man train wreck. The problem is, his goals are quite noble.

Investigating the deaths of two fellow soldiers from his regiment, Okuzaki wades into tales of cannibalism, starvation and desperation. The experiences of these soldiers can only be described as harrowing. As Okuzaki tells another soldier, whose role in the death of another soldier forms a bookend to the documentary, in hearing about the true horrors of war, people will learn that it is unacceptable.

That said, it is clear that for Okuzaki, the ends justify the means: he not only says this, but he turns the violence and aggression on and off at will, throwing punches in what has to be one of the least exciting fist-fights in cinema history (except for a single throw that demonstrates that old retired sergeants are still pretty handy in a melee).

This film is a must-see. There are few films that can truly demonstrate the untellable secrets in wartime memory. These secrets must be told: humanity will be the better for it.

I have been spending a lot of time watching movies recently, one of which was James Ivory’s The White Countess starring Ralph Fiennes (The Constant Gardener), Sanada Hiroyuki (The Last Samurai), and Natasha Richardson, whose previous work I am unacquainted with. The screenplay was written by Kazuo Ishiguro, a Japanese-born author who grew up in the UK.

The film is set in 1930s Shanghai. There, Countess Sofia Belinskya, a White Russian driven from Europe and living with her dead-husband’s family, survives as a hostess and occasional prostitute in order to support her young daughter. She meets a retired American diplomatic, Todd Jackson, blinded by a terrible accident in the past, who establishes a bar, ‘The White Countess’, with Sofia as the centrepiece. Jackson forms an intellectual kinship with Matsuda, a Japanese intelligence agent with a keen interest in Jackson’s new club. Ultimately, however, we learn that Matsuda is the harbinger of a Japanese advance and siege of the city.

Jackson longs for a political tension in his bar to reflect the outside world: Kuomintang, Chinese Communists and Japanese. This longing is expressed in the film itself which excels in capturing the tensions of the 1930s in the foreign enclaves of Shanghai: Germans shout abuse at Jews, Russians attempt to regain the stature they lost in the Revolution, and Wilsonians lament the collapse of the League of Nations. It is reminiscent of, but in this aspect is better than, Empire of the Sun, also set in Shanghai at the time of the Japanese invasion.

It was nice to see Sanada Hiroyuki capitalising on his post-Last Samurai fame. Certainly, this was a better role for him than his Rush Hour 3 character. I hope that, along side Yakusho Koji, Sanada’s star keeps rising in Hollywood.

Abe may be gone, but the propaganda keeps on coming. The Headquarters of the Abduction Issue, the Cabinet-level office in charge of bringing the Yokota Megumi story to the world, released the 25-minute animation at the end of March, and can be found here.

I’ve skimmed through it, but have not brought myself to  stomach the horrible voice acting in the English version. Doesn’t the Japanese government know that subs are the way? (Joking, of course: dubbing, no matter how terrible, allows them to possibly reach a larger audience). I was unsurprised to find the Paul Stookey song slapped over the credits. It seems that every time the government releases a new piece of what can only be called propaganda, they are going to subject us to the god-awful song.

[via Japan Probe]

North Korea is taking on the world, and we have no choice but to respond.

Nuclear Showdown (2005) is journalist Gordon G. Chang’s conclusion to his contribution to the study of North Korea as a East Asian and global crisis.

It was Chang’s chapter on Japan and the abduction issue that first caught my eye. I found the book as I flicked around the shelves of my local store and immediately I knew I had to buy it. I picked up the 2007 Arrow edition, which includes a new foreword addressing the October 2006 nuclear test.

Chang eases you into the book and takes you along a wandering argument that climaxes with an acknowledgement of the dangerous times in which we live. He is even-handed and incisive throughout, even if his somewhat flowery prose may grate at times. He writes well, although whoever decided to forego conventional footnoting for the bizarre system employed might need rounding up and shooting: finding the relevant comments and references is a pain in the ass.

Chang’s conception of North Korea is of a regime fighting to stay alive as capitalism wells up at the grassroots-level. Chang criticises the US for being to soft on North Korea’s past transgressions, such as the capture of the USS Pueblo in 1968, and for not negotiating and controlling North Korea’s nuclear rise in a consistent and firm manner. He also criticises America’s over-generosity to China who should now look to become a responsible world citizen by reining in its client state, or preferably abandoning it altogether. He criticises South Korea, particularly former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, for sustaining a fragile regime that relying on foreign aid for its survival while snubbing market reform as a result of the brewing bottom-up revolution.

On the issue of Japan, Chang is sympathetic to the country’s more immediate concern of attack: the pressing threat posed by North Korea acts more strongly on Japan than the US. He also notes the overwhelmingly political nature of the abduction issue and its emotional underpinnings. Japan is most at risk from a North Korean nuke, and as a result it is struggling to stay confined to the bounds of the constitution imposed upon it by the American post-War authorities. Despite that, it must: a Japanese bomb would create a whole new arms race and set of global tensions.

It is to this tension that Chang so skilfully leads the reader. For him, the North Korean problem highlights the challenge posed to the global hegemon, the US. Chang finds WWII to be apogee of US power, and from then on it has been relatively weakened as the destroyed nations around it have rebuilt. He is not implying that the US is by any means facing the end of its history, but rather that it has a chance to solidify its position.

Chang believes that the US should reinvigorate the non-proliferation norms and regime by carrying out what it committed to in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: the destruction of its nuclear stockpile. Chang suggests that even a wholesale, yet incomplete, dismantling of the US arsenal would show the state’s good intentions to the currently less-than-impressed non-nuclear powers. “The American president can give the order to eliminate all life on this planet several times over. If he decides to reduce his arsenal so that he can kill everybody only once, are his constituents any less safe?”

Chang is encouraging the US to take the bold step to make an example of North Korea. By unilaterally reducing its nuclear stockpile it will show its commitment to a non-nuclear future. He also encourages the US to be tough on North Korea in the Six-Party Talks and place all the issues on the table: from human rights to counterfeiting. By doing so, the Chinese and South Koreans will be forced to take sides (all the while under pressure from the international community to take the most reasonable side, that of the US). Ultimately, however, Chang believes that the US should be prepared to make an example of North Korea by committing itself to a possible use of force. “But if there ever were a reason to go to war, it is to save the nonproliferation treat and the global arms control regime. No other justification for conflict comes close.”

Chang’s argument is bold in and of itself. He is pessimistic for our future, and quite rightly so. At the moment, his work is still relevant. In the three years since Nuclear Showdown was first published, little progress has been made. Whether one accepts his conclusions is down to the individual, but the claims presented are well-linked and researched and show a broad understanding of the North Korean crisis in the context of global security.

Maybe our struggle with [Kim] is not the clash of good and evil, as some would have it, but it is at the very least a fight to preserve the liberal international system that has been responsible for so much global progress.

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