Skip navigation

Category Archives: Security

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.

Advertisements

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.

From the Japan Times:

U.S. won’t forget abductees: Negroponte

NEW YORK (Kyodo) U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said Thursday he understands the importance Japan places on resolving the abduction issue as efforts are under way to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and pledged that his country would not forget them or their families.

“Japan can be confident we will not forget the abductees or their families,” Negroponte told an audience at the Japan Society in New York.

[…]The North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported Thursday that the relations between the two would never improve if Tokyo continues to link the abductions with the denuclearization issue.

In his presentation, Negroponte also described Japan as a vital partner in the six-party talks being held among North and South Korea, Russia, China and the United States.

Sung Kim, the State Department’s top Korea expert, is now in Pyongyang, where he is expected to meet with North Korean officials to advance talks aimed at scrapping the North’s nuclear programs.

[…]“Even as we focus on the goal of verifiable denuclearization in the six-party talks, the United States will continue to urge North Korea to address the abduction issue directly with Japan,” he said. “We do understand the significance of the abduction issue to the Japanese people.”

Although Negroponte’s tone is no doubt appreciated by the Japanese, I imagine they wish it had come from higher up the chain: Rice or even Bush. Furthermore, if US actions don’t match their words then the Japanese are unlikely to take Negroponte’s words to heart.

Kim’s words draw out the true message: the US will forge ahead in the Six-Party Talks and Japan should follow placing denuclearisation before the abduction issue which can be pursued in an alternative forum. Until then, the KCNA continue to have a scapegoat to bash for North Korea’s dragging of feet.

That isn’t to say that the US is taking the wrong approach. Denuclearisation has to be prioritised for the security of the Koreas, Japan, East Asia and the world. If we do not face the nuclear threat, there may be no chance to address any other issues.

Kurata Hideya, a professor at Kyorin University, is a figure that has attracted some scorn for his belief that the public outrage over the abduction issue is a serious impediment to Japanese security, namely by promoting this historical occurrence over the existential threats posed by North Korean’s missile and nuclear development programmes.

I agree wholeheartedly with the opinion he expresses below. It is similar in tone to the opinion of Gerald Curtis, a pre-eminent Japan scholar, who said at a conference at The Korea Society on 24th November 2006,

Japan is not and will not be a major player on the North Korean issue. […] It has put itself in a corner in terms of taking a very hard-line policy and it is impossible for me to see this administration offering normalisation, reparations and the other things that would come in the process of normalisation as a way to entice North Korea back to the tables.

I don’t believe anyone (except the North Koreans, I imagine) is saying that the abduction issue isn’t worth pursuing, but rather that the Six Party Talks are neither the time or place. It is a matter of priorities. North Korea are reluctant to give away its newfound nuclear capabilities. That is where the focus should be placed.

Anyway, Kurata says it better than I:

‘The Six Party Talks Still Crucial to Japan’s Abduction Issue’ by Kurata Hideya

[…] Progress in the Six Party Talks — which seem to be suffering a setback due to Pyongyang’s silence despite the passage of the December 31 deadline by which it was supposed to declare all its nuclear programs — is necessary for Japan to keep open the channel of dialogue with North Korea, without which the resolution of the abduction issue will be very difficult.

[…] The February 2007 agreement, under which North Korea will shut down its main reactor at Yongbyon in return for aid and possible US removal of North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, was a clear sign that the United States shifted to an approach of engagement within the Six Party Talks framework.

Washington’s turnaround has created a contradiction in approach between the UN Security Council and the regional Six Party Talks process. UN Resolution 1718 bans trade with North Korea having to do with weapons of mass destruction or luxury goods. On the other hand, the February agreement of the Six Party Talks acknowledged economic aid and regional diplomacy as most effective in nudging North Korea toward giving up its nuclear weapons. Thus the February agreement, which would offer practical gains to North Korea, contradicted the sanctions-imposing Resolution 1718. The pledge of massive economic aid announced by South Korea during the North-South meeting last October is exacerbating this contradiction.

Japan is embracing this contradiction in its policy toward North Korea. Japan is the only country among North Korea’s counterparts in the Six Party Talks that is imposing sanctions on its own terms. Under the February agreement, however, it is expected to improve relations with North Korea by providing aid. Japanese public opinion prefers the hard-line stance, believing that continued economic sanctions and the American designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism constitute important “sticks” necessary to resolve the abduction issue.

We need to remind ourselves that ours is the country facing the greatest nuclear and missile threat from North Korea. According to the February agreement, Pyongyang must declare all its nuclear activities and disable its nuclear facilities before being removed from the American list of terrorist-supporting countries. We could have abandoned the Six Party Talks altogether when Pyongyang brazenly conducted its nuclear test in October 2006. Yet such abandonment may have encouraged the country to test another bomb. To be sure, the Six Party Talks do not guarantee the complete denuclearization of North Korea. Nevertheless, so long as there is no effective alternative, Japan must act as a responsible member of the multilateral diplomatic channel.

This does not suggest we should ignore the abduction issue. Both the nuclear and abduction issues need to be addressed, even though it is not necessary that the two issues be resolved at the same time through the same diplomatic channel. Without progress in the Six Party Talks, Tokyo and Pyongyang will hardly have the chance to sit down together to achieve a breakthrough in the abduction issue. Japan’s influence is limited within the Six Party Talks. Be that as it may, Japan must understand the paradox that robust multilateral talks alone can keep alive the bilateral negotiations with North Korea in which Japan can have its own say in resolving the thorny abduction issue.

The United States’ lack of real regard for the Japanese conduct of the abduction issue, or perhaps Japan’s hyper-sensitivity on the issue, is causing fractures in the US-Japan alliance.

The US has been linked to the abduction issue since it exploded into the Japanese public consciousness in 1997. The issue supposedly caught Clinton off-guard in an April 1997 summit; as Clinton asked the Japanese to provide food aid to the North Koreans, Prime Minister Hashimoto stated the new Japanese concern regarding North Korea’s abductions. The 1998 ‘Taepodong Shock’ showed the Clinton administration, and the rest of the world, that diplomacy with North Korea had to concentrate on North Korea’s destabilising missile and nuclear projects.

President Clinton argued in May 1999 that the best way to deal with the kidnapping issue was to settle the nuclear and missile issues and end the threat of war on the Korean peninsula. He asserted that once these issues were resolved, “it is more likely that other matters will also be resolved.” Unlike 1997, however, the Clinton administration recognized the credibility of the kidnapping issue. President Clinton and other administration officials acknowledged that Japan considered the issue important and that the United States would support Japan’s attempts to negotiate with North Korea on it. Clinton asserted again in May 1999 that: “If you believe that there are Japanese people who were abducted and taken to North Korea, I think you should keep working on it and looking until you find them alive or you know where they’re buried. And I will support that very, very strongly.”

Niksch, L. A. (2002). North Korea and Terrorism: The Yokota Megumi Factor. Korean Journal of Defense Analysis , 14 (1), 7-23: pp. 12-13

The position expressed by Clinton has stuck to this day. As a staff member of the US Embassy in London once told me in early 2007, Japan is America’s chief ally in the Asia-Pacific and the US supports its position on the abduction issue, however the issue is Japan’s not America’s, the US has its own interests to pursue. It’s a diplomatic stance, but in practice the US has sought to minimise the effect of Japanese stubbornness on the abduction issue.

Following the 1999 Perry Initiative, which “outlined a US strategy to negotiate a series of agreements with North Korea to reduce its missile and nuclear programs and eventually eliminate them” (Niksch, 2002, p. 13), the US attempted to secure a Japanese financial agreement to compensation (compared to money transferred during the South Korea-Japan normalisation of relations) without allowing them a negotiating role, presumably because of fears of derailment.

North Korea, at this point, presumably saw a diplomatic opening and entered into direct negotiations with the Japanese. North Korea has never been shy of playing powers off one another and with a possible agreement arising out of the Perry Initiative, North Korea possibly saw a chance to boost their ‘compensation’. However, this was not to be: “Kim Yong-sun’s offer created a situation in which Japan’s role in the Perry Initiative became dependent on direct Japan–North Korean negotiations in which Japan was determined to give priority to the kidnapping issue.” (Niksch, 2002, p. 16)

As the Japanese found their opening to directly negotiate on the abduction issue, the North Korean’s attempted to convince the US to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, an action that the Clinton administration seemed to seriously consider. As part of the diplomacy, the North Koreans would have to ‘address issues of past support of terrorism’ which, despite the abduction issue not being the reason for North Korea’s inclusion on the list, would have to include consultations with Japan regarding North Korea’s support for the Japanese Red Army. (Niksch, 2002, p. 17)

All the while, the Japanese campaigned to have the US include the abductions in North Korea’s listing, and threatened to undermine US attempts to separate the rational efforts to resolve the missile and nuclear issues from the emotive abduction issue.

Prime Minister Mori reportedly secured President Clinton’s agreement at the G-8 meeting on Okinawa in July 2000 for US diplomats to raise the kidnapping issue with North Korea. Japanese diplomats urged the Clinton administration to raise the issue directly with the visiting North Korean envoy, who arrived in Washington in October 2000. The Japanese renewed pressure for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to place the issue on her agenda with North Korean officials when she visited Pyongyang in late October. The Japanese apparently used strong words with US officials, indicating that the Japan-US alliance would be damaged if the Clinton administration refused to raise the kidnapping issue. The Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun reported on October 8, 2000, that “Japan views that if the United States removes the DPRK from the [terrorism] list without paying attention to the abduction issue, it would mean the United States is taking Japan lightly.”

Niksch, 2002, p. 20

Albright did bring up the issue in her visit and in doing so helped solidify Japanese expectations that the US would support its position in the future. This perception was undoubtedly strengthened under the Bush administration. In February 2001, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Hubbard met with the Kazokukai and pledged continuing US support for their cause. This meeting sidestepped the Japanese Mori government, whom the Kazokukai felt had betrayed by after a 500,000 tonnes rice aid deal despite Mori Yoshiro’s personal promise that progress towards normalisation would not occur without progress on the abduction issue. Nakayama Masaaki, leader of Nitcho giren (Dietmen’s League for the Promotion of Japan-North Korea Friendship) and of a parliamentary group on the abduction issue, was furious at the Kazokukai’s independent move. (Johnson, E. (June 2004). The North Korea Abduction Issue and Its Effect on Japanese Domestic Politics. Japan Policy Research Institute) However, it was the start of a strong relationship between the Bush administration and the actors in the abduction issue, benefiting strongly from the close interpersonal relationship between Bush and Koizumi Jun’ichiro.

Japan’s involvement in post-war Iraq was inherently tied to both the strength of this personal relationship and Japan’s concerns over North Korea. ‘In February 2004, [Koizumi] declared that it was of overwhelming importance for Japan to show that it was a “trustworthy ally,” because (as he put it) if ever Japan were to come under attack it would be the US, not the UN or any other country, that would come to its aid’. (McCormack, G. (November 8 2004). Koizumi’s Japan in Bush’s World: After 9/11. Japan Focus) If any state was about to attack North Korea, it was North Korea. One Cabinet Office survey showed that 80% felt war with North Korea was likely. Japan was clearly frightened of abandonment by the US over North Korea. (Yakushiji, K. (April 5 2003). Japanese Foreign Policy in Light of the Iraq War. Japan Focus) However, Koizumi’s gamble appeared to pay off: “Bush declared his own “unconditional” support for the Japanese position on the families of the North Korean abductees. […] It was, as a senior [LDP] official admitted, a deal: Japanese forces to Iraq in exchange for US support for Japan’s position on North Korean issues. (McCormack, 2004)

For the US, the abduction issue offered yet more ammunition to pressure North Korea on its human rights issue. In 2006, Abe Shinzo helped tighten the US interest in the abduction issue (beneficially coinciding with a major documentary into the human drama of the issue: Abduction – The Megumi Yokota Story). (Hughes, C. W. (2006). The Political Economy of Japanese Sanctions towards North Korea: Domestic Coalitions and International Systemic Pressures. Pacific Affairs , 79 (3), 455-481: p. 473) In March, Ambassador Schieffer visited Niigata to be given a tour of Yokota Megumi’s final walk home. In a press conference after the tour, he stated ‘the United States would always raise the abduction issue whenever it talked to North Korea about anything’, and ‘that there can be no comprehensive resolution with North Korea without a solution to the abduction issue’. In April , Yokota Sakie (mother of Yokota Megumi and representative of the Kazokukai) and Shimada Yoichi (representative of the Sukuukai) travelled to the US to testify to Congress ahead of the North Korean Human Rights Act. Yokota also met with President Bush who called it ‘one of the most moving meetings’ of his presidency, an impression that has lasted.

Following North Korea’s July Taepodong-2 test, Abe’s rise to office, and the October nuclear test, the US appeared prepared to reaffirm its priorities: missiles and nukes first, everything else later. However, the US were still willing to allow Japan to pressure North Korea on the issue, as Japan was adopting an increasingly hardline under Abe. The human rights issue was a legitimate concern for the world and any pressure was good pressure. With this in mind, the EU submitted a draft resolution on North Korea’s human rights record to the UN General Assembly, co-sponsored by Japan and the US, the latter of whom had received some pressure to work to push the bill through by the Kazokukai in the form of a personal visit to Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. Yet with the release of the 13 February 2007 Joint Statement, which offered a great deal of optimism in the Six-Party Talks, the US sought to pressure Abe to be more specific about just what progress entailed.

Japan’s stubbornness on the abduction issue threatens the worth of its role in the Six-Party Talks. After the negotiations on the release of funds from the Banco Delta Asia finally came to fruition, the US clearly didn’t want to squander this new found energy. Japan’s refusal to allow for bargaining room in the SPT has meant that it is inflexible. To their minds, the North Koreans have been rewarded enough for their bad behaviour. However, now “under the terms of the six-party deal on North Korea’s nuclear programs, the U.S. is committed to beginning the process of delisting the country [from the list of state sponsors of terrorism] as Pyongyang moves ahead with its denuclearization obligations“.

What does this mean? It means that Japan is facing the possibility of being abandoned and essentially betrayed by the US due to a disconnect in their national interests. It means that when push comes to shove, the US cannot be trusted to support Japan. While Bush deals with the question of his legacy, he seems willing to burn his bridges with those that he had seemed so supportive of before. A storm is brewing, and how much damage will occur is anybody’s guess. It may be the clearest test of the popular and political importance of the abduction issue in Japan we can ever see.

I touched upon this in my previous post, but I want to expand on the issue of the abduction issue acting as justification for a more active Japanese security policy.

In the event of a North Korean nuclear attack, incredible numbers of the Japanese populace will no doubt perish. But it is still only a potential tragedy and is yet to overly worry ordinary Japanese citizens. […] For them, nuclear weapon development by North Korea is more or less a technical, abstract topic. The Japanese public is, however, strongly sympathetic [on the abduction issue] because the abductees are no different from the average Japanese who has neither a strong affiliation with any political organizations nor close relations with North Korea.

Nakatsuji, K. (2004). Prime Minister in Command: Koizumi and the Abduction Question. Korea Review of International Studies , 7 (1), 35-46: p. 36.

This quote, to me, is the ultimate expression of the role of the abduction issue: giving an abstract risk a human face. It is, as Lynn Hyung-gu describes in ‘Vicarious Traumas: Television and Public Opinion in Japan’s North Korea Policy’ (Pacific Affairs, 79 (3), 2006, Fall), a national trauma, a narrative of drama highlighting the victimhood of the Japanese nation. It was unjustifiable and abhorrent for North Korea to snatch these young (and in some cases, not so young) men and women from their families, friends, lives and countries. No-one can argue that fact. It makes North Korea seem practically criminal, a reasonable assumption.

A gander at the Cabinet Office surveys on issues of foreign affairs demonstrates the popular appeal of the abduction issue when compared to the more ‘abstract’ missile and nuclear issues. In the surveys, Japanese citizens are asked to state the issues which concern them regarding a range of areas, however the one of interest right now is obviously responses regarding North Korea. I have compiled the responses from 2000 to 2007 (minus the missing data from 2001) to demonstrate the appeal of the abduction issue when compared to the nuclear and missile issues. Please click on the thumbnail to view the chart.

The abduction is shown to figure strongly in the Japanese mindset. The nuclear issue is shown to be rising after the second nuclear crisis in 2000 and the political fallout at the start of the Bush administration’s tenure in the United States and the tougher line held by then-newly elected Koizumi. In 2006, respondents polled in the same month as the North Korean nuclear test and a couple of months after the Taepodong-2 test still more frequently listed the abduction issue (86.7%) as a concern when compared to the nuclear issue (79.5%). The missile issue also figures strongly (the three issues dominate the list of issues, consistently in top three except for in 2000 where the nuclear issue had yet to fully emerge). However, the chart does not show the priorities of the respondents, i.e. which they are more concerned by.

The Japanese populace is saturated with knowledge of the abduction issue, a human drama that tugs at ones heartstrings. It got that way due to the tireless campaigns of the Kazokukai (Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea [AFVKN]) and Sukuukai (National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea [NARKN]) and the spectacle of Koizumi’s visit to Pyongyang in 2002 which resulted in the return of Soga Hitomi, the Hasuikes and Chimuras. It was at the Pyongyang Summit that one man positioned himself at the heart of the issue: Abe Shinzo. He won the adoration of the families for suggesting that Koizumi not to sign the Pyongyang Declaration, insisting that the Prime Minister extract an apology from Kim Jong-il and subsequently not return the surviving abductees to a fate in North Korea (Edström, B. (2007). The Success of a Successor: Abe Shinzo and Japan’s Foreign Policy. Silk Road Studies Program. Washington, DC/Uppsala, Sweden: Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, p. 8 / Pilling, D. (2006, September 16-17). The son also rises. Financial Times Weekend , pp. W1-W2.).

Abe shaped the growth of the issue, helping to globalise the appeal of the civil society movement. His support for the issue was a crucial part of his rise to the position of Chief Cabinet Secretary and then to the Prime Minister’s office. His short-lived tenure as Prime Minister started off with a flurry of activity regarding the abduction issue: he invited the Kazokukai to his office (something Koizumi had never done, preferring to keep them at arm’s length) and then created a cabinet-level body called the Headquarters of the Abduction Issue, consisting of the entire cabinet and headed by himself (why this was institutionalised is uncertain, presumably it could have just remained as a recurring feature of cabinet meetings). Furthermore, the nuclear test allowed Abe to stretch some economic muscle and impose sanctions on North Korea, something that he and the families had been calling for for a long time.

Abe was also part of a loose group of LDP Diet members that were more willing to move towards what Abe termed ‘a beautiful country’ (utsukushii kuni). Central to this was the instilling of patriotic pride and the return of Japan to being a ‘normal’ country (i.e. revision/removal of Article 9 of the so-called ‘Peace Constitution’). Like those of his ilk, and perhaps sensibly, Abe has been said to have an ‘inherent suspicion of China‘. Despite the moderation with which he treated China during his time as Prime Minister, it is this suspicion that causes problems.

As Christopher Hughes wrote in a paper presented at a conference in Swansea (The Domestic and International Dimensions of Security on the Korean Peninsula), there are a number of layers to the threat posed by North Korea. Certainly, there is the ‘existential military threat’ posed by North Korea’s increasing missile and nuclear arms, but also there is the ‘domestic security threat’ that breeds mistrust of the zainichi chosenjin (North Korean residents in Japan), the ‘alliance political-military threat’ which threatens the stability of the US-Japanese relationship (this is an issue I will cover in a later post), and finally, and crucial, the ‘pretext military threat’.

Hughes wrote that ‘North Korea has come to fill the position of serving as the prime public legitimisation for nearly all major changes in its security policy’. When those in power have a suspicion of rising China, it is thus probable that North Korea is being used as a pretext to prepare Japan for the probable strategic trajectory of collision with the rising power. It is often left publicly unsaid, but privately, it seems, concern regarding China’s rise runs rife. This is the context in which the abduction issue is manipulated.

The abduction issue is thus one of the justifications for using North Korea as a pretext to prepare for China. It produces energetic support, and so the issue is kept alive. Hope for the supposed dead or missing (depending on whose side you subscribe to) is kept alive. Considering that there has been no real progress since the ‘return’ of the abductee’s children to Japan in 2004, there has been a surprising amount of coverage of the issue.

The issue operates within a climate of insecurity. Continually pushing the abduction issue forwards incites outrage, while fear is generated and manipulated by the multiple other issues, namely the existential and domestic threats. Thus the abduction issue is not directly part of a politics of fear, but instead promotes the insecurities and fears surrounding the nuclear and missile issues by virtue of being linked to the same target. It colours the threat perception of the Japanese people making them predisposed to believing that North Korea is criminal or irrational, a threat by virtue of it being evil and willing to attempt anything. All the while, China hawks in the LDP are benefiting from the outcomes: an increased awareness of the need for defence, and the subsequent all-threat nature of procurements and policy changes.

As a result of the multi-layered North Korean threat, Japan seems more willing to increase its military power, in terms of both hardware and legislation. The MSDF and Air Self-Defence Force have gained more offensive capabilities, considering the purchase of Tomahawk cruise missiles and precision guided munitions, both of which could be used against a North Korean ballistic missile launch (Hughes, 2007). Meanwhile, Japan has boosted its intelligence capabilities, launching a series of optical and radar imagery satellites under the remit of the Cabinet Information and Research Office, increased intelligence activities in the Public Security Intelligence Agency, and greater integration of military intelligence under the Defence Intelligence Headquarters (Choi, S.-J. (2004). The North Korean factor in the improvement of Japanese intelligence capability. The Pacific Review, 17 (3), 369-397). Each move is dual-use, as open to use against North Korea as against China, and ultimately, that is the point.

The abduction issue has been (ab)used a security framing tool. It is linked to a range of bilateral issues by nature or design and these other issues benefit from the public’s outrage towards the abduction issue. The appeal of this to politicians is clear in the widespread concern expressed by the public in the Cabinet surveys. The abduction issue provides the means to act on North Korea’s nuclear threat through sanctions and military build-up. The abduction issue has become a tool of choice for pushing through regional security policies. It is a pretext and a frame that immediately lends a leader trust. One danger for the issue itself is its continuing use risks pushing the public towards apathy, but then again, memories seem to die hard in East Asia.

Notes: I admit, this is tenuous in places, but this is the point of my blogging here, I can refine and reshape my understanding of the issue according to my active research and thoughts. Furthermore, while writing this post I realised something that I had since forgotten from writing my dissertation: this is a politics of outrage too… So I have changed the subtitle of the blog accordingly.

Politics is not dispassionate, it never will be. Emotion seeps through, however, how can we tell one emotion from another? You cannot necessarily ask the population, as a generalised group, how it feels… polls like that would suffer from a requirement that the subjects be conscious of their feelings.

The biggest difficulty for me, as conversations today have proven, is demonstrating that there is a fear or insecurity separate or linked to political anger. I have four cases in mind: 9/11, the internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor, the abduction issue, North Korea in Japan, and China in Japan.

9/11

The tragedy that was 9/11 was, to my mind, the catalyst for heightened anger and fear in American politics (global politics even). The anger is perhaps the most visible element: the intervention into Afghanistan and the outcries of defiance following the attacks. Anger is a normal and healthy response.

Paisley Alert

However, it was also accompanied by an underlying sense of fear which could be tweaked and activated by way of the media. Consider the countless news reports of ‘terrorists’ being arrested in the US and UK. Each report was unlikely to be given a follow-up, despite the fact that a large number of these arrests resulted in no charges. The talk of a possible dirty bomb threat was possibly one of the worst instances of fearmongering post-9/11, particularly when you consider the complete lack of evidence behind the reports.

With these two elements at play, it is difficult to determine which is at work in certain events. Is legislation such as the PATRIOT Act guided by fear of repeat attacks, anger against what has already happened, or (more likely) a mix of both?

Japanese-American Internment

I think that one area where fear is more clearly at play, relative to anger, is in the internment of Japanese-Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor. They were clearly victims of a fear of fifth-columnism that targeted an entire national/ethnic group. American citizens were deprived of their liberties, showing how fear might overturn the everyday foundations of civil and political soceity to create a state of exception.

The fear was exacerbated by the xenophobic tendencies of the majority at that time. This fear operated societally and governmentally (leading to Executive Order 9066, the instigating order). There was a clear polarisation of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in both domestic and international contexts. While, anger clearly played a role in the military campaigns against the Japanese, it was in the domestic context that fear played its part.

Abduction Issue

Now to the issue I most concern myself with, the political fallout over North Korea’s abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 80s. It is my belief that there is only one major emotion at play here: rage. Despite the title of the blog, I do not believe that the abduction issue has incited fear in Japanese society or politics. I don’t think many people believe that North Korea is still abducting Japanese, nor do many wonder if it could happen to them…

North Korea

… however, I do believe that the threat image of North Korea, more generally, generates fear in Japan. This was the topic of the conversation that generated this post. My friend believes that there is very little fear about North Korea in Japan, and even then, the level of fear received its biggest boost in October 2006 following the nuclear test. I don’t yet know whether I agree or disagree.

In one sense, I disagree because it seems to me that something about the population’s attitude to North Korea is being preyed upon by the Japanese leadership. Here is another problem for researchers: one will find it difficult to find fear in any other sense than retroactive inference. In one paper I read during my research, “Fear No More: Emotion and World Politics” by Emma Hutchison and Roland Bleiker (forthcoming in Review of International Relations), the authors critique the social scientific method as being unsuitable for studying fear, praising, instead, an arts and humanities approach. Certainly, the different standards of inference and logic between the two disciplines makes the choice considerable.

However, at the same time as I disagree, I also do not. When I state that there is a politics of fear in Japan regarding North Korea, I am not presupposing a great deal of fear. Instead I am suggesting that there is a background level of insecurity which is being tapped by the leadership in order to promote certain policies and push certain ideological beliefs. That does no require a large amount of fear, just enough to allow it to be tweaked.

It is also in this case that we might see a possible difference between anger and fear in politics. It might be the case that anger is short-lived (encouraging strong and immediate reactions to events, such as through the imposition of sanctions) whereas fear is continuing (the Taepodong shock in 1998, for instance, exposed the real threat posed by North Korean missiles, one which certainly still exists).

China

Having denied the significance of fear regarding North Korea, my friend then suggested that it was China that generated the most, primarily because it posed a powerful threat. Again, I just cannot be sure at this stage whether I agree or disagree. For me, the crucial issue is that fear of China is not, at this stage, self-justifying. It seems as the elements of the government have chosen to concentrate on the fear generated by the North Korean threat in order to prepare for an eventual confrontation with China. It is the North Korean missile threat that has made Japan more determined to pursue the Theatre Missile Defence system, for instance, and it was North Korea’s intelligence activities in Japanese waters that led to decreased restraints on the use of force by the Japanese Coast Guard. Both are applicable to China, and thus tackling the North Korean threat goes some way towards confronting China.

Conclusion

As it stands all that I am left with is questions. Clearly I need to work on my definitions of fear, and attempt to unpick the links with other emotions. At the same time, I need to work around the limitations posed by the study of said emotions. Finally, I need to conduct some primary research to gauge the threat perceptions and anxieties of the average Japanese citizen. All of this will take time and effort, and I hope this forum will provide an outlet for my energy.

Just proving that you cannot escape the political expediency of an appeal to a broader discourse:

LDP’s Nakatani calls foes of MSDF mission ‘terrorists’
Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2007
Kyodo News

Gen Nakatani, head of the Liberal Democratic Party’s panel on security policy, has enraged the opposition camp by calling opponents of the Indian Ocean refueling mission “terrorists.”

“Only terrorists would oppose (the mission),” Nakatani, chairman of the LDP Research Commission on Security, said Sunday on a Fuji TV talk show.

Maritime Self-Defense Force ships in the Indian Ocean are currently refueling ships of countries taking part in antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan, based on a special law that expires Nov. 1.

“Given that about 30 percent of the public is opposed to the refueling activities, it means three in 10 Japanese are terrorists, ” Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama said at a news conference. “It’s outrageous that such horrendous remarks were made before TV cameras. It’s no joke.”

Nakatani’s remarks even drew criticism Monday from Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.

“Even if he was speaking metaphorically . . . I think it was not really appropriate wording,” Fukuda said during a session of the House of Councilors Budget Committee.

Pretty inflammatory, huh?

It’s a tactic we’ve seen used to self-defeating effects in the US and throughout the world. Perhaps in an age of patriotic fever, such as the immediate post-9/11 political climate in the US, then one can get away with such nonsense. However, in Japan, where the constitutionality of Indian Ocean mission has always been debatable, such talk is surely a sign of frustration.

Gen Nakatani

Gen Nakatani was an officer of the GSDF (serving April 1980-December 1984) and became secretary to the Director-General of the Defense Agency, Koichi Kato, in 1985. Throughout his career, Nakatani has had strong links to the defence establishment and since April 2001 (that is, since the start of Koizumi’s leadership) he has been the man at the head of Japan’s said establishment.

Perhaps with such credentials, it is likely that he has a lot at stake in the mission both in terms of his past and future.

Regardless, there is no call for such a blatant use of inflammatory labels. Nakatani is engaging in a politics of fear as characterised by a ‘There is No Alternative’ (TINA) perspective (see Furedi, ‘Politics of Fear: Beyond Left and Right’). TINA closes down the space for debate. No-one wants to be a terrorist (even terrorists would seem to prefer the ‘freedom fighter’ label), so an effective use of this appeal to the terrorist discourse would close off the space for opposition to the subject at hand.

Unfortunately for Nakatani, his speech act (the process of stating something to make it so) was utterly disastrous and incredible. He has done no favours for his party nor himself and Fukuda was right to criticise Nakatani. Such labels had been previously applied to the North Korean threat without much criticism (see Leheny, Think Global Fear Local), but it is one thing to label a foreigner a terrorist, and quite another to apply the same label to a portion of the population and its political representatives. A career politician such as Nakatani should know better.

Every morning I wake up, turn on my PC, and open Firefox. This morning (and as I write this), BBC News has an Asia-Pacific article that caught my eye:

Japan extends N Korea sanctions
Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 October 2007, 03:49 GMT 04:49 UK

Japan has extended economic sanctions on North Korea, citing a lack of progress in a row over Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang.

The measures – which ban imports from North Korea and visits by its ships – will continue for another six months.

A top official said Japan was seeking advances on both the abduction and nuclear issues.

The move comes exactly a year after North Korea carried out its first nuclear test, on 9 October 2006.

Since then, Pyongyang has agreed to end its nuclear programme in return for millions of dollars worth of aid.

It has closed its main Yongbyon reactor and last week committed to a timetable for disclosing and dismantling all its nuclear facilities by the end of the year.

Later this week, a US-led team of experts are due to visit North Korea, where they will begin supervising the process of dismantling its nuclear installations.

‘No progress’

Japan is one of the five countries involved in the nuclear deal with North Korea.

But a major sticking point in the bilateral relationship has been the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang in the late 1970s and early 1980s to train spies.

“We saw the need to extend the sanctions because there has been no progress over the abduction issue,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told journalists after the move was agreed at a Cabinet meeting.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese nationals. It has returned five of them and says the remaining eight are dead. It says the issue has now been resolved.

But Japan wants concrete proof of the deaths and believes that several more of its citizens were taken. There is huge public concern over the issue in Japan.

Talks in Mongolia last month aimed at resolving the dispute came to nothing.

The abduction row was not the only factor behind the decision, Mr Machimura said.

“We also took into comprehensive consideration the overall situation involving North Korea, including the nuclear issue,” he said.

A foreign ministry official told the Associated Press news agency that Japan wanted to see concrete steps from Pyongyang towards disabling its nuclear programme.

The sanctions – imposed last October after North Korea’s nuclear test – prevent visits by the Mangyongbong-92 ferry, the only direct link between the two countries, and ban imports from the impoverished nation.

They have now been extended until 13 April, officials said. The decision needs the endorsement of parliament, but the opposition have already agreed to the step.

Anyone reading the article can’t escape the implication that the extension has nothing to do with the nuclear issue, which has received a lot of pace in the past six months.

Then, upon opening Outlook (because opening both at the same time tends to cause Firefox to hang), I found my daily Japan Times email which included these articles:

Japanese abductee issue is over, Kim told Roh
Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2007

SEOUL (Kyodo) North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun in last week’s summit that there are no more Japanese who have been abducted to the country, according to a South Korean professor who was a member of the delegation to Pyongyang.

Yonsei University professor Moon Jung In, who is an adviser to Roh and accompanied the president to Pyongyang for summits with Kim, said Roh raised the issue of Japanese kidnapped to the reclusive state in the 1970s and 1980s during the talks with Kim.

However, the North Korean leader simply answered that the issue is over, Moon said in a briefing to foreign journalists.

Japan believes some Japanese taken to North Korea decades ago may still be alive in the reclusive country.

Roh delivered a message to Kim from Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda that is believed to have touched on the kidnapping issue. But Kim’s only response appeared to be that there are no more Japanese abducted in the country and that the issue was closed, according to Moon.

This is simply confirmation of what we’ve known for a long time: the North Koreans believe there is nothing to give up. Coupled with this second article, I believe we might see a reason for the extension of sanctions:

Full resolution of abductee issue not required by U.S.
Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2007

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The United States will not insist on a full resolution of the issue of North Korea’s past abduction of Japanese nationals as a condition for removing Pyongyang from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states, diplomatic sources said Monday.

While Tokyo has been asking Washington not to delist North Korea until all abductees are returned, the United States is putting greater emphasis on how cooperative the North will be, such as in giving additional explanations about the fate of eight abductees, including Megumi Yokota, as the criteria for judging the abduction issue resolved and removing Pyongyang from the list, said the sources.

The approach highlights Japan’s concerns that the United States could move to take North Korea off the blacklist as the six-party nuclear talks make progress even in the absence of tangible movement to resolve the abduction issue.

During the latest round of the six-party talks last month, North Korea agreed to disable three facilities in its Yongbyon nuclear complex and to provide a complete, correct declaration of all of its nuclear programs by Dec. 31.

If North Korea implements these agreements, it is expected that other six-party members, including South Korea, China and Russia, will step up pressure on the United States to remove Pyongyang from the list, a move that would isolate Japan, which finds it hard to compromise on the abduction issue given the sentiments of the abductees’ kin and public opinion.

According to the sources, the U.S. is focusing on how cooperative North Korea will be in elucidating the fate of the eight abductees – whom Pyongyang says are dead.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that it abducted 13 Japanese citizens, including the eight, to the country in the 1970s and 1980s. Five were later repatriated to Japan. Including the five, Japan officially recognizes that 17 people were abducted to North Korea.

North Korea has said the eight committed suicide, drowned or died from illness, poisoning or traffic accidents – an account rejected by their relatives and the Japanese government. Pyongyang also said their graves disappeared in a major flood in 1995.

With progress looking increasingly bleak for Japan, the Fukuda cabinet is showing that when he says ‘dialogue and pressure’ he does not simply mean ‘dialogue’. As an issue, it is a good one for Fukuda to continue to press largely due to the public support. However, whether Japan can get anything out of the abduction issue concurrently with progress on the nuclear issue remains to be seen. As it stands, we are simply seeing that the end of the Abe cabinet is not the end of primacy of the abduction issue in bilateral relations.

Sorry it’s been a while again, but I’ve just finished writing and finalising my second contribution to ワールド・インテリジェンス. My article this time focused on British Special Forces post-9/11. As you might imagine, for anyone who knows anything about UKSF, it was pretty hard to find good materials. The British government maintains a ‘no comment’ policy regarding any mention of its special forces, which unfortunately creates a lot more drivel than you’d ever think possible.

I started with the most reliable account of the SAS in Afghanistan that I could find: Ultimate Risk by Mark Nicol. Now, I remember back in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that the British media was full of stories of SAS action in the country. There were some incredibly detailed accounts, and most of them played up the SAS as a hi-tech, well-funded force beloved by US CENTCOM (who was cognisant of the SAS’ status as ‘the best’). Nicol’s account blows those stories out of the water.

Read More »