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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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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.

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.

The subtitle of this blog is: “North Korea, Japan and the Politics of Fear’ but what is the politics of fear?

Fear penetrates society. I may seem dramatic and unnecessarily general to say so, but fear is a, if not the, major moderator of social life. It keeps people in check. It moderates your driving, it conditions your social interactions, and it keeps you alive. Fear, in tandem with an appreciation of risk, is a social force unlike any other. Thus it is unsurprising that we find it thriving in politics.

Political fear fosters subservience. It is polarising, removing the middle ground from debate. Like a stampede of wildebeest, it brings a population’s thoughts into line. The palpable fear (or should that be anger?) of terrorism post-9/11 has created a climate in which, at least initially, populations were willing to cut back their civil liberties in order to make it more difficult for a handful of terrorists to infiltrate and operate within a country. No one would dare risk being a terrorist sympathiser.

Fear, to paraphrase, is the opiate of the masses. Those that can manipulate, or even generate, political fear stand to benefit enormously. A successful attempt to manipulate fear can generate wide-ranging political support that can allow a break from the traditional rules of political action (conceptually similar to Ole Waever’s securitisation theory). The identification of a convincing threat is all that is needed.

The benefits of political fear, to policymakers, can be seen in the rallying effect of war. During wartime, criticism of the broad political project of the war itself (although not necessarily its conduct) becomes taboo. The needs of the state supersede those of the citizenry and opposition is placed within a discourse of internal threat or fifth columnism . War elucidates the ‘other’ in sharp contrast to the ‘self’.

The war rally effect has long been recognised, just look at the Russo-Japanese War, initiated, in part at least, in order to placate and consolidate an uppity populace. Of course, when things go wrong the equation changes, cynicism and resistance take over. See, for instance, the Russian revolution and the anti-war protests of the 1960s/70s.

Cynicism, one might argue, is becoming more prevalent in our own age. We are strained with fear fatigue: the constant fluctuations of the terror alert systems once piqued our emotions, but now, having gone on for 6 years with no sign of reaching lower thresholds, we are comfortably numb.

The modern political party is tailored to the manipulation of fear: PR spin-doctoring makes the best (worst?) use of that most potent instrument of fear, the media, who propagate and editorialise their messages, openly or by stealth, by means designed to grab the attention of the average guy on the street. The days of a discreetly wheelchair-bound Roosevelt communicating by radio are long gone, ever since Nixon got sweaty while debating with Kennedy, the power of the media to make or break a politician has been clear. Today’s politician must have the image-consciousness of a supermodel, a far cry from the days of Churchill (“Madam, you are ugly. In the morning, I shall be sober.”)

Why is this worrying? Fear gives democracy the trappings of autocracy. However, unlike autocracy, the government of a fear-ridden democracy have far less control than the leadership of an autocratic state. A wannabe democratic-despot has to expend a lot of political energy and rhetoric in order to have their way. They must prey on our insecurities and manipulate our psychologies.

This, I argue, is what is under way in Japan. Issues regarding its relations with North Korea are surrounded by an atmosphere of fear (atmosfear?) that conditions political action. With the abduction issue in particular, no-one can seem be against efforts to return the Japanese citizens taken to North Korea (even if the remainder are probably dead), no less that no-one can seem to be for the rights of terrorists. Debate is weakened, and without debate, democracy is weakened allowing ideologies in. Under Abe Shinzo, who was pulling strings behind the issue from 2002, the issue was tacked onto an agenda of new conservatism, the ideology of the LDP’s Young (and not so young) Turks. His fever pitch approach was an abuse of the abduction issue and one of many examples of the (ab)use of fear in the issue that I will endeavour to explore within this forum.

Kenji Nagai ShotBy now, I’m sure you’ve read that a Japanese journalist has been shot and killed in Burma (Myanmar). For those who haven’t, the victim was Kenji Nagai, a photojournalist for Agence France-Presse. Nagai had covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While covering the Burmese military junta’s attack on the protesting monks and laymen, Nagai was shot through the heart and died in the streets. The Burmese government claimed he had been hit by a stray bullet, but footage obtained by Reuters suggests he was pushed over and shot at point blank. I’ve included the video below. It is grainy and ill-defined, thus it is difficult to tell whether this is Nagai’s final moments or not. The journalist stayed alive and continued taking photographs from his position until he succumbed to his wounds.

This is a tough incident to handle for Fukuda’s first week on the job. Japan was one of the first countries to recognise the military regime, and Burma is a recipient of Japanese ODA funds ($43 million in 2003). Fukuda has to stand up to this thuggish behaviour by the regime… however, there was little backbone in the response: a strongly-worded letter.

This is something my grandad does about Terry Wogan talking over the songs on BBC Radio 2, not what a state does when one of its citizens is likely to have been murdered by a foreign state’s armed forces.

That is not to say that I don’t appreciate caution, but the Burmese government were cracking down on protests using lethal force… there is nothing right in what they were doing and Japan should be outraged.

In Think Global, Fear Local, David Leheny describes the Japanese approach to counter-terrorism as a system of public awareness campaigns to prepare its citizens for the dangers abroad. Those who fall victim to hostage-takers and other criminals abroad are sometimes said to have brought it upon themselves (in contrast to those who are in safe European countries or taken from Japan, such as the abductees in North Korea).

If Japan wants a stronger security role, it can start here. I’m not advocating military action, but it should be shouting not whimpering. Bring the issue to the UN and push for sanctions. China will be annoyed, that’s for sure, but there are very few regions in the world where they would advocate a change in the status quo.

No matter what, Japan must prove itself capable of protecting its citizens. If it won’t, who will?

via from the inside, looking in

I just came across this very engaging op/ed at The Japan Times [edited for length and highlighted for my emphasis]:

Collective self-defense and collective security: what the differences mean for Japan
By CRAIG MARTIN
Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007

PHILADELPHIA – As the debate in Japan heats up over whether and how to amend Article 9 of the Constitution, the terms “collective self-defense” and “collective security” are often used in the same breath, almost as though they were synonymous. Often the terms are avoided altogether.

The terms “collective self-defense” and “collective security,” however, each have a very precise meaning under international law, and the amendment of Article 9 to allow Japan to engage in either one would have very specific and different consequences. […] A more precise use of these terms ought to preclude the government from hiding behind such woolly terms as “international peace cooperation activities.”

Read More »

Well, if my understanding in the last post was correct, then the NSC is the tougher fight… I can only imagine how hard when the extension of the Counter-Terrorism Special Measures Law has to face this:

Japan opposition risks U.S. ire over Afghan mission

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s main opposition party will find it hard to agree to extend support for U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan, its policy chief warned on Monday, a stance that could sour U.S. ties and deepen divisions among its own members.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to extend a law enabling Japan’s navy to provide fuel and goods for U.S.-led coalition warships in the Indian Ocean as support for operations in Afghanistan, and called on Monday for opposition cooperation.

But Ichiro Ozawa, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), has come out against the move — and despite calls from his predecessor to rethink that stance, party policy chief Takeaki Matsumoto said switching gears would be tough.

“We aren’t saying from the beginning that we won’t give approval … but fundamentally we want to discontinue the law and have them come home,” Matsumoto told Reuters in an interview.

More…

From Liberal Japan:

Creation of Japanese National Security Agency on hold? Abe has been keen to form in Japan a Japanese version of the NSC. (Which would be a boon to conspiracy theorists everywhere and also give manga writers new ideas for interesting comic plots.) However, the bill for the creation of such an agency will have to wait probably until next April. Right now Abe has decided he must concentrate on having Japan’s unconstitutional support for American ships in the Indian Ocean renewed. Japan supports these ships by giving them all the fuel you can guzzle at cut throat if not free rates. (Probably 30% to 50% of all fuel comes from Japan.) This helps America not only nation-build in Afghanistan but also intimidate the hell out of Iran. The renewal for the Indian Ocean operation, which also includes policing the waters, comes up November 1st, but Abe will likely start dealing with the issue by the end of this month. As Abe has been intent on fueling nationalism in Japan, and playing up the North Korean threat, he has isolated Japan from Asia, and cannot afford to allow the alliance with America to weaken.

Matt provides an interesting take on this news.

MSDF Indian Ocean Deployment

We mustn’t forget that the Counter-Terrorism Special Measures Law was created to improve ties with the US. With the 1991 Gulf War lurking in their minds, Koizumi took Japan to the front of the queue and to provide aid to a US in need. The operation is logistical, and the US encourages it because it has put Japan into a productive frame of mind: continued operations. Both sides benefit, and Japan is doing no extra harm in being there.

By choosing to focus on extending the Special Measures Law, Abe is betting on stability rather than reform. The creation of a Japanese NSC, the difference to the current Security Council I am unsure about, is an interesting step and perhaps a necessary one for becoming a ‘normal’ country, but ultimately it is a matter of reform. Reform does not come cheap, nor easily, and it would be a more difficult fight than the extension (so I gather from the Japanese news article LJ cites).

I think Abe made the right call on this one.