Review of News Article
In an article in The Diplomat (2014), Michael Green and Jeffrey W. Hornung have analyzed the myths being perpetrated in world media after Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe approved a proposal to end the self-imposed ban on allowing its military forces to exercise the right of collective self-defense (CSD). The authors have identified ten myths surrounding the announcement, and have proceeded to discuss and debunk each myth (Green and Hornung, 2014).
Japan’s amendment of the scope of activity it envisages in the case of its Self Defense Forces, and resultant expansion of the scope of Collective Self Defense can be seen in two contexts – the traditional context, and the context that proposes an alternate narrative.
As per the traditional context, it must be acknowledged that environmental realities in the second decade of the twenty-first century are vastly different from 1949. While Japan was happy to remain under the US security umbrella and concentrate on rebuilding its economy after the Second World War, current environmental realities dictate that Japan needs to repel rising Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea. China has unilaterally declared an air identification zone over the East China Sea (Sahashi 2014), and has aggressively pursued its case for ownership of the strategically important Senkaku islands overlooking important shipping lanes and lying near potential oil and gas reserves (BBC, 2014). Seen in this context, the reset in the scope of CSD appears in sync with the broader Japanese effort to improve the US-Japan security alliance, and simultaneously deepening and further strengthening Japan’s relations with Australia, India, ASEAN countries, Africa and Europe (Selçuk, and Atli 2015).
A deeper analysis of the situation, however, would reveal that the broadening of scope of collective self-defense, while suiting American imperatives of a more robust engagement with Japan in the security paradigm in East Asia, might not yield commensurate dividends. There is a growing realization that the perceived differences between China and Japan are ‘more imaginary than real’ (Harner 2015), and Japan’s current step would only be instrumental in further worsening the strategic imbroglio. Instead, Stephen Harner of Forbes (2015) argues in favor of a ‘cooperation spiral’ between China and Japan, which would serve to defuse the tensions currently prevalent in the region. Harner advocates complementary moves between USA and China to reduce tension. He advocates that the USA reduce its military presence in Japan, to which China should agree to participate in a trilateral peace summit with Japan and the USA. US must follow up by incorporating China in anti-piracy patrols, and China should reciprocate by promising not to leverage its commercial advantage in the rare earth minerals against Japan for political reasons. While the US should nudge Japan towards a reconciliation of its views on a visit of its Prime Minister to Nanjing, China should in turn rein in its nationalists on the East China Sea dispute, and to agree to the ‘equidistance’ principle overall. While the USA should encourage Japan to accept joint jurisdiction over the Senkaku Islands, China should acquiesce over the revision in the role of the Japanese SDF. Lastly, Harner advocates that the USA must reset its alliance with Japan to a lower readiness and lethality level, and China should reciprocate by endorsing Japan for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council (Harner 2015). Kuok (2014) echoes Harner’s viewpoint in relation to disputed islands, and recommends that the impasse arising out of disputed islands in the South China Sea be settled through the principle of defining EEZ claims from the largest islands.
While Japan is well within its rights to expand the scope of collective self-defense, and accordingly, the role of its Self Defense Forces, the move would, in the ultimate analysis, not be effective in breaking the logjam as it exists over jurisdiction issues emanating in the South and East China Seas. While US-Japan military alliances would be strengthened militarily, it would have limited impact on the military balancing of forces in China’s periphery, given China’s rapidly modernizing defense forces. Albeit counter-intuitive, real progress would only be possible if there is a gradual de-escalation of tension in the region through a series of mutually supported mechanisms set in motion amidst a modicum of trust. It is only once the region is defused of tension would peace actually return in its true sense.
BBC. 2014. “How Uninhabited Islands Soured China-Japan relations.” BBC. Accessed July 02, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-11341139
Çolakoglu, Selçuk, and Altay Atli. 2015. “A New Rise of Japan?” Turkish Weekly. Accessed July 02, 2015, http://www.turkishweekly.net/2015/02/10/news/a-new-rise-of-japan/
Green, Michael, and Jeffrey W. Hornung. 2014. “Ten Myths about Japan’s Collective Self-Defense Change.” The Diplomat. Accessed Jul 01, 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2014/07/ten-myths-about-japans-collective-self-defense-change/?allpages=yes&print=yes%20Page%201%20of%204
Harner, Stephen. 2015. “How to ‘Meet China Halfway’ in Managing Japan-China and US-Japan Security Relations. Forbes. Accessed July 01, 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/stephenharner/2015/06/29/how-to-meet-china-halfway-in-managing-japan-china-and-u-s-japan-security-relations/
Kuok, Lynn. 2014. “Overcoming the Impasse in the South China Sea.” East Asia Policy Paper 4. Center for East Asia Policy Studies. Accessed July 01, 2015, http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2014/12/south-china-sea-impasse-kuok/overcoming-impasse-south-china-sea-kuok.pdf
Sahashi, Ryo. 2014. “The Political and Diplomatic Hard-Yards Still to be Done on Collective Self-Defense.” East Asia Forum. Accessed July 02, 2015, http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/07/06/the-political-and-diplomatic-hard-yards-still-to-be-done-on-collective-self-defence/