Tag Archives: Japan

A New Japanese Militarism?

Tens of thousands took to the streets to oppose a controversial change to Japanese defense policy last week. The parliament voted to overturn a policy prohibiting the deployment of Japanese military forces abroad. That policy was put in to place at the end of World War II, and had contributed to the pacifist foreign policy that may Japanese citizens celebrate.

The new policy would permit the deployment of Japanese combat forces abroad as part of “collective self-defense” operations. The move is seen as a key development in US efforts to counter growing Chinese influence in the Pacific Rim. The change may also strengthen coalitions against North Korea’s goring militarism.

What do you think? Should the Japanese government permit the deployment of combat forces abroad? Has Japan overcome the stigma of World War II? How should the Japanese government responds to the majority of Japanese citizens who oppose the new policy?

Commemorating 70 Years Since Hiroshima

The Japanese government is marking the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima. On August 5, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing an estimated 150,000 people. Three days later, it dropped a second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki, killing an estimated 50,000 people. A week later, Japan would unconditionally surrender, marking the end of World War II.

The decision to drop the atomic bomb has been hotly debated since 1945. Critics of the decision contend that the use of such devastating weapons against a largely civilian population, constituting a war crime under international law. Defenders of the decision argue that the decision brought the war to a speedier close, saving countless lives and shortening the conflict by years.

What do you think? Was the US decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki justified? If you were advising President Roosevelt at the time, what would you have counseled? Why?

Gendered Labor and Household Equality

b00srp6v_640_360Today marks International Women’s Day. Established early years of the twentieth century, International Women’s Day is observed on March 8 every year and is intended to celebrate women’s political, economic, and social achievements—and often to draw attention to ongoing gender inequality.

Ahead of this year’s International Women’s Day, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a new report on the distribution of household labor in is 34 member states. The report uses time use surveys to determine the amount of household labor (measured in minutes) performed by men and women in each state. The report notes that women perform the majority of unpaid work in all states, though the disparity between men’s and women’s household labor varies by country.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Scandinavian welfare states—which have a long history of gender equity in politics—have the highest level of gender equity in the distribution of household labor. Men in Norway—the most equal country in the study—perform an average of 180 minutes per day doing housework, while women in Norway perform an average of 210 minutes per day of housework.

Japan has the greatest inequality in the distribution of household labor, with women working an average of 377 minutes per day in the household, compared to just 62 minutes per day performed by men.

To mark International Women’s Day, the OECD has created a website and a quiz highlighting gender equality (or inequality) in countries around the world. It’s an informative quiz and well worth reading.

Remembering Fukushima

In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami devastated the Fukushima region of Japan and posed a major nuclear threat to the region. Fukushima was responsible for producing a sizable portion of the electricity consumed in northern Japan, including Tokyo. In this Vice Video, photographer Donald Weber travels to Fukushima and documents the devastation caused by the tsunami and subsequent radiation leaks in the region. The first half of the video explores Weber’s experience in Chernobyl. His exploration of Fukushima begins around the 7 minute mark.

Competing for Control of the East China Sea

China's Declared Air Defense Zone.

China’s Declared Air Defense Zone.

The Obama Administration today issued new guidelines urging US air carriers to comply with China’s demand that it be informed of any flights through its new “maritime air defense zone.” The Chinese government announced the new zone on November 23, and has sent military flights to intercept and monitor several aircraft operating in the area. Close US allies in the region, including South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, have rejected China’s call, stating they will not honor the new zone and declaring that China’s unilateral declaration unnecessarily raises tensions in the region.

There are several theories as to what’s driving China’s move. One is that it’s the result of growing tensions between Japan and China, which to date have centered on the status of the uninhabited Senkaky/Diaoyu islands which lie inside the region. Another asserts it results from China’s fear of being “hemmed in” by US regional allies and by China’s desire (much like that of Russia during the Cold War) to maintain access to oceans and support for its blue water navy. A funny (and perhaps a bit scary) video made by Taiwanese civilians highlights the tensions.

Expanding Japan’s Defense Forces

The Japanese helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga conducts training operations in 2009.

The Japanese helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga conducts training operations.

A study by the Japanese government concluded that the country should bolster its marine forces and introduce surveillance drones in an effort to expand its naval forces to address emerging regional threats. The report, ordered by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, also proposes improving the country’s defenses against ballistic missile attack and expanding its offensive potential to strike against enemy bases. Because Abe’s party controls both houses of parliament, it is in good position to implement the report’s recommendations after the report is finalized in December.

The report is the latest in a series of moves intended to expand the Japanese military. Earlier this year, Japan announced it would increase military spending by some $2.1 billion, largely to finance the acquisition of new missile interceptors and fighter jets.

The latest report clearly represents a growing concern in the Japanese government about two threats: North Korean ballistic missile technology and the ongoing standoff between Japan and China over the status of the disputed Senkaky/Diaoyu Islands. At the same time, Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution limits the ability of Japan to maintain an armed military force, restricting the country to a self-defense capacity only. The Article was included at the insistence of the United States at the end of World War II. Specifically, Article 9 reads,

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

In reality, Japan maintains a small military force known as the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). But the composition of those forces remains a politically sensitive subject both inside and outside Japan, with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan both asserting that Article 9 permits the maintenance of a military force for self-defense and advocating revision of Article 9 to make that point clearer. Leftist parties, though, argue that the JSDF is unconstitutional and propose dramatic reforms, such as transforming the standing military forces into something more akin to a national militia.

The question of increased military spending raises the specter of an arms race in the region. The challenge—as the security dilemma model suggests—is that increased military spending by one country is often met by increased military spending by others. As a result, the efforts of one country—in this case, Japan—to improve its security position by increasing military spending and capacity may actually be undermined as other countries—in this case, China and North Korea—respond in a similar manner. Security is actually decreased rather than improved as a result.

What do you think? Should Japan expand its military capacity in response to growing tensions in the region? Or does Japanese military growth merely exacerbate existing tensions? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

The Politics of UN Security Council Reform

President Barack Obama chairs a meeting of the UN Security Council, September 24, 2009.

President Barack Obama chairs a meeting of the UN Security Council, September 24, 2009.

Blogging at Foreign Policy, David Bosco yesterday posted an interesting proposal for reform of the United Nations Security Council. As most readers probably already know, the UN Security Council is comprised of 15 members. The five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) each possess a veto over Security Council action. In addition, ten non-permanent members are elected by a two-thirds majority vote of the General Assembly to two year terms on a regional basis.

The structure of the Security Council was set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when the five permanent members made more sense. The structure makes little sense today, though. Several important countries (such as Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan) lack a permanent seat but want one. Meanwhile, the current permanent members of the Security Council are hesitant to embrace expansion, as any expansion would dilute their position.

And therein lies the challenge. Given the competing positions, there has been little agreement on how to move forward.  And any changes would require the approval of 2/3 of the Member States in the General Assembly and agreement by the five permanent members of the Security Council. Thus while a general consensus that the Security Council’s structure needs reforming is widely shared, the specifics of any individual country’s membership on the Council draws opposition. Italy and Spain oppose Germany’s claim, Mexico, Columbia, and Argentina oppose Brazil, Pakistan opposes India, South Korea opposes Japan. The African bloc also demands membership, though precisely which countries would represent Africa on the Council is not entirely clear. Given this level of disagreement, it has been relatively easy for the permanent members of the Council to avoid the difficult decisions associated with reform.

And this is what makes Bosco’s proposal so intriguing. He suggests that the General Assembly engage in a policy of collective disobedience, refusing to approve any new rotating members for the Security Council until the permanent members of the Security Council move forward with a real reform of the Council. It would also force the various camps in the General Assembly to set aside their competing positions and develop a coherent reform proposal. Bosco notes the collective action problem that would have to be overcome for this proposal to work. Nevertheless, it represents in interesting possibility in moving a twenty-year old debate forward.

What do you think? Should Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan be granted permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council? Can the United Nations overcome the structural challenges it faces and reform its structure to become more relevant in the 21st century? Or will competing positions and the structural power of the permanent members undermine proposals for reform? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.