Obama Bribes Abe to Support the TPP by Unleashing Japanese Military

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Great minds seem to be working alike. Our resident Japan expert, Clive, had pointed out that the US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, had nothing to offer Japan to change its indifference to the proposed TransPacific Partnership. Only the State Department could serve up the needed inducements, and they were missing in action.

But that changed as Obama became more eager about pushing his toxic, traitorous deal over the line. We pinged Clive Wednesday evening:

I heard from a Congressional staffer today that Japan has changed its position on the TPP from being cool to being keen about it

You pointed out early on that Froman couldn’t deliver a deal, that State needed to get involved.

Apparently that happened.

I noticed the defense pact and wondered if it had anything to do with the TPP. Apparently it did.

The understanding with the “defense” agreement is that the US will let Japan go offensive.

Of course, I have no idea how that squares with the Japanese constitution.

Any corroborating evidence in the Japanese media? And can Abe get the Diet to follow or is there some horsetrading still to be done?

We got corroborating evidence in the form of a must-read story by Patrick Smith in Salon, which describes in some detail the roots of Abe’s militarism. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kiishi, was charged as a war criminal but never tried because (unlike in Germany), the US reversed itself on rousting out war leaders, deciding it needed to rely on them to rein in communists. Kiishi became prime minister in 1957 and in 1960 achieved passage of a security treaty with the US by having some members of the Diet removed physically so that the otherwise minority in favor of it would pass it

Fast forward to the present:

As to Abe, let’s take the occasion to deconstruct these various deals he is cutting with the Obama administration.

• On the defense side, Abe’s new accord with Washington marks the most significant change in the security relationship since Kiishi’s connivances. There is nothing new in Secretary of State Kerry’s reiteration of America’s “ironclad” commitment to protecting Japan. This is the postwar idea in a single phrase: Japan is a protectorate and will remain one.

Where Kerry broke very new ground is in extending this concept to the disputed islands Japan calls the Senkakus and China the Diaoyus. This is astonishingly indelicate, to put the point mildly—an open affront to Beijing. Until this week Washington recognized the dispute, not either side’s sovereignty. That was correct. My interpretation: Abe, a vigorous hawk on the islands question, horse-traded something Washington dearly wants in exchange for its endorsement of Tokyo’s territorial claim.

What Washington dearly wanted and now has is a commitment from Tokyo to deploy its military anywhere America or any American ally comes under threat. This, of course, means more or less anywhere we can think of.

This is big for two reasons.

One, it opens Asia to the projection of Japanese power for the first time since 1945. Will Japanese forces deploy next time things get hot with North Korea? What if something unexpected and untoward happens in the Taiwan Strait? Have we just been told that Washington will go to war with China if the islands dispute breaks into open conflict, as it easily could?

These are new, unwelcome questions. China will object loudly to the new accord and, in my judgment, American allies such as South Korea may prove unready for it.

Two, the agreement is unconstitutional. Here things get a little complicated.

American lawyers wrote Japan’s “peace constitution” and handed it to them in 1947. But note the date. Truman started the Cold War the same year, and the Occupation promptly began reversing course. Washington has since spent a lot of time and effort supporting LDP efforts to bend, violate or rewrite the law it gave them. This is the core contradiction in a relationship beset with many, and it is now on full display in Washington.

It may seem odd that nationalists such as Abe favor closer relations with the U.S. given the sacrifice of sovereignty these ties entail, but this is why: Washington supports the remilitarization the LDP has also long favored. The majority of the Japanese, meantime, are as restless with the security relationship now, if not as animated, as they were when Kiishi forced it upon their grandparents.

This was Clive’s take on our questions:

The Japanese MSM is concentrating its coverage on the Article 9 (constitutional change) to reporting what exactly the changes means in practical terms and suggesting it is still in going through committee Hell and that Komeito (the LDP’s coalition partner who’s approval isn’t actually needed given the LDP’s dominance of the Diet but as a member of a formal coalition can’t just be ignored) is trying to water down what is permissible for the Self Defence Force, what the precise meaning of the revised constitutional wording is, what approvals must be in place prior to Self Defence Force deployment and so on. Komeito is supposedly a pacifist party so isn’t very happy about Prime Minister Abe’s attempt to make Japan more interventionist, but it is by-and-large going along with it in public (and in classic Japanese methodology chipping away as much as possible behind the scenes).

Oh, and if your Congressional staffer source is perplexed about the wording of the new Guidelines for Japan U.S. Defense Co-operation, I think this is a feature not a bug. I’m reading the entire Japanese langue version (http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/files/000078187.pdf) and comparing it to the English one and, let’s put it this way, I wouldn’t have translated it using the same wording. For the paragraph they identified, this is how I would translate it (emphasis mine):

As for the US military, in order to support and complement the SDF, it is possible (for the US military) to implement a strategy involving the use of a strike force. In a situation where US military is implementing such a strategy, it is possible for the SDF to, if necessary, provide assistance. These strategies, when appropriate, will be carried out based on a close bilateral coordination.

… which is clearer than the English version provided. So the U.S. takes military action on some pretext or other, and if it is deemed to be in Japan’s interests (and Japan could easily enough have orchestrated the initial U.S. military action), hey-presto the SDF then can work directly with U.S. forces in a coalition. As your source rightly said, all very gameable.

The Guidelines for Japan U.S. Defense Co-operation must though operate within the constitution hence the need to revise (or re-interpret) Article 9.

Abe is having to proceed very cautiously because polling shows that the majority of Japanese oppose the Article 9 changes. The pacifist left wing obviously doesn’t like any of it. But ironically, the right wing (and this *has* been brought out in JP language press coverage but isn’t widely reported even in the English language versions of the JP press for reasons I’ll explain below) also has reservations.

This is because while the “you can’t be a strong country if you can’t protect your homeland” notion means there is some support for Article 9 changes on the right, the far right (which gets a lot of Yakuza support because the Yakuza are – or like to see themselves as being – big on protecting the cohesiveness of the community and thus share what they believe are a lot of the same core values as the far right) ironically is more concerned about how they perceive Japan to be a vassal state of the U.S. and therefore anything that increases interdependency between Japan and the U.S. such as the New Guidelines for U.S-Japan Defense Cooperation is viewed as weakening Japan’s independence and ability to exercise military strength in the region even if constitutionally the Self Defence Force is allowed greater latitude for military action.

The far right, the Yakuza, Japanese militarism and so on are all in the “too awkward to mention in front of the foreigners” category so this angle isn’t widely reported outside of Japan. But the groups pushing for renouncing Japan’s pacifist constitution aren’t doing so for the U.S.’s benefit. They are doing so because they believe in Japan reasserting itself as a regional power in its own right. So Abe is, as usual, about to find out that when you mess about with nationalist and jingoist forces, you’re playing with fire.

However, Abe probably thinks that he’s treading a middle ground between the pacifism and the militarism. And he most certainly wants a bit less of the pacifism and a bit more of the militarism. So he’s doing an “economic and military security” play, pitching the TPP as an aid to economic security alongside the Article 9 and the Guidelines for Japan U.S. Defense Co-operation changes as a boost military security.

If the U.S. threw Japan the latter as a sweeter, then yes, that would definitely boost the chances of Abe justifying and explaining the selling out of various internal Japanese constituencies such as agriculture and delivering the concessions needed to pass the TPP in a form which pleases the U.S. The Guidelines for Japan U.S. Defense Co-operation aren’t a formal treaty so if Japan annoys the U.S. then the U.S. can unilaterally vary them. This would be at the expense of pee’ing off Japan, but if Japan doesn’t deliver the TPP for Obama, it wouldn’t be the first time that the U.S. has responded to a diplomatic setback by throwing its toys out of the pram in a short term-ist fit of pique at the expense of its own long term strategic interests.

Prime Minister Abe will though have to navigate very murky and choppy domestic political waters in getting this through — for the reasons I’ve explained above. There are a lot of moving parts in play and few of them under Abe’s direct control. Many are hostile to Abe for being either too militaristic or not militaristic enough. Some are distinctly unsavoury.

For the U.S. (I’m referring to the Obama administration here, the TPP isn’t in any way in the interests of ordinary Americans), this however is a very, very clever move. They are playing Abe like a fiddle.

Patrick Smith, without going into the same level of detail, agrees that getting the TPP passed in Japan is still an uphill battle, and is gobsmacked that the US is going into such open opposition with China. Before, the idea of the TPP as a part of the “pivot to Asia” to bolster the US’s position with an “everyone but China” deal seemed like an odd aspiration, particularly since trade is substantially liberalized already. And if anyone thinks Japanese would really eat American beef even if a trade deal passed, they are smoking something strong. The Japanese are fabulously loyal to domestic producers believing their products to be superior. And given how terrible US meat inspection is, they are right in the case of beef.

And how can the US even think of increasing animosity with China? The US depends on China for many key products like chip manufacture and ascorbic acid. We are so economically intertwined that some analysts call the relationship “Chimerica”.

Here is Smith’s assessment:

My conclusions on the TPP’s prospects in Japan—and by extension elsewhere—are several.

One, Abe will have a tough time—however sincere or halfhearted his effort, and this is a question—getting the TPP past domestic constituencies. The pact hits too many vested political interests, and the Japanese value too highly the intense localism embedded in their system and way of life…

Two, if the TPP passes in Japan it will require—per usual when Tokyo deals with Washington—corrupting the political process to one extent or another. Assuming it passes, I suspect many of its terms will sit there, as inert as potatoes, unobserved other than in form. The Japanese are very good at this kind of thing. “Let the foreigner in so as to keep him out,” is the old expression.

Three, the talks with Abe have drawn Obama further out of the closet as to the anti-Chinese aspect of the accord. “If we don’t write the rules, China will write the rules out in that region,” the president said in a Wall Street Journal interview just before Abe’s arrival.

This is another of Obama’s appalling mistakes in his dealings across the Pacific. The TPP’s exclusion of the mainland is pointed, as is its purpose as an instrument in Washington’s undeclared war for primacy in the Pacific. This is wrong already.

What is the point, then, of pushing these realities in Beijing’s face? You would think Washington would have learned something from its pouting and fruitless opposition after China launched the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a rival of the IMF and the World Bank, last autumn. Not a chance.

Obama is giving George Bush the Second a run for his money as a candidate for Worst President in History. But the Japanese Diet may spare him by refusing to pass the TPP. Keep your fingers crossed.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    Superb analysis, thanks for this Yves.

    I think its a topic for a whole other thread, but this sort of thing makes me wonder whether Obama’s much vaunted intellectualism is really all its cracked up to be. His handling of Asia has been… well… quite Bush-like in its incoherence and shallowness. Even as an Obama sceptic I thought that at least he was a grown-up who would deal intelligently with the wider world. The manner in which the ‘pivot to Asia’ has been handled (and yes, much of the blame does attach to Clinton (H), is just weirdly inept and culturally/historically ignorant.

    Having said that, what is happening in Japan is deeply worrying. Abe is revealing himself to be a very dangerous individual. There are some very unpleasant ideologies hidden under the surface of Japan, and many are not far from the most important positions of influence. Abe may well, inadvertently or not, push Japan into a very dangerous direction.

    1. washunate

      The Americans have the Greeks blaming the Germans, Ukrainians fighting each other, the Near East in turmoil, Japan more comfortable than ever continuing long-standing hostilities with China and Korea, and so on. All while maintaining remarkable domestic compliance amongst the intellectual/professional class with extreme concentration of wealth and power and the assault on basic Constitutional governance.

      Our leadership class took a tidal wave of change and channeled it into doing more of the same. It may not be flashy, but it is impressive when you think about it.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        The idea of Budgets Unlimited Inc. has come just in time.

        “No need to cut military spending in order to get more money for our social programs.”

        “We will bribe the Pentagon to support single payer. That is, just spend more overall, as there is no need to balance anything. Everyone is happy – the path of least resistance, as any intellectual physicist will tell you, is the most energy efficient way to go. No taking away of toys from the little boy who is petulant.”

    2. Stephen

      Obama’s intellectualism has seemed more to me like a honed ability to regurgitate information handed to him by others. He talks like a democrat because that’s how he was taught. He directs the economy like a Chicago school grad because that’s how he was taught. He puts the privileged above the law like a Harvard Law grad because that’s how he was taught. His foreign policy even has this, “but that’s what the textbook says I should do!” quality to it. He policy seems to be directed by a damn the torpedoes balance of power mindset so devoid of nuance that it would only be acceptable from a 1st term foreign policy student. He saw Russia and China, looked at his grading rubric, then thought, “how do I balance these guys?” He’ll keep balancing till professor Brzezninski gives him an A on his paper. He the sort of guy who will drift through life getting A’s on papers and never adding anything meaningful to the world. But hey, good grades have always been an adequate substitute for good ideas, right?.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        If the heart is in the right place, one can afford to wait for intellectualism to arrive.

        1. Demeter

          If the heart’s in the wrong place?

          Economic collapse and a world in flames…the better side of Globalism, IMO, because that would be the end of its foolishness. At great cost, of course, but those that want the population of the globe to decrease by 1/6th to 90%, it’s all good.

          It’s too early and too Spring to be so cynical…

    3. FederalismForever

      @PlutoniumKun. At one time, I, too, was suckered by Obama’s “much vaunted intellectualism.” Upon closer inspection, almost all of it was a charade. Obama’s grades have never been released (although he did graduate magna cum laude), it seems he never wrote an original thesis while on Harvard Law Review, he never clerked for any federal appeals court judge or Supreme Court justice, he never published one law review article or casebook, and he only taught the same three classes on a very narrow (though hugely important) area of Constitutional Law during the 14 years he was a lecturer (not tenured professor, note) at Chicago. If you know anything about the typical career track of a top-ten law school grad turned professor turned Presidential candidate, you will easily agree that it is extremely rare for anyone to advance up those ranks as far as Obama did with so little in the way of original research or scholarship, and who never clerked for a judge.

      I think part of what made Obama seem so smart was that he broke onto the national political scene at a time when it was dominated by some truly stupid and poorly spoken politicians – Bush, McCain and Palin. When one compares Obama’s thin resume and lack of original research with other lawyer candidates of the past – e.g., Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft, Charles Evans Hughes, etc. – it’s no surprise, that, for example, the positions taken by his Justice Department have suffered unanimous 9-0 defeats in the Supreme Court over two dozen times – an astoundingly poor record! He’s just utterly out of his depth, and he really doesn’t have a deep knowledge of any area of law which doesn’t directly touch on race or the 14th Amendment. This might explain why his stated positions on so many topics are so relentlessly timid and shallow, and why he typically gets railroaded by more knowledgeable and savvier operatives on virtually anything he does.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Stephen, FD, thanks for those comments – both have a strong ring of truth to them I think.

        I’d love someday for a thread along the lines of ‘what the hell actually goes in in Obamas head?’ I don’t think its anywhere near as simple as him being greedy or medacious – its much more complicated than that. I think it will be a very fertile topic for future historians.

      2. Demeter

        Can’t the President of the United States of America afford a few hired hands/guns?

        Is Austerity that deeply choking the nation’s government? Or is Obama’s ego so weak that he can’t stand the competition? Or is his brashness turning the experts away in droves?

        Probably all of the above. Plus, the 1% don’t want good government.

    4. participant-observer-observed

      There are also many peace-loving people in Japan who would rather eat organic rice in peace than have US military raping more Japanese girls just to sell a few more Hondas and Sonys to Americans.

      There has to be coalition-building by multinational citizens same as multinational corporations are doing. We may not have the parliamentary system to toss out the toxicity but the Japanese can do it. Somebody send Lori Wallach to Japan, or at least her PR team! Time to remind the Japanese who interned them in camps in the USA during WWII and who has been raping their school girls around the bases in Japan.

  2. timbers

    Could “Where Kerry broke very new ground is in extending this concept to the disputed islands Japan calls the Senkakus and China the Diaoyus” be an attempt by Obama & Co to play China like they are playing Russia in Ukraine? That might fit in with The Empire consistently following it’s “Empire of Chaos” approach to weaken any potential threat to U.S. supremacy.

    Or maybe the “Empire of Chaos” believes that to militarize Japan might let Japan have at it with China? They could drain each other and block China’s rise.

    Or yes, maybe Obama is just dumb (or self interested in his retirement like Clinton/Nafta) and merely focused on TPP at all costs.

    1. C

      I’m going to go with door number 3. Whether Obama believes that the TPP is good because people tell him so, or he just cynically wants it because his backers told him to he has shown a willingness to push for it with all his might to the exclusion of anything else. Only a shortsighted fool would wade into the Sankaku/Daiyou fight anbd then only if he believed it would get him everything he really wants.

      I’m willing to bet that when Kerry said that all of the people at the U.S. Consulate in China crapped their pants. I would.

  3. Steve

    Anyone have thoughts on why Obama is pulling out all the stops for this like he hasn’t come close to for anything else, most notably healthcare, which he contemplated abandoning in late 2009? Is it purely because he’s a cynical sellout who’s looking for the big payout when he leaves office or is there something more emotional?

    Obama famously doesn’t mind attacks from the right but blows a gasket when attacked from the left. My impression is that he has always succeeded by sucking up to powerful people, who patted him on the head and told him what an impressive young man he was and that he craves their approval on an emotional level. I know I’m veering off into armchair psychology but I’ve always detected an element of desperation behind his coddling of Wall Street and his alternating condescension to, suppression and bullying of the left.

    1. James Levy

      Perhaps the specter of Bill Clinton looms large here. It may be that his inner circle are whispering in his ear that Clinton failed on healthcare but you succeeded, so now you can outdo that cracker bastard by making a trade deal that makes his NAFTA look small. Of course, I agree that Obama craves being one of the cool kids on the inside, and even making it to the White House hasn’t assuaged his anxiety that he is still an outsider. And I’m sure he’s sizing up his post-White House prospects and knows where his bread is buttered. The only thing he isn’t doing is his job, looking out for the interests of the people who put their faith in him and gave him his job. But they are of no use to him now, as he will never need their help again. This seems to be the pattern with successful people in our society. You exist for them only so long as you can be of use to them. C. Wright Mills saw this coming 60 years ago. Such is the pathology of our era.

  4. barutanseijin

    Favoring Japan over Korea & China in potential islands disputes seems so unwise on the American part that i wonder if the Japanese could really trust the Americans on that issue.

    1. kj1313

      Huh who would have thought the US would have had a hand in starting the next Sino Japenese war. *Looks at US actions the past century* Welp we’re screwed.

  5. James Levy

    Politics on both sides of the Pacific seem more and more delusional. China doesn’t have an iota of the sealift or airlift capacity to threaten the big 4 Japanese islands so this “gotta protect ourselves from the evil Chinamen” crap is just insane. A smattering of new fighters, some well-placed shore-based anti-ship missile batteries, and a whole bunch of sneaky mines that can be deployed from helicopters and patrol boats would be more than adequate to compliment what Japan has already and rule out any invasion. So what the Japanese and their American overlords are worried about is beyond me. And with an aging population whose remaining youth seem to be largely electronics-addicted metrosexuals, where Abe is going to find his cannon fodder is also unfathomable.

    And do the Americans really think that Japan is going to be a game-changer in a showdown with China? After all these decades the SDF are completely untried and unseasoned. None of their officers or NCOs have ever seen combat–not one. And they spend their money on fancy weapons, not the logistics infrastructure necessary for sustained combat, and if you’re going to fight the Chinese, you can count on sustained combat. The whole thing is just nuts. This is what happens when politicians without any training or experience in military affairs pretend they are strategies (to be fair, the military aren’t much better, as they are dominated by careerists and men whose blinkered expertise is solely tied to the application of firepower on targets–all social, psychological, political, and cultural knowledge being scorned as unnecessary so long as we have all the cool stuff that goes boom).

    Last thought: it would be sad enough if this was just the ineptitude of Obama, but this is the consensus “wisdom” of the Beltway Mandarins and their pundit mouthpieces. Obama is not initiating any of this–it is being presented to him by his “experts” as a clever way to achieve America’s imperial ends. We are truly ruled over by third-rate minds.

    1. C

      I have to agree with your last point.

      Obama has shown a great capacity to believe what people tell him to. He was, is, still a fan of HAMP despite all evidence to the contrary because the standard beltway types like Summers and Geither told him it was good and anyone who didn’t didn’t get listened to. He also has a capacity to take things personally. Consider what happened to McCrystal. His strategy was wrong but Obama, along with all the “serious people” in Washington still backs it. It was the personal insults that took him out.

      To my mind Obama has been told that the TPP will be good for America. He believes it and has chosen to ignore anyone who says otherwise. No doubt they believe that if we just apply more neoliberalism it will eventually work. Or, as Vox noted, the lobbyists negotiating the deal just believe it will be good for them and don’t particularly care about America. He takes it personally when people question it, or rather him, and that will probably only strengthen his resolve to see it done. That is why he is crass enough to cover the poverty in Baltimore and pushing for the TPP in the same presser.

      With things like this they are basically sacrificing any attempt to be subtle and are even trading away a very valuable soft position on some things for direct, and probably unsustainable, confrontation.

      As Marcy Wheeler put it succinctly they are abandoning soft power and doubling down on hard power. The sad thing is that, as you note, the hard power isn’t that hard.

      1. VietnamVet

        This is the gang that seized Ukraine, starting a civil war on Russia’s border and shipped the 173rd Airborne Brigade into Kiev reigniting Cold War 2.0. They are incapable of seeing the downside to a Third Sino-Japanese War.

  6. barutanseijin

    Abe is indeed very dangerous. (And deliberately so i believe.) The American establishment seems to have downplayed the risks in promoting Japanese nationalism & re-militarization. If the benefit is TPP approval, the increased risk of an E. Asian 1914 hardly seems worth it — even if you like TPP.

  7. susan the other

    Great post; thank you. It is really interesting stuff. Can’t help remembering Abe’s face at the Asian economic conference in China last year when Xi snubbed him right on screen. The thing about that was that Abe had been opening doors to China and extending feelers for cooperation. Xi gave him the coldest shoulder I ever saw on TV. Left me wondering if Xi was the world’s best actor or what. Because it was weird. And now, in order to get the TPP signed in Japan, we are agreeing to let Japan spend money on its military and tweak its pacifist constitution (which as of last nite on NHK wasn’t going down well in Japan). And this looks good to Abe because the Japanese economy is coming down the back side of the roller coaster, and etc. Not to mention the undeniably huge, expensive, and nearly-impossible task of containing Fukushima. Japan’s economy is very peculiar. It shouldn’t even exist. But we will help to support it any way we can if Japan cooperates with us and effectively participates in crushing the US Constitution and vestiges of democracy. This is about saving US corporations to ransack the US. And it is probably so tricky that all sorts of Chimerica products will be handled by Japan. The big scuffle between Japan and China over the stupid little Senkaku Islands is just more useful theater.

    1. susan the other

      Isn’t it ironic that because we have open trade and use few tariffs, because we pride ourselves on free trade, we have put our international corporations in a losing position! Gotta laugh. They need to be subsidized through their adopted countries by free-riding and pretending it is equal and fair treatment. We can’t just cut them a good deal because they are our corporations. Don’t mention that they are very big aggressive traders who stand to benefit enormously. Because that would put the lie to all our talk about free trade, so instead we give all imports the same big fat kiss. For them we will gut our labor laws and our EPA standards and flick in our democracy altogether.

    2. Winston Smith

      Evidently Xi has a short memory, if Japan pulled ALL of it’s factories out of China and stopped ordering parts from Chinese based manufacturers. China would be screwed. A lot, and I mean a lot of Chinese workers would be out of jobs if Japan pulled out completely.

      China’s rise was not simply because the Chinese are brilliant, but a lot of Japanese overseas development aide and cooperation from Japanese manufacturers.

      As for Japanese militarization, that is worrisome.

      But for the US, Japan and Korea to depend on China so much for manufacturing, was simply very bad and a foolish policy. While dangling 1 Billion plus consumers, which was always a lie, in front of them they forgot China’s potential as a serious competitor and enemy.

      To paraphrase Lenin, We will hang the capitalists with the rope that we manufacture for them.

      1. Demeter

        I’d like to see Japan or ANYONE try to pull their factories out of China…nothing would be let go except the foreigners who don’t show loyalty to China…

    3. Lexington

      And now, in order to get the TPP signed in Japan, we are agreeing to let Japan spend money on its military and tweak its pacifist constitution (which as of last nite on NHK wasn’t going down well in Japan).

      At the risk of stating the obvious Japan does not need American permission to spend money on its armed forces or amend its constitution: this misconception reflects the reflexive article of faith among Americans, common even among liberals, that the universe revolves around them.

      This fallacy is present in the analysis above and significantly compromises its integrity but since you repeated it I took the opportunity to address it here.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Japan operates under a US security shield. As James Levy points out, even with a large “self defense” force, it is in fact not capable of defending itself due to lack of experience and expertise. Japan can’t build adequate military capabilities in less than a generation and with China belligerent, cannot afford to renounce its status as military of protectorate of the US. To put none to fine a point on it, Japan does not even have nukes, although it could develop that particular capability quickly. Not true of the others.

        1. Lexington

          May I ask on what basis you have concluded that the Japanese military lacks “experience and expertise”? I’m not completely uninformed about these matters and I see no basis for this assertion.

          I get that Japan values its military alliance with the US (and the US values Japan as a strategic partner in containing China) and that the center right Japanese leadership, which has dominated the country’s politics for most of the postwar period, would at the very least be reluctant to jeopardize that relationship, but that’s not the same as saying the US actually controls Japanese military spending or has a veto over changes in the Japanese constitution.

          In any case under these particular circumstances an increase in Japanese defence spending actually serves American strategic interests, and a loosing of the constitutional constraints on deploying military forces would probably also be welcomed in Washington, because in both cases they increase Japan’s utility to the US as a counterweight to China.

        2. Jim in SC

          Japan is used to being underestimated militarily. They weren’t expected to defeat China in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), much less the Russians (1904-05).

  8. Jill

    The “coalition of the willing” was forced by a combination of threats and carrots (mostly threats). I had been wondering if the NSA or other like minded agencies might have some truly damning info on Fukushima that could change hearts and minds. Abe definitely wants a militarized Japan but I’m not certain that is everything involved here.

  9. Huckleberry

    Every city in Japan can be hit by an attack from a nuclear-armed Chinese client-state.
    America’s ability/willingness to project power in East Asia wanes.
    In such an environment, it would be irresponsible for any Japanese government not to adjust their security posture, or at the very least begin preparing to do so.

    1. James Levy

      So you think North Korea is going to try to launch a nuclear attack, with its rickety missiles and its maybe-it-will-explode, maybe-not handful of nukes on Japan? Why? With what chance the Americans won’t wipe them off the face of the earth?

      Japan can handle its own defense against any reasonable threat, and no country can effectively defend itself against a lunatic one. It needs a little tinkering around the edges and perhaps a couple billion dollars more a year strategically spent. It is in no imminent danger, and it is a lot cheaper and easier to rush your defenses if someone is threatening you than to build up useless intervention forces Japan couldn’t use successfully in the first place. This is dick-waving at its most puerile, not sound strategic planning for national defense.

    2. hunkerdown

      Can’t you distinguish an adversary from a wacky inflatable arm-waving man, or are you here to sell wacky inflatable arm-waving men?

  10. hemeantwell

    a question:

    One, Abe will have a tough time—however sincere or halfhearted his effort, and this is a question—getting the TPP past domestic constituencies. The pact hits too many vested political interests, and the Japanese value too highly the intense localism embedded in their system and way of life…

    From what little I know of Japan I’m sure this is true. But details would be most welcome. My first reaction is to wonder if Abe’s ongoing, and largely successful, suppressive effort against Japanese media has had this, along with Fukushima and other issues, in view. I’d imagine that the antiwar/antinuke and trade-oriented constituencies don’t overlap much, but could he use the press gag measures to shut down the TTP opponents? A “national defense” rationale is clearly coming together.

    Re Obama’s double-down on diplomatic idiocy, the only caveat possible is that this is a crass, vile, and disgusting instance of fomenting conflicts among your enemies in order to eventually play the buzzard (although eagles also eat carrion), an effort that might succeed given the way that generalized economic stagnation tends to induce regression to war. Silver lining: as crap like this goes on, the evident current viciousness US foreign relations will draw more people to reassessing the dramaturgy of the Cold War.

  11. Kevin Sutherland

    And I’m sure any increased militarization of Japan will be a boon to the US defense industry, making it another corporate benefit to come out of the TPP.

    1. Clive

      I’ve wondered that myself Lambert. I never would claim to be able to offer anything particularly amazing or special myself but how is it that a collection of amateurs — that’s all I think we might claim to be — can offer up as a minimum at least a depth of coverage to topics such as this. It’s not like any of the things that are subjects of features in NC are trivial or of marginal importance. But the way the (certainly the U.S. and UK mainstream media) are so anechoic around them, it has me scratching my head anyway.

      1. hunkerdown

        Hence, the social pressure to talk about the Kardashians. People start talking about something other than the latest distraction, like, say, the weather → sense starts to be made → the world becomes more dangerous for capital. Travesty!

  12. frosty zoom


    so he offers japan mechagodzilla. i wonder what the other tp’ers (they don’t deserve anymore “p”s) will get as mordidas.

    australia: john pilger’s exile to new zealand
    brunei: a polite thank you note (shh..)
    canada: mr. obama will like mr. harper’s facenook page
    chile: mechamiltonfreeman
    malaysia: justice! new u.s. (charter, as per tp (no p)) school lunch program: sambal belacan and coconut milk
    mexico: california, the prune
    peru: ecuador
    singapore: 17,353,498 hand-made-artisan-oregon-tilth-organic-hemp brooms (for the base)
    south korea: youtube
    taiwan: [insert ultrascary scenario]
    united states: dancing with the stars and hot pockets!
    vietnam: 17,353,498 barrels of round up™

  13. frosty zoom

    [i think this post went into the ether because of a couple of wiki links. if it double posts, sorry; the absurdity of all this does frustrate.]


    so he offers japan mechagodzilla. i wonder what the other tp’ers (they don’t deserve anymore “p”s) will get as mordidas.

    australia: john pilger’s exile to new zealand
    brunei: a polite thank you note (shh..)
    canada: mr. obama will like mr. harper’s facenook page
    chile: mechamiltonfreeman
    malaysia: justice! new u.s. (charter, as per tp (no p)) school lunch program: sambal belacan and coconut milk
    mexico: california, the prune
    peru: ecuador
    singapore: 17,353,498 hand-made-artisan-oregon-tilth-organic-hemp brooms (for the base)
    south korea: youtube
    taiwan: [insert ultrascary scenario]
    united states: dancing with the stars and hot pockets!
    vietnam: 17,353,498 barrels of round up™

    1. frosty zoom


      “this” being the diplomatic dancing; link control is an obvious need.

  14. Jeremy Grimm

    I can only imagine how other nations on the Pacific Rim might feel about Japanese projections of military power. I do not believe any of the nations invaded by Japan leading up to and through World War II have forgotten the last time the Japanese came to town. I expect South Korea will welcome increased Japanese militarization almost as much as the Chinese in Nanking. I doubt whether the Philippines will be too pleased. I also doubt they will forget what little regard the United States gave to their sensitivities toward the Japanese military — whether Obama’s little TPP side-deal with Abe goes through or not.

    And what about the American people? The TPP and our other “trade” deals — make all too plain how little Corporations, the US Congress, and President Obama regard the American people. The content of the TPP, such as is known, and the way this deal was crafted and secreted insult the American people and what little remains of our democracy.

  15. flora

    Yves, many thanks for this post. I appreciate Clive’s on-the-ground in Japan analysis very much. I read this post this morning and thought I would have a quick comment. But the information provided has left me grappling all day with the deep issues it presents. Issues of recent US presidents taking the post-WWII consensus for granted ( because USA!) even as they undermine that consensus’s domestic and international foundations. Issues about the Japanese ability to think very long term, here located in the TPP in a group we would not wish to encourage. Something about moving most of manufacturing to China, including military manufacturing (computer systems and rare earth minerals used in all guidance systems, among other things), and then blustering. I still don’t have a sensible comment. This is just to thank NC for presenting important information.

    1. Doug Terpstra

      It’s perfectly circular logic: militarism, chaos, and rigged trade are perversely complementary in the twisted neoliberal psyche.

  16. shurakuBBQ

    Minor point, but Abe’s peepaw was named Kishi, not Kiishi.

    More generally, it’s worth considering Japan’s strategy from a historical perspective. The miracle years of the Japanese economy coincided nicely with the period of American wars in East Asia. The people pulling Abe’s strings may be angling for a restart of regional tensions, in which Japan may get rich again playing host and supplier to U.S. troops. And as we have seen before in Korea and Vietnam, it doesn’t matter if the US wins, as long as the war economy keeps paying the bills.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Smith transliterated it as Kiishi, and he’s worked in Japan for years and also wrote the New Yorker’s Letter from Tokyo. I therefore assume this is an acceptable rendering of his name.

    2. Clive

      A couple of points on this subject:

      1) Romanised renderings of the original Japanese language pronunciations are a general guide to the actual phonetics being spoken but not in some cases a precise match. So just because you see a Japanese word written in Romanised letters it doesn’t mean that you’re pronouncing the Japanese correctly. Take it as a good approximation at best.

      2) For names and places especially, even though a Chinese character (kanji) is employed, the conventional readings of that character do not necessarily apply. Even to native Japanese, you have to know what the pronunciation should be (common well known things like Tokyo (東京) are obviously easy but obscure place names and family names are sometimes complete wild cards). So while “Kishi” is the conventional Romanised text used for the family name of Nobusuke Kishi, the way the family pronounce the kanji for their family name (岸) may have been different (kiishi could indeed be a better approximation). I can’t find any audio of a native speaker actually pronouncing Nobusuke Kishi’s name so I can’t be definitive. But in a sentence, don’t take any Romanisation of a Japanese word in general — and the pronunciations of names or places in particular — as inviolable.

      1. shurakuBBQ

        Thanks for responding! Happy and flattered to have replies from both Clive (!) and Yves (!!) but this is not a simple matter of confusion over how to Romanize a Japanese name—I think it is simply mistaken. The reading for 岸 is きし (kishi) not きいし(kiishi), which is borne out, for example, by the Japanese wikipedia entry on Nobusuke Kishi: http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%B2%B8%E4%BF%A1%E4%BB%8B. In any case, it doesn’t materially affect the analysis, which as others have noted, is excellent.

    3. qufuness

      Contrary to what Yves and Clive have explained, I think that the transliteration “Kishii” is incorrect. Every Japanese source I’ve looked at gives the phonetic reading of 岸 as “kishi” (きし) and offers no variant pronunciation. All the same, the content of the article is quite valuable.

      1. Clive

        Oh yes, definitely, you’re absolutely right, if it was just the kanji (岸) then this would certainly be “kishi” (きし). It’s just that here it is being used in the context of a name and like I mentioned, when it comes to names, all bets are off in terms of pronunciation. Where’s a native speaker when you need one :-) …

          1. Clive

            Big thanks shurakuBBQ

            I’d not seen/heard that Abe speech and especially as it was actually by chance that you posted the link to it, it was interesting. Not good, mind you, typical Abe confusing-one-thing-with-another rubbish, but interesting as it covered a lot of ground we’ve been reading on NC and I did end after watching it with more of an insight into Abe’s thinking, mushy though it is, than when I started.

            It didn’t entirely resolve the “what’s the best way to pronounce 岸信介 (and the transcript didn’t help as it didn’t give furigana, no reason why it should have). Hearing Abe pronounce his Grandfather’s family name I’m still not at all keen on “kishi”. I asked a random sample of people (British English, mileage might vary for US English speakers) to say “kishi” and it always ended up wrong — mostly variations on “quiche-ey” which sounds more like some kind of food thing they might serve at a wedding reception. All of which reminds me of why I really, really hate romanji and can only agree that Romaji Can Ruin Your Day. As this one certainly did :-)

            1. shurakuBBQ

              Hi Clive
              Definitely agree about Abe being a jellyhead! The man is poisonous – the fruit didn’t fall far from the tree in this case! (Although his granpa was a far sight cleverer in a corrupt way.)

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