Debate Magazine

It is Japan’s Interest to Send SDF to the Persian Gulf

Posted on the 22 August 2015 by Shahalexander

In the debate of the new security bill at the Japanese Diet, the oppositions argue that the Abe administration impose geographical restrictions to send the Self Defense Forces overseas. They insist that unlimited military involvement in global operations will hollow the pacifist clause of Article 9 of the constitution. They worry that too lenient restriction will ruin the legal stability. Furthermore, those who oppose Abe’s global involvement, maintain that Japan as an Asian country concentrate her defense resource on threats in East Asia, notably China and North Korea.

However, these arguments are not persuasive. The threats of terrorism, extremism, autocracy, and nuclear proliferation are increasingly globalized. Also, Japan is heavily dependent on oil from the Persian Gulf, over 80% (“Oil Inustry Today 2014”; Petroleum Association of Japan; April 2014). Therefore, Japan needs to act with the United States and leading Western partners to manage the crisis in case of an emergency in the Gulf. We must remember that the genesis of proactive pacifism and the security bill today is the diplomatic humiliation of the Gulf War in 1991. Japan failed to help UN authorized and US led coalition to punish Saddam Hussein’s illegitimate aggression to Kuwait, and she was simply ridiculed an ATM machine to finance the US military missions. This incident has awakened Japanese leaders and citizens how passive and even reclusive postwar pacifism is. From this point of view, it is Japan’s interest and responsibility to share the burden of global security beyond her neighborhood.
Regarding oil route security of the Persian Gulf, the foremost threat is Iran’s rising A2AD capability against US carrier strike groups. Actually, Iran demonstrated her strong will to attack American fleets by destroying a mock aircraft carrier in the naval drill this February (“Iran blasts mock U.S. carrier in war games”; CNN; February 27, 2015). The American carrier squadron is so vital for Japanese defense that enemy hit to the carrier will pose a clear danger to Japan’s national survival and her people. Even Dietman Ichiro Ozawa, who is one the least enthusiastic politician to deepen the US-Japanese alliance, admits that the 7th Fleet is indispensable to defend Japan (“Japan opposition's U.S. military remarks draw criticism”; Reuters; February 26, 2009). Therefore, I would strongly argue that the new security bill should not impose geographical restrictions to Japanese defense missions. The Abe administration suggests quite restrained involvement in a Gulf crisis to send minesweepers only, but fleet air defense is more critical. Seemingly fortified, a carrier is not armed with defensive equipments, and her flight deck lightening is kept low at night to avoid a surprise attack. This implies that advanced fleet air defense destroyers like American Aegis combat system and British Type 45 are indispensable to defend a carrier strike group. From this point of view, it is Japan’s vital interest to send Aegis destroyers as the US and the UK do. Therefore, I would argue that opponents Abe’s extremely restrained vision is so reclusive that they would repeat the same error of the Gulf War humiliation in 1991.

Japanese people have vital historical experience to understand strategic and symbolic impacts of losing capital ships, both in offensive and defensive positions. At the fall of Singapore, the Imperial Japanese troops sank the Royal Navy’s battleship Prince of Wales and Repulse, which inflicted tremendous strategic and psychological damage to the nations of the British Commonwealth and Empire throughout the Asia-Pacific region. On the other hand, the Japanese mainland fell vulnerable to American air raid after the Imperial Japanese Navy lost command of the neighboring sea, as battleship Musashi and other capital ships were destroyed in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. If the enemy hit an American carrier successfully in the Persian Gulf, that would not be a single loss of a warship somewhere far away. Threats across the world would be emboldened, and they would rise against Pax Americana as stated in the broken window theory. Then, Japan’s security and survival would be at critical risk.
In Nagatacho, some diet members regard the recent nuclear deal as a diplomatic thaw between Iran and the United States. President Barack Obama has been exploring to change diplomatic approaches to Iran since the inauguration, as typically seen in his apologetic Cairo speech. But we have to keep in mind that America is not identical with Obama. Remember that British Prime Minister David Cameron is not necessarily evaluated well among American policymakers, even though he is a good friend to Obama. Actually, his nuclear deal faces vehement bipartisan criticism at Capitol Hill. Along with almost unanimously disagreeing Republicans, some Democrats object to the deal. Among such Democrats, Senator Chuck Schumer argues that the deal is unlikely to moderate Iran as long as they do not abandon their nuclear ambition (“Schumer: I'm Voting Against Iran Deal”; Weekly Standard --- Blog; August 6, 2015). As if substantiating Schumer’s view, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran’s affair should not be interfered by outsiders. This is interpreted that Khamenei has no intention of stopping the nuclear program, and simply wants sanctions lifted (“Iranian Hard-Liner Says Supreme Leader Opposes Nuclear Deal”; New York Times; August 15, 2015). In view of this, another Democrat opponent, Senator Bob Menendez, expressed critical concerns that the deal had not eliminated Iran’s nuclear program capability completely. That is, some sites like Fordow are inaccessible to inspectors, and numerous centrifuges are still in Iran’s hand (“Senate Democrats stake out both sides of Iran deal” Reuters; August 18,2015).
President Obama might manage to override the Congressional criticism, but even if the nuclear deal is enacted, it is too naïve to assume US-Iranian tensions are easing. In the past, SALT agreements did not guarantee US-Soviet détente. Nagatacho politicians who believe US-Iranian diplomatic thaw, appear a kind of Jimmy Carter, who was easily duped by Leonid Brezhnev. Some people argue that Iran will be an ally to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but that is too wishful thinking. ‪Iran‬ may want to stop the expansion of ‪‎ISIS‬, but their real interest is to keep both countries unstable, to weaken American and Arab neighbor influence. That simply makes Iran’s Shiite proxies more rampant (“Sorry, America: Iran Won't Defeat ISIS for You”; National Interest; July 23, 2015). I wonder why some Nagatacho politicians, including some policy consummates, are so optimistic to the post nuclear deal US-Iranian relationship. In any case, Obama’s term will end in a year or so, and the next president will be more hardliner to Iran, even if a Democrat wins the election. ‬‬Also, the nuclear deal can trigger regional tensions as Israel and Saudi Arabia worry Iranian dominance in the region.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
Iran is not the only danger posed to the oil route. Nonstate actors like pirates and terrorists can interrupt navigation freedom in the Gulf with mines and anti-ship missiles. Remember, Hamas is armed with cruise missiles to attack Israel. In order to understand regional threats like Iran and terrorists, we need to know its philosophical and historical background of Islamic extremism. One Nagatacho politician says that Japan can be a friend with jihadists as long as she avoids being embroiled with American or Western endeavor against Islamic extremism. However, it is an ideology of murderer and destroyer, and completely intolerant of kaffirs and their fellow moderate Muslims. Once regarded infidel, anyone is the target of extremist attack, whether Judaeo-Christian or not. They exterminated Buddhism in India in the Middle Age. Taliban treated the Japanese delegation scornfully when they petitioned to save the Buddhas of Bamiyan. From these aspects, passive and reclusive pacifism shall never help Japan to manage those religious extremists. Remember, they killed many Japanese even before ISIS captured and murdered Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa in January this year.

Regardless of security in the Gulf, some Japanese argue that we focus on threats in the neighborhood in view of aggressive China and North Korea. They say that it is just a waste of Japan’s defense and financial resource to send troops far away home. However, history tells us that their views are wrong. For example, South Korea sent her troops to the Vietnam War, though she faces an immense threat of North Korea just across the border. In those days, South Koreans hardly cared Vietnam as they were isolated and surrounded by hostile powers in the neighborhood, ie, North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union. The relations with Japan was tense. Therefore, Seoul needed to prove their loyalty to America. Similarly, Poland joined the Iraq War to demonstrate close alliance with the United States against Russia. Such loyalty will be of some help for allies to reflect their interests in American foreign policy.
In addition, overseas deployment is a good way to deepen the combat experience of the troop. The Japan Self Defense Forces are highly evaluated for well trained performance in multilateral exercise. However, the Self Defense Forces (SDF) are one of the most poorly experienced troops in the world, since Japan has been in peace for 70 years since the end of World War II. Japanese liberals take pride in it, but in my eyes, current SDF are Tokugawa samurais when Matthew Perry’s fleet came to Japan. Can they fight a real battle in case of direct and imminent danger to the Japanese homeland, without combat experience? If the SDF join the multilateral coalition in the Middle East and Africa, that will be a good apprenticeship to prepare for managing dangers near the homeland. In Asia, the SDF is expected to assume key responsibility in the coalition, even without combat experience. On the other hand, the SDF can learn war in a real combat in the Middle East or Africa with relatively low risk, because key belligerents are the United States, NATO allies, and regional stakeholders. This is a good environment for Japan’s apprenticeship and preparation for “do or die” battle field.
Those who stress that Japan not be involved in American or Western war in the Middle East and elsewhere may value the friendship and partnership with Asia-Pacific nations. However, this is a blunt denial of our exceptional position in the world, that is, Japan is an Asia Pacific nation, and simultaneously, a Western “great power” to manage he world along with America and Europe since the late Meiji era. Japanese people understand the strategic importance of the Persian Gulf and Japan’s exceptional position very well. It is utterly wrong to say “people do not understand why we need to send the SDF to the Gulf” in Nagatacho. I understand it very well as I stated here, though I am not a genius at all. Even I understand it, therefore, Japanese people understand it very well without any question.

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