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Japan Diary

March 12, 2023

How Long Should a Nation Endure Its Defeat in War

(This article originally appeared in the Newsweek Japan of 14 February 2023.
The English translation was later published on the site of the English-Speaking Union of Japan)

On January 25, Germany decided to provide Ukraine with its "Leopard 2" tank, which represents the height of its industrial prowess. This means that Germany, along with the United States, which promised to provide the M1 Abrams tank, is now to be treated by Russia as a "major enemy" and disqualified from mediating the war in Ukraine.

The tanks would not bring a fundamental change in the war, and this time there were even reports that the Russian military had acquired the U.S.-made "Javelin" anti-tank missiles illegally diverted from Ukraine. Under these circumstances, Germany was initially reluctant to provide the tanks, but was forced to make the decision after being isolated within NATO. Last September, a submarine pipeline in the Baltic Sea, which transported Russian natural gas to Germany, was blown up, resulting in the loss of more than 40% of the country's natural gas supply. Chancellor Scholz was forced to run around the world in search of alternative suppliers.

As I see this, I cannot help but bemoan the plight of a nation defeated in war. Their power to speak out is limited because their military power is kept at a low level by the victorious nations, and even if they say the right thing, if it does not suit the interests of the victorious nations, their voice is ultimately crushed down by force.

In the Falklands War of 1982, in which Argentina went to war with the U.K. after occupying the British Falkland Islands off Argentina's coast, the U.S. declared its support for its ally, the U.K. The U.K. and the U.S. then blatantly exerted pressure on West Germany to follow suit, saying "Who's keeping West Berlin safe?". During the Cold War, West Berlin was like an isolated island in East German territory, so it was protected by the "Allied Forces" of Britain, the U.S., and France. I was posted to West Germany as a diplomat at the time, and the German Foreign Ministry officials I spoke to at the time betrayed in his expression his seething anger at the pressure from the U.K. and the U.S.

Japan is also a "defeated country

In 1992, President Yeltsin, hoping to improve relations with Japan and to get some money out of it, said, "Russia, unlike the Soviet Union, is ready to move away from its victor's position, and to promote relations with Japan, an erstwhile vanquished nation". I, for one, was born after WWII, and do not regard the Soviet Union as a victor over Japan. I was surprised by Yeltsin's words, thinking "What? Did they look at Japan in such a way, even though Japan's economy is more than ten times larger (at that time) than Russia's?"

But unfortunately, it is not only the Russians who still treat Japan as a country defeated in war. Even the U.S. takes that view (it is because Japan keeps depending on the U.S. too much for its security). Some macho Arabs, too, do not hide their contempt for the Japanese, criticizing Japan for following the lead of the U.S., who dropped atomic bombs on Japan. Working as a diplomat, there have been instances when I felt irrepressible indignation well up in me.

However, to put it straight, the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty was concluded, when Japan demanded an end to the postwar Allied occupation regime, on the understanding that Japan would be granted independence provided that the U.S. military bases would remain in Japan. Article 9 of the Constitution, regarded by the Japanese now as a golden rule for peace, is in fact the disarmament measures that a defeated nation is normally subjected to. Although the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty was revised in 1960 to look less humiliating for Japan, postwar Japan has immersed itself in the "defeated nation" system of its own volition, aided in part by manoeuvers by the Soviet Union and others.
In 1922, after its defeat in World War I, Germany, in the face of excessive pressure from France and other countries, shocked the world by signing the Rapallo Treaty with the newly emerging Soviet Union. The treaty provided for the return of territories Germany had acquired from the Soviet Union during the war and for economic and military cooperation, thereby bringing the two countries out of their previous international isolation. This is what happens when you drive a defeated nation into a corner.

Today Japan, too, would face tremendous pressure from the U.S. for approval to use the military bases in Japan in the event of an emergency in Taiwan, for example. Japan's Rapallo option in that case would be a collaboration with China.

I earnestly hope that this would not happen, because China's autocratic regime does not agree with me. Fortunately, the prevailing view in Japan is that the "Japan-U.S. alliance should be maintained, but Japan should strengthen its self-defense capabilities."

In the current defense budget debate in the Diet, we are hearing not only about the pros and cons of raising taxes to cover increased defense spending, but also about the fundamentals of national security policy. Prime Minister Kishida takes the questions head-on, explaining them in terms that are easy for the public to understand, while at the same time not giving any unnecessary commitments. Very good. I will pay more attention to the debate in the Diet.