Japanese views on defense policy have undergone important changes in recent years. Since 1945, successive governments have interpreted Article IX of the constitution, the so-called war-renouncing clause, as barring the overseas dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces to participate in collective military activities. The body politic's distrust of the armed forces became so ingrained following the nation's crushing defeat in World War II that it long has been politically incorrect some might say politically suicidal for a policymaker or a legislator to propose any other approach to safeguarding Japan's national interests.
Yet precisely that is happening now. Experts have observed the emergence of a consensus favoring a stronger, more independent assertion of Japan's economic and political interests on the global stage. They attribute this shift and a concurrent rise in nationalistic rhetoric and behavior to the combined influences of unsettling regional developments, economic uncertainties at home and fluid domestic politics.
The same analysts stress, however, that the direction in which Japan is moving will not lead to the abandonment of its alliance with the United States or to a reversion to pre-1945 militarism. The culture of antimilitarism is too deeply embedded in the letter of the law, in governing institutions and in the Japanese mind-set for either of these historic events to occur. Notwithstanding its nearly ¥5 trillion ($41.6 billion at ¥120=$1.00) annual defense budget and an impressive arsenal of cutting-edge weapons systems, Japan remains loath to flex its muscle or involve the military in a conflict situation beyond its borders.
Thus, despite the headline-grabbing remarks of ambitious right-wing lawmakers, Japan's approach to national security will continue to evolve incrementally in response to domestic political shifts, changes in public sentiments and developments in Northeast Asia. The challenge for policymakers in Tokyo will be to find ways of reassuring neighbors and allies that a more nationalistic and assertive Japan still is a peace-loving country and a reliable strategic partner.
CABINET APPROVES SECOND FY 1999 EXTRA
--- by Jon Choy
To implement its recently announced ¥18.1 trillion ($150.8 billion at ¥120=$1.00) stimulus package (see JEI Report No. 44B, November 19, 1999), the cabinet of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi agreed November 25 to add nearly ¥6.8 trillion ($56.7 billion) to the general account budget for FY 1999. The Diet is expected to move quickly on the supplemental spending authorization in order to keep the economy on a growth track. But despite general agreement that extra pump-priming is needed to prop up the economy in the short term, concern is growing over the potentially negative long-run effects of Tokyo's fiscal extravagance in the 1990s.
SUMMER SAW ANOTHER DROP IN JAPAN'S
CURRENT ACCOUNT SURPLUS
--- by Douglas Ostrom
Japan's current account surplus the broadest measure of the nation's external imbalance posted its third straight quarterly decline in the July-September period (see Table 1). The 26.6 percent contraction, although bigger than the 15.7 percent drop registered in the spring (see JEI Report No. 32B, August 20, 1999), still left the third-quarter surplus larger than it had been two years before.
NAGO SELECTED FOR FUTENMA AIR STATION BUT
RELOCATION STILL UNCERTAIN
--- by Barbara Wanner
The Japanese media hyped Okinawan Gov. Keiichi Inamine's November 22 announcement that Nago would be the relocation site for a U.S. Marine Corps heliport as the breakthrough event that could lead to full implementation of the 1996 Special Action Committee on Okinawa plan to consolidate U.S. military bases in the prefecture. The centerpiece of this three-year-old accord involves moving the Futenma Air Station, currently in densely populated Ginowan, to another place on the island (see JEI Report No. 45B, December 6, 1996).
OBUCHI UNVEILS NEW AID PLAN FOR EAST ASIA
AT ASEAN SUMMIT
--- by Marc Castellano
Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi announced another program to help East Asian economies at the November 27-28 summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Manila. The so-called Obuchi Plan will provide $500 million for regional human resource development and for personnel exchanges between Japan and other East Asian countries. According to Japanese officials, the new scheme shifts the focus of Tokyo's aid efforts from emergency financial assistance to support for longer-term recovery and development.
Space Launch Business - The National Space Development Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. still are trying to determine why the liquid-fueled LE-7 first-stage engine of a H-II satellite booster shut down too soon after liftoff November 15, dumping the rocket's separated second stage and payload into the Pacific Ocean several hundred miles southeast of Tokyo. Space industry experts, though, lost no time offering their take on the fallout for Japan of the second straight failure of the country's all-domestic H-II heavy-lift launch vehicle (see JEI Report No. 8B, February 27, 1998).