No. 31 — August 11, 2000


Weekly Review

--- by Barbara Wanner

The Japan Defense Agency's 2000 review of regional and global security concerns, released July 28, reiterated the warning included in last year's white paper that North Korea continues to pose a threat to regional stability. However, the tone of this message was less urgent than in the 1999 report (see JEI Report No. 30B, August 6, 1999). JDA welcomed the groundbreaking summit in mid-June between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, noting that tensions on the Korean peninsula may continue to ease as this dialogue develops further. Nonetheless, the contributors to the report remain wary of Pyongyang's designs. They stated that "it is necessary to monitor carefully how the development of dialogue would be linked to the relaxation of the military confrontation on the peninsula as well as to the resolution of such issues as North Korea's suspected nuclear arms and ballistic missile development."

At the same time, JDA cautioned that Tokyo should not overly focus on North Korean activities to the exclusion of developments in the People's Republic of China. The white paper pointed out that Chinese naval vessels have been increasingly active in Japanese waters, apparently conducting drills and unspecified research activities. The report's authors also noted that China and Taiwan are no closer to a peaceful resolution of their differences than 50 years ago. Beijing still regards Taiwan as a breakaway republic that should be reincorporated into the mainland government; officials in Taipei favor a more autonomous status. Furthermore, China's reported construction of missile bases on its coast along the Taiwan Straits and development of new intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles may further exacerbate already-strained cross-straits relations (see JEI Report No. 16A, April 21, 2000).

Citing the many "unclear and uncertain elements" in the Asian Pacific region, the drafters of JDA's 2000 white paper echoed previous editions, highlighting the central role of the U.S.-Japan alliance in maintaining peace and stability. However, they also underscored the need for legislation to reduce the government red tape at the local and national levels that would impede a "legal" response by the Self-Defense Forces to a direct attack on Japan. JDA has studied such legislation since 1977, but the agency has been unable to advance it due to the difficulties of tackling defense-related matters in pacifistic Japan and the problems of coordinating input from such other relevant bureaucracies as the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Home Affairs and from local jurisdictions.

Defense officials indicated August 4 that JDA, in fact, will launch a panel in the coming weeks to develop an emergency-response plan. The agency also wants to create a special unit, composed of members from the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces, to carry out relief activities in response to natural disasters and nuclear accidents, a JDA spokesperson announced the same day.

Currently, the SDF units that are stationed nearest to a devastated area are mobilized to conduct relief activities. Senior defense officials argue, however, that a dedicated response team should be created and outfitted with the appropriate equipment. Tokyo has received the lion's share of the blame for the bungled government response to such domestic crises as the Great Hanshin Earthquake in the Kobe-Osaka area in 1995 (see JEI Report No. 3B, January 27, 1995) and last September's fatal accident at a nuclear fuel facility in Tokaimura, Ibaraki prefecture (see JEI Report No. 38B, October 8, 1999). JDA policymakers evidently feel that the aftershocks from such mishaps could be minimized if a specially trained and equipped disaster-relief unit were on call.

On other defense matters, the Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition government — which includes the New Komeito and the New Conservative Party — agreed August 4 to submit to the Diet in the fall a bill that would allow the SDF to inspect unidentified ships to enforce economic sanctions. This legislation originally was part of a package of bills enacted in May 1999 to implement the September 1997 U.S.-Japan defense operational guidelines. Due to policy disagreements among the coalition partners — at the time, the LDP, the New Komeito and the Liberal Party — then-Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi was forced to remove the ship-inspection bill from the guidelines-related legislation in order to get the package through the Diet before a meeting in Washington with President Clinton (see JEI Report No. 17B, April 30, 1999).

Although more than a year has passed and different people govern, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori may not necessarily have an easier time getting the ship-inspection bill enacted. An unnamed coalition official admitted as much, saying that it may be "difficult for the public to understand" how a bill lifted from a legislative package can be resubmitted to the Diet.

In truth, insiders suggest, the pacifist New Komeito may drive a hard bargain on the ship-inspection issue. During consideration of the guidelines-implementing legislation in the spring of 1999, the second-largest ruling party was adamant that a United Nations Security Council resolution be a precondition for these searches. The LDP and the Liberal Party earlier had agreed to scrap that requirement (see JEI Report No. 15A, April 16, 1999). With the clock ticking toward Mr. Obuchi's departure for the United States to meet with Mr. Clinton, the triparty coalition decided to sidestep controversy in the interest of getting the rest of the package through the Diet.

The New Komeito once again seems to have the upper hand. The LDP depends on its partner's 31 lower house members to give the coalition an absolute majority in the 480-member House of Representatives. A scandal that came to light in late July and forced the resignation of a cabinet member renewed questions about Mr. Mori's fitness for office. In turn, it sparked rumors that the New Komeito might pull out of the governing alliance (see JEI Report No. 30B, August 4, 2000). The number-two ruling party may use this threat to demand the precondition of a Security Council resolution for ship inspections — or even to delay consideration of the measure still further.

Should the latter scenario unfold, political strategists in Tokyo had better hope that regional developments do not take a turn for the worse. Japan's inability to join the United States and other world powers in enforcing economic sanctions against an offending party would reflect poorly on the government and undoubtedly strain relations with its most important ally.

The views expressed in this report are those of the author
and do not necessarily represent those of the Japan Economic Institute

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