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Streltsov Dmitry, Japan after the rule of DPJ: threat perceptions and complexity of choices Печать E-mail
17.11.2012 г.
Dmitry Streltsov,
Professor, MGIMO-University

The period of DPJ's rule has come to an end. In 2009-2012 perception of external threats to national security has changed significantly. First, the status of China in the national security strategy has drifted from the category of "partner" and "responsible shareholder" towards the category of a "military contender". This shift became evident immediately after the Senkaku incident of 2010, and shifted to an upper level in autumn 2012, when the anti-Japanese demonstrations in China followed the decision of Japanese government to nationalize several Senkaku islands. It is noteworthy that the re-evaluation of China as an unpredictable partner has occurred not only on the level of the political establishment, but also in the minds of ordinary Japanese citizens who experienced the unpleasant feeling of a direct military threat for the first time since the end of the bipolar world.

Following President Lee Myungbak's visit to Tokto islands in August 2012, Japan found itself in the position of a fortress surrounded by enemies. One of the lessons received by Tokyo from these incidents is that the sluggish territorial dispute lasting several decades can at any moment grow into a source of direct military confrontation.

Another new moment is that in the light of these events the North Korean threat is perceived by many analysts as an "addition" of the Chinese threat. It is not accidental that most Japanese media reported on the Cheonan incident in May 2010 and the Yonphyondo island clashes in November 2010 to a great deal in the context of a possible reaction of Beijing over the military decision of the Korean problem. It becomes more and more clear for Tokyo that counting only on the extended nuclear deterrence of the United States would be too reckless for its military security. Balancing between Washington and Beijing becomes an excessively burdensome problem for Japan until it introduces additional choices for maneuvering. Thus, ameliorating political and security relations with its neighbor countries, namely the Republic of Korea and Russia, becomes an imperative issue in the Japanese foreign policy agenda.

The Japanese security doctrine treats Russian military activities in the Far East as a matter of "concern". However, the threat of direct military conflict with Russia, for example, over the "Northern territories", is hardly perceived by Tokyo seriously. The threat from Russia is estimated mostly in the context of the Russo-Chinese military-strategic partnership in the region. Japan is very watchful over the military-technical cooperation between Moscow and Beijing, considering it as one of means of modernization of the Chinese army. In many respects, the widely spread position in the Japanese political establishment is that the visits of Russian president and other officials to the "North territories" in the end of 2010 were designed as a part of the consolidated Russo-Chinese strategy of rendering pressure upon Japan in order to weaken its influence in the region.

The threefold disaster of March 11th, 2011 (earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident) has actualized the problems of non-military threats on the national security agenda. The complex character of accident attracts a special attention. The intertwined consequences of the strongest earthquake, a destructive tsunami and a terrible radiation accident including ecological, technical and medical aspects questioned the governance abilities of the political power. Today, the political architecture of Japan is poorly adjusted to the requirements of crisis management. To carry out an effective liquidation policy one needs a strong hand of national leader, a political will, and a distinct policy-making capability - things that the Japanese political practice has always been in deficit.

The Democratic Party in the period of its rule was compelled to conduct constant maneuvers in the Diet in search of possible allies. Its leaders were weak and not influential. Political power was disorganized and met a deficiency of trust from ordinary citizens, while the government was torn apart by interdepartmental frictions. To this end, the security policy of Japan in future will depend not only on financial and other resources, but also on the quality of administrative decisions, and in a more comprehensive sense - on the consolidation of political power.

It becomes clear that in the face of a multiple nature of threats Japan will meet an acute necessity of constructing regional and global mechanisms of non-military security. Given the present situation, Japan has a unique chance to take the initiative. One can recollect a successful experience of building Japan's international authority on the basis of its unique status of the victim of nuclear bombardment.

It is obvious that new threats arise in the spheres of food and energy security. A new round of fierce interparty struggle, both in the DPJ and the LDP, over the issue of joining the Transpacific Partnership, will inevitably take place in the nearest future. Lack of unanimity of views of main political forces towards the participation in free trade agreements will make it difficult for every cabinet coming to power to formulate a coherent strategy in the sphere of economic integration.

As far as energy security is concerned, Japan will inevitably freeze the development of its atomic power industry, which, accordingly, will lead to strengthening of the domestic demand for hydrocarbons. To that end, the Japanese diplomacy will meet the necessity to diversify the supply routes, mostly from the Middle East and Africa. This, in turn, will lead to strengthening of competition with China and India. Thereupon new horizons arise in relations with Russia in the energy sphere.
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