Mike Mochizuki

Commenting on Professor Hosoya’s analysis of the politics of collective self-defense in Japan, Professor Gilbert Rozman noted that international observers are having difficulty understanding what is behind the negative response in the Japanese public to the Abe government’s effort to change the legal basis for security policy. In his reply, Professor Hosoya explained this negative response by highlighting two factors. First, he rightly acknowledges that Japan’s postwar tradition of pacifism has been remarkably resilient. Second, Professor Hosoya asserts that because ordinary Japanese people have been “detached from security issues” and do not have the opportunity to study security and military affairs in universities, Japanese pacifism “is not based on rational thinking on security challenges, but is often based upon irrational ignorance of these challenges.”

In my view, Professor Hosoya dismisses too quickly this pacifism as simply a reflection of “irrational ignorance.” He ignores the rich tradition of postwar peace and conflict studies in Japan that takes a skeptical view of the utility of military force in addressing international conflicts. Indeed one does not have to be a hard-core pacifist to recognize how the use of force in a number of cases exacerbated security problems rather than solved them. There are a number of influential Western scholars who are knowledgeable and rational realists who have been quite critical of US military interventions.

I completely agree with Professor Hosoya that “the central question is whether the government will be successful in convincing both domestic and international public opinion that Japan’s larger contribution can reduce the possibility of a war.” But this requires discussing more concretely and thoroughly what is meant by Japan’s larger contribution and how this contribution indeed reduces the possibility of war. A facile application of deterrence theory as a simple slogan (as we now often see in Japanese security policy discourse) is not adequate because informed specialists of security understand the limits of deterrence, the risks of adversary security dilemmas, and the importance of prudent and courageous diplomacy to defuse international conflicts.

Some of the examples that the Japanese government has highlighted to justify the exercise of the right of collective self-defense seem quite far-fetched to those who have a rational and informed perspective on security matters. Take for example the frequently mentioned case of Japan needing to shoot down a ballistic missile headed to the US mainland. First of all, it is quite doubtful that Japan will have the ability to take on this mission anytime soon. Second, if a state is about to launch a ballistic missile at the US mainland, it seems much better to have the United States concentrate on shooting down that missile and to have Japan concentrate on defending the Japanese homeland and US military bases on Japan during such a high-intensity conflict scenario. This latter mission can be performed by Japan as an exercise of its right of individual self-defense.

Another unconvincing case that the Abe government has mentioned to justify collective self-defense is the mission of protecting US ships evacuating Japanese nationals from the Korean peninsula during a military conflict. Isn’t it more rational to have Japan take primary responsibility for the evacuation of Japanese nationals rather than hypothesizing that the United States would undertake this mission with the protection of Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ships?

Another aspect of the Abe government’s handling of the security issue that I find wanting relates to its relations with the Republic of Korea. Insofar as many of the scenarios in which Japan might have to consider exercising the right of collective self-defense concerns the Korean peninsula, I find perplexing that Prime Minister Abe has not done more to promote reconciliation with South Korea regarding historical issues and to get South Korea’s understanding and support for Japan’s reinterpretation of the constitution. Shouldn’t this also be part of Japan’s proactive contribution to peace?

Despite the above misgivings, I want to stress that I have been for quite some time a vigorous advocate of Japan playing a greater role in UN collective security missions and being able to exercise the right of collective self-defense. My main reasoning for this is not because I want to see Japan become more like the United States, Britain or France regarding the use of force overseas. Rather, I have supported Japan’s constitutional reinterpretation because I admire Japan’s skepticism regarding the use of force and I respect its post-World War II pacifism. Therefore, I would like to see Japan’s voice enhanced in the international deliberative process regarding when the use of force may be legitimate and necessary.