Japan’s new government and its first tough call
By Eurasia Group senior adviser Jun Okumura and analyst Ross Schaap The Democratic Party of Japan’s (DPJ) huge victory last Sunday will bring considerable domestic policy change. That’s where the DPJ’s focus will remain for the foreseeable future. Ironically, though, the first policy crunch on a specific issue may come on national security, an area ...
By Eurasia Group senior adviser Jun Okumura and analyst Ross Schaap
The Democratic Party of Japan’s (DPJ) huge victory last Sunday will bring considerable domestic policy change. That’s where the DPJ’s focus will remain for the foreseeable future. Ironically, though, the first policy crunch on a specific issue may come on national security, an area where the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) efforts to brand itself as the party most capable of protecting Japan from North Korea, terrorists and pirates fell mostly on deaf ears.
Yukio Hatoyama, the DPJ prime minister to be, has vacillated on the continuation of the refueling operations in the Indian Ocean in support of the NATO effort in Afghanistan. His current position is that Japan will terminate the operation when the current authorizing law expires in January but that he will offer President Obama something better on Afghanistan.
Logic tells us that there are three options: put a substantial number of non-combat personnel on the ground; pay a lot of money; or opt for some combination of the first two. Some DPJ members — most prominently Ichiro Ozawa — have long wanted to take the first road and assist the Afghan effort with people on the ground. But that’s a risky proposition given the risk-averse Japanese public and the poor conditions there that, moreover, show few signs of improvement any time soon.
Besides, Japan put up a lot of money ($13 billion) for the Gulf War and was widely disparaged for its “checkbook diplomacy”; nobody wants to repeat that painful experience. The refueling operations are a highly effective way for Japan to maintain its seat at the table with minimal financial cost and physical risk. In fact, there have been indications in the recent past that Hatoyama wouldn’t mind seeking an extension on his own. The LDP will, of course, be happy to oblige him; which is precisely why this will be such a politically painful course of action for the new administration. Whichever course Hatoyama decides to take, he must make up his mind and take action during the autumn Diet session. Current refueling operations are authorized through January but renewed authorization needs to come in well before that deadline for the Maritime Self-Defense Force to manage deployments.
And besides the refueling operations, it appears the issue of US troop redeployment within Japan will also hit the new government early on. As much as it might prefer to focus on domestic political change, foreign policy matters that have to be addressed will remain a draw on the new cabinet’s time.
TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images
Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. He is also the host of the television show GZERO World With Ian Bremmer. Twitter: @ianbremmer
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