Yoshihide Suga Takes Over as Japan’s New Prime Minister
The former chief cabinet secretary represents continuity, but new challenges may force him to change his priorities.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Japan’s parliament officially names Yoshihide Suga as prime minister; Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain formalize their recent agreements at the White House; and Russia announces military exercises in Belarus.
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Suga Represents Continuity as Japan Faces New Challenges
The Japanese parliament has confirmed Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga as the country’s new prime minister, replacing the outgoing premier Shinzo Abe after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party elected him as party leader in a landslide on Monday. The longest-serving prime minister since the end of World War II, Abe’s decision to resign was widely considered the end of an era in Japan.
But Suga’s premiership is expected to be characterized by a substantial degree of policy continuity. He is a longtime ally of Abe, and Japanese media have already reported that many key ministers will likely keep their jobs after Suga steps in.
The homefront. Taking over in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Suga’s main priority will be dealing with Japan’s slumping economy, which has taken a hit since the beginning of the pandemic despite the country’s success in avoiding the high numbers of cases and deaths seen elsewhere.
Abe popularized his brand of economic policy known as “Abenomics,” which Suga helped develop and from which he is unlikely to depart in any significant way. Still, as Chris Miller wrote in Foreign Policy, Japan is overdue for a change to its monetary policy, and Suga could be faced with a tough set of choices if the yen continues to strengthen against the dollar in a country where exporters hold outsized political influence.
Challenges abroad. The salience of domestic issues will probably prevent Suga from continuing Japan’s renewed defense posturing. Under Abe, Japan adopted a more aggressive foreign policy unseen since the end of World War II, as the threat posed by China grew and the United States became less reliable as a security partner.
As Foreign Policy’s Jack Detsch reported, “Unlike the globe-trotting, glad-handing Abe … Suga is likely to hew to the low-profile approach honed by seven years of scandal and intra-party rebellion as Abe’s right-hand man.” Regardless of what stance he takes, policymakers in both Washington and Beijing will be watching closely. Sooner or later, geopolitical realities could force Suga to turn his focus to foreign policy again.
What We’re Following Today
Formalizing normalization. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani met in Washington on Tuesday to sign their historic normalization agreements at a ceremony hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump. The deals represent a significant shift in the priorities of many Arab states away from Palestinian statehood and toward countering Iran’s growing military strength in the region. As Maysam Behravesh and Hamidreza Azizi wrote in Foreign Policy, that shift has threatened decades of strategic planning in Tehran.
The Trump administration hopes to entice more Gulf states to sign similar deals with Israel, and there are signs that steps are being taken in that direction. Key Saudi leaders have softened their stance on normalization in recent days, and the Saudi government’s silence on the issue is considered a sign of tacit support.
Militarization of U.S. police. A new report produced by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs details how the militarization of U.S. police forces has ballooned since the September 11 attacks, arguing that it should be counted as one of the long-term costs of the United States’ post-9/11 War on Terror. The attacks, the report says, provided a new justification to funnel massive amounts of military equipment, funding, and personnel to local and state law enforcement, all in the name of counterterrorism and national security.
The study also argues that the intensive militarization of the police could have helped produce the current political crisis in the United States. “Visibly militaristic tactics and imagery breed fear and mistrust, particularly among poor and hyperpoliced communities of color. This can erode police legitimacy.”
U.S. and Iran tit-for-tat. Iran and the United States engaged in a war of words over reports that Tehran planned a reprisal killing in retaliation for the United States’ assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani in January. Some U.S. media outlets reported that Iran was planning to assassinate the U.S. ambassador to South Africa ahead of the presidential election in November. Trump tweeted his response, warning that an attack on the United States “will be met with an attack on Iran that will be 1,000 times greater in magnitude!”
During a news conference on Tuesday, an Iranian government spokesman responded in kind: “We hope that they do not make a new strategic mistake and certainly in the case of any strategic mistake, they will witness Iran’s decisive response.”
Keep an Eye On
Russian military to drill in Belarus. The Russian defense ministry said on Tuesday that six members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) will conduct joint military exercises in Belarus in October as the political crisis in the country continues to worsen. The announcement came as Russian and Belarusian troops began joint military drills near Belarus’s border with Poland, due to last until Sep. 25, which Russia’s defense ministry has insisted focuses on counterterrorism and are not directed against other countries.
After initially dragging its feet, the Kremlin has deepened its involvement in Belarus considerably over the previous few weeks. Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had formed a reserve police force that could be deployed to Belarus, and he recently committed a $1.5 billion loan to Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko.
Crisis in the Ivory Coast. Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara has reportedly made an offer to his predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, to stay neutral through the end of the presidential election on Oct. 31 in exchange for a pardon of the 20-year prison sentence he received in a corruption case. Ouattara has attracted controversy over his bid for a third term as president despite the constitution barring him from doing so. Protests against Ouattara broke out across much of the country earlier this week, especially in districts considered loyal to Gbagbo.
Ouattara’s victory over Gbagbo in 2010 sparked a brutal civil war that killed around 3,000 people, and the current political crisis has raised concerns that the upcoming election could lead to another round of violence. Gbagbo has so far declined the offer.
Odds and Ends
Four hundred years after the original Mayflower brought the first colonial settlers from England to what is now New England, a new, high-tech version of the ship is set to make the same voyage across the Atlantic. This time, however, the ship will have no crew, no captain, and no passengers—it will be captained solely by artificial intelligence technology as part of a research mission that will help to determine if high-tech vessels can be used to explore parts of the ocean too dangerous for humans.
The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) will travel along the original Mayflower’s route—from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts. Originally scheduled to set sail today—the 400th anniversary of its namesake’s journey—MAS’s launch has been postponed until next spring due to delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s it for today.