Japan’s July election a set-back for US imperialism
The recent elections in Japan have resulted in the ruling right-wing Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe retaining power, but with a reduced majority.
The results, however, fell far short of the anticipated two-thirds political majority required by the government to change Article 9 of the constitution to enable Japan to officially follow US-led planning for their greater military involvement in the region.
The election results are, therefore, a major setback for US-led regional military planning.
It remains to be seen how Japanese decision-makers respond; the US has already formulated plans for Japanese involvement in their military operations.
The July national elections in Japan proved to be a spectacular setback for the ruling LDP of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his junior coalition partners, Komeito. Their parliamentary majority was reduced to 141 seats in the Upper Chamber, with the main opposition parties securing 104 of the contested seats. In the lower House of Councillors the ruling bloc were assured of 71 of the contested 124 seats, although they required at least 85 seats to secure the two-thirds majority they sought for changes to the Constitution. (1)
In the lead-up to the elections official media releases from Tokyo showed lavish displays of arrogance including the statement 'Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc looked to protect its majority and keep on track plans to amend the country's pacifist constitution'. (2) It was also noted at the same time, 'media predict that forces in favour of revising the constitution are likely to win close to 85 of the seats up for grabs, giving them a super-majority in the chamber'. (3)
Following the election results, the mood of the media releases changed dramatically although they did not report in full the nature of the real problem which had arisen. Journalists, quite clearly, were cautioned from within the corridors of power.
Moves to change Article 9 of Japan's pacifist constitution began two decades ago with military planning by then US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to elevate the country into a fully-fledged northern regional hub for 'US interests'. Japan, at that time, was regarded in US diplomatic jargon as a client-state. With the dramatic rise of China as a threat to traditional US hegemonic positions the Pentagon sought to make greater use of Japan with military operations. Article 9, of the constitution, however, was an obstacle in that it 'renounces war and the threat or use of force as a means to settle international disputes'. (4)
While subsequent Japanese governments have interpreted and re-interpreted Article 9 to enable the country to allow armed forces for self-defence, the issue of constitutional changes has remained extremely controversial for many Japanese people who fear it 'would increase the risk of Japan getting entangled in US-led conflicts'. (5)
There is little ambiguity, in the eyes of such people, about the regional role of the US; in the lead-up to the elections President Trump took a four-day working visit to Japan where he addressed more than eight hundred US military personnel on USS Wasp and stated they were 'the most fearsome group of American warriors this side of the Pacific'. (6) The swashbuckling bravado was then accompanied by a meeting with PM Shinzo Abe where the two leaders talked about what they regarded as 'the increasingly severe security environment'. (7)
Two decades after Rumsfeld, however, US-led regional military provision has run into problems.
The position, for the US, is particularly difficult as they have already planned and implemented their Trilateral Strategic Dialogue (TSD) linking their Japanese northern regional hub, with Australia as a southern counterpart; the two hubs are then linked directly to the Pentagon with real-time transmission and reception facilities. Moves, during the final stages of the implementation of the TSD, included a high-level diplomatic visit to Australia by PM Shinzo Abe where it was acknowledged that 'Japan and Australia move towards finalising a historic defence agreement to facilitate greater military co-operation', although much of the more incriminating information was with-held to avoid unnecessary publicity. (8)
The military planning, by the US, has relied heavily, for example, upon planned operations conducted through and by their two regional hubs. Defence media releases have, nevertheless, stated 'Japan and Australia are understood to be pursuing deeper and broader defence co-operation, including joint exercises, strategic visits, trilateral co-operation with the US, and further sharing of defence equipment, science and technology'. (9)
While the US can resort to previously interpreted positions of Article 9 whereby they can extend Japan's military reach 'allowing it to act when the US or countries US forces are defending are threatened', they do not have the popular mandate with theJapanese people to take such drastic action. (10) Future US-led military operations involving the Japanese would also be likely to further polarise an already difficult political situation in Japan. The opposition, at the present time, is divided; a clearer focus, against US-led operations, would be likely to provide the necessary conditions for a working unity of purpose.
It is, therefore, important to note reliable media coverage of the immediate post-election situation in Japan drew attention to the fact that even with the LDP bloc attempting to make alliances of expedience with other, smaller parties, they were still likely to fall at least four seats short of the number required for the two-thirds majority. (10) It was also noted the LDP, historically, had had problems dealing with opposition parties. (11)
Two factors of significance have arisen.
Firstly, the fact the Japanese election results were given limited media coverage in Australia is evidence, in itself, of the problem which the US and their cronies in Tokyo now confront; they obviously do not want unfavourable coverage about the diplomatic embarrassment.
Secondly, there was no official reference given to the matter at the recent annual AUSMIN meeting, where the US foreign and defence ministers met their Australian counterparts for regional military considerations. Such a problem arising would obviously have been discussed, although there was no reference provided in publicised agendas or media releases.
The US did, nevertheless, use the opportunity to provide a directive for their Australian counterparts about their regional 'force posture initiative', which has also included a proposed $400 million outlay for new naval and air-force capability in the Northern Territories. (13) The directive would obviously have also included the role of Japan within US-led regional defence and security considerations. The stationing of US missiles in the Northern Territory is also on the US agenda.
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1. Japan's Abe falls short of a super majority, Australian, 23 July 2019.
2. Abe on course to retain majority, Australian, 22 July 2019.
4. Japan begins to review its pacifist constitution, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 27 January / 2 February 2000.
5. Australian, op.cit., 23 July 2019.
6. Trump touts US military power in the Pacific, Australian, 29 May 2019.
8. Japanese PM set to visit sub war grave, Australian, 13 November 2018.
9. Ibid, and, US, Japan move closer on defence concerns, Australian, 14 January 2011, which provided information about the US positions toward Japan to underscore deepening defence ties during the early stages of the implementation of the TSD.
10. Japan to extend military reach beyond self-defence, The Age (Melbourne), 29 April 2015.
11. Back-stories – Effects of Japan's election on future policies, 22 July 2019.
13. Tapestry of relationship a bulwark for open Pacific, Editorial, Australian, 5 August 2019.