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Winds of War Blowing over Northern Pacific Islands?

Kurile Islands

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COMMENT: Following on the heels of Shinzo Abe’s successful election campaign and return as Prime Minister, there has been a significant uptick in real or alleged military confrontations over disputed Islands in the North Pacific.

Conservative commentator Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has noted the possible drift toward war between Japan and China over the uninhibited and disputed Islands (Diayou to the Chinese, Senkaku to the Japanese). Predictably (perhaps), Evans-Pritchard places much of the blame on Chinese nationalism, a potent force in its own right.

Although he notes a 23% increase in Japanese appropriations for warships and aircraft, Evans-Pritchard appears to attribute a recent confrontation between Japanese and Chinese military forces over the islands to Chinese belligerence. 

Not taken into account is a recent [alleged] Russian-Japanese confrontation over the long-disputed Kurile Islands north of Japan–a focal point of controversy dating back to the Second World War. In that incident last February, the Japanese have charged that Russian military aircraft penetrated Japanese airspace. 

Russia has denied the charge, as the Chinese have denied locking-on fire control radar during their confrontation with Japanese forces. (We are in no position to make an objective determination on the veracity of these conflicting claims.)

Worth noting in this context is the fact that Shinzo Abe is the grandson of another Japenese Prime Minister–Nobosuke Kishi.

In an earlier political incarnation, Kishi was a Japanese war criminal, whose Liberal Democratic Party became a repository for unreconstructed forces of Japanese fascism. (Abe is also from the LDP.)

In addition to his laudable efforts at implementing “stimulus” economics, Abe has also struck a reactionary chord, endorsing revisionist historical and political analysis of Japan’s involvement in World War II, as well as implementing heightened militarism/nationalism.

One is compelled to consider the possibility that it is heightened Japanese militarism and nationalism that is stirring the “Pacific pot,” at the moment.

With Japan having endured a “lost decade” economically and the Japanese people still reeling from the Fukushima disaster, Abe’s revisionism/nationalism/militarism may be aimed at channeling social dissatisfaction into an expansionist, chauvinistic agenda.

It is worth noting that the last incident between the Russians and Japanese over the Kurile Islands took place in 2008, shortly after Abe was elected to an earlier term as Prime Minister.

Shortly after Abe’s reelection, there was another [alleged] incident with Russia over the Kuriles. 

The timing of the Russian/Japanese confrontations suggests the possibility that the growing hostilities in that part of the world may well be due to increased Japanese militarism/nationalism.

For convenience, we present (below) part of the description for FTR #581. Note some of the similarities with the situation today–increased North Korean nuclear belligerence among them. 

In evaluating the depressing developments in the Pacific, one should bear in mind the deep politics underlying the evolution of Japanese fascism.

At the foundation of that analysis, we find maneuvering by powerful, transnational corporate forces, especially those associated with U.S.-based transnationals.

Of fundamental importance in understanding these dynamics are the works of Sterling and Peggy Seagrave, their opus Gold Warriors, in particular.

IF the confrontations in the North Pacific escalate into war, it will not be good for this country.

“The Dangerous Drift towards World War in Asia” by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard; The Telegraph [UK]; 3/25/20`13.

EXCERPT: . . . . Japan’s national ideology is pacifist, and this is written into Article 9 of its constitution, which states that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”

This peace complex adds a strange twist to events. It inhibits Japan as a muscular China presses its claim on the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands — a cluster of uninhabited rocks near Taiwan — and as Chinese warships push deep into Japanese waters.

Yet there is no doubt that Japan will fight.

“We simply cannot tolerate any challenge now, or in the future. No nation should underestimate the firmness of our resolve,” said Shinzo Abe, the hawkish premier bent on national revival.

After talking to Japanese officials in Tokyo over the last few days, I have the strong impression not only that they are ready to fight, but also that they expect to win, and furthermore that conflict may come at any moment.

“They are sending ships and even aircraft into our territory every day. It is intense provocation. We’re making every effort not to be provoked but they are using fire-control radar. This is one step away from conflict and we are very worried,” said a top government official.

Nothing has changed since outgoing US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said China and Japan were drifting towards war, except for the Japanese defence budget. Spending on warships and aircraft will jump by 23% this year.

Internal Japanese documents say the situation has become “extremely dangerous” since the Chinese locked their weapons-guiding fire-control radar on a Japanese helicopter and then a destroyer in January, a dramatic escalation. The claim is denied by Beijing.

It was the risk of such incidents spinning out of control during the Cold War that led to the creation of the red-telephone “Hotline” between the US and the Soviet Union. No such hotline exists between Tokyo and Beijing.

Over at the revamped Defence Ministry — no longer the meek Self-Defence Force — a top military planner showed me maps detailing the movement of Chinese DDG warships and Yuan-class submarines through Japanese waters. The pressure point is Okinawa, a fresh source of controversy as Chinese academics start laying claim to that island as well. “If they can build a radar site in the Senkakus, it would be major strategic asset,” he said. . . .

“Japan Scrambles Fighters after Russian Jets Approach Island”; CNN; 2/7/2013.

EXCERPT: Japan’s military scrambled fighters Thursday after two Russian SU-27 jets entered Japanese airspace off Rishiri Island near the tip of Japan’s northernmost Hokkaido Island, according to the country’s Defense Ministry.

The Russian jets left Japanese airspace without incident after a little more than a minute, the ministry said.
The incident occurred near territory disputed by Japan and Russia since the end of World War II.

Japanese officials lodged an official protest with Russia over the incident, Japan’s Kyodo news service reported. . . .

For The Record #581: Update on Japanese Fascism

High­light­ing recent trends toward reviv­ing the ultra-nationalism and his­tor­i­cal revi­sion­ism of Japan’s fas­cist past, this pro­gram sets forth the polit­i­cal agenda being pushed by Shinzo Abe, the newly elected Prime Min­is­ter. The grand­son of Japan­ese War Crim­i­nal Nobo­suke Kishi, Abe has suc­ceeded his grand­fa­ther as head of the LDP—itself a vehi­cle for the per­pet­u­a­tion of Japan’s World War II polit­i­cal and eco­nomic power struc­ture.

With the Japan­ese peo­ple expe­ri­enc­ing height­ened stress and alien­ation because of eco­nomic pres­sures, the pos­si­bil­ity of that social unrest express­ing itself as mil­i­taris­tic nation­al­ism and fas­cism is one pos­si­ble result of the right-wing agenda being imple­mented by Abe.

In addi­tion to autho­riz­ing a mil­i­tary buildup and mov­ing to ease restric­tions on the Japan­ese mil­i­tary, Abe has imple­mented a school cur­ricu­lum that insti­tu­tion­al­izes right-wing (“patri­otic”) pro­pa­ganda as a manda­tory ele­ment of Japan­ese pub­lic edu­ca­tion. It may well be that the recent North Korean atomic test will aid Abe’s agenda and push for rearmament.

Program Highlights Include: The view of the Japan­ese right-wing that Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt was respon­si­ble for World War II; Nobo­suke Kishi’s activ­i­ties in wartime Japan, includ­ing his sign­ing of Japan’s dec­la­ra­tion of war against the United States; the Uni­fi­ca­tion Church of Sun Myung Moon’s finan­cial aid to North Korea; review of the Uni­fi­ca­tion Church’s role as an exten­sion of the Japan­ese patri­otic soci­eties that brought fas­cism to Japan in the 1930’s; the pos­si­bil­ity that Moon’s aid to North Korea may have been intended to aid that country’s nuclear buildup, thus pro­vid­ing an excuse for Japan­ese rear­ma­ment.



2 comments for “Winds of War Blowing over Northern Pacific Islands?”

  1. I’d be a lot more concerned about a second Great Depression at this point…..

    Posted by Steven L. | March 25, 2013, 9:20 am
  2. As they say, the best defense is a good offense, although it seems like the best defense would be world peace. Oh well:

    Exclusive: Japan, U.S. discussing offensive military capability for Tokyo – Japan officials

    By Nobuhiro Kubo

    TOKYO Wed Sep 10, 2014 4:40am EDT

    (Reuters) – Japan and the United States are exploring the possibility of Tokyo acquiring offensive weapons that would allow Japan to project power far beyond its borders, Japanese officials said, a move that would likely infuriate China.

    While Japan’s intensifying rivalry with China dominates the headlines, Tokyo’s focus would be the ability to take out North Korean missile bases, said three Japanese officials involved in the process.

    They said Tokyo was holding the informal, previously undisclosed talks with Washington about capabilities that would mark an enhancement of military might for a country that has not fired a shot in anger since its defeat in World War Two.

    The talks on what Japan regards as a “strike capability” are preliminary and do not cover specific hardware at this stage, the Japanese officials told Reuters.

    Defense experts say an offensive capability would require a change in Japan’s purely defensive military doctrine, which could open the door to billions of dollars worth of offensive missile systems and other hardware. These could take various forms, such as submarine-fired cruise missiles similar to the U.S. Tomahawk.

    U.S. officials said there were no formal discussions on the matter but did not rule out the possibility that informal contacts on the issue had taken place. One U.S. official said Japan had approached American officials informally last year about the matter.

    Japan’s military is already robust but is constrained by a pacifist Constitution. The Self Defense Forces have dozens of naval surface ships, 16 submarines and three helicopter carriers, with more vessels under construction. Japan is also buying 42 advanced F-35 stealth fighter jets.

    Reshaping the military into a more assertive force is a core policy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He has reversed a decade of military spending cuts, ended a ban on Japanese troops fighting abroad and eased curbs on arms exports.


    Tokyo had dropped a request to discuss offensive capabilities during high-profile talks on revising guidelines for the U.S.-Japan security alliance which are expected to be finished by year-end, the Japanese officials said. Instead, the sensitive issue was “being discussed on a separate track”, said one official with direct knowledge of the matter.

    But any deal with Washington is years away and the obstacles are significant – from the costs to the heavily indebted Japanese government to concerns about ties with Asian neighbors such as China and sensitivities within the alliance itself.

    The Japanese officials said their U.S. counterparts were cautious to the idea, partly because it could outrage China, which accuses Abe of reviving wartime militarism.

    The officials declined to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the closed-door deliberations. A Japanese Defense Ministry spokesman said he could not comment on negotiations with Washington.

    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Asian countries had a right to be concerned about any moves to strengthen Japan’s military considering the country’s past and recent “mistaken” words and actions about its history.

    “We again urge Japan to earnestly reflect on and learn the lessons of history, respect the security concerns of countries in the region and go down the path of peaceful development,” Hua told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

    Japan would need U.S. backing for any shift in military doctrine because it would change the framework of the alliance, often described as America supplying the “sword” of forward-based troops and nuclear deterrence while Japan holds the defensive “shield”.

    Washington did not have a position on upgrading Japan’s offensive capabilities, “in part because the Japanese have not developed a specific concept or come to us with a specific request”, said another U.S. official.

    “We’re not there yet – and they’re not there yet,” the official said. “We’re prepared to have that conversation when they’re ready.”


    North Korea lies less than 600 km (370 miles) from Japan at the closest point.

    Pyongyang, which regularly fires short-range rockets into the sea separating the Koreas from Japan, has improved its ballistic missile capabilities and conducted three nuclear weapons tests, its most recent in February 2013.

    In April, North Korea said that in the event of war on the Korean Peninsula, Japan would be “consumed in nuclear flames”.

    Part of Japan’s motivation for upgrading its capabilities is a nagging suspicion that the United States, with some 28,000 troops in South Korea as well as 38,000 in Japan, might hesitate to attack the North in a crisis, Japanese experts said.

    U.S. forces might hold off in some situations, such as if South Korea wanted to prevent an escalation, said Narushige Michishita, a national security adviser to the Japanese government from 2004-2006.

    “We might want to maintain some kind of limited strike capability in order to be able to initiate a strike, so that we can tell the Americans, ‘unless you do the job for us, we will have to do it on our own,'” said Michishita, a security expert at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.

    Reflecting Japan’s concerns, Abe told parliament in May 2013 that it was vital “not to give the mistaken impression that the American sword would not be used” in an emergency.

    “At this moment is it really acceptable for Japan to have to plead with the U.S. to attack a missile threatening to attack Japan?” Abe said.

    Under current security guidelines, in the event of a ballistic missile attack, “U.S. forces will provide Japan with necessary intelligence and consider, as necessary, the use of forces providing additional strike power”.


    The informal discussions on offensive capabilities cover all options, from Japan continuing to rely completely on Washington to getting the full panoply of weaponry itself.

    Japan would like to reach a conclusion in about five years, and then start acquiring hardware, one Japanese official said.

    Tokyo had wanted the discussions included in the review of the Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation Guidelines that are expected to cover areas such as logistical support and cybersecurity. Those talks, which formally kicked off last October, are the first in 17 years.

    Since North Korean missiles are the official reason given for what could be an incredibly expensive spending spree on equipment designed to destroy things, it raises the question of whether or not the North Korean elites could ever have a “price” that the world could pay them to just demilitarize and open up their society to the world. Not just ditching nuclear weapons but a full demilitarization and change of government coupled with extensive security guarantees from the global community for the elites and massive aid for the North Korean people. Is there a “retirement package” that the North Korean elites could agree to? They might enjoy life more if they got to freely travel the globe with lots of cash. Sure, it would be incredibly expensive, but would it be more expensive than endless military build ups for the whole region? Maybe converting some of the disputed islands in the region into private play lands for the former North Korean elites could help reduce the other regional tensions too.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 11, 2014, 8:41 pm

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