June 14 marked the anniversary of the end of the 1982 Falklands conflict. At that time Japan was serving a two-year period as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and was thus involved to a limited degree on the diplomatic side of the conflict. This was still the time of the Cold War, rapid Japanese economic growth, and an era where some of the territorial disputes currently making headlines in Asia were still dormant.
Almost seventy years after the guns fell silent, the Pacific War still haunts Japan in many ways. While the country’s reconstruction took place successfully, and Tokyo found a place in the Pax Americana underpinning economic growth in the Pacific for decades, historical disputes often make headlines and act as an obstacle to deeper relationships with countries such as South Korea.
Faced with a complex and increasingly dangerous regional scenario, under growing demands for naval hardware and diplomatic support from countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, in the midst of complex domestic negotiations concerning the evolving interpretation of constitutional provisions on security and defense, and faced with the need for Japan to redefine its international image, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seems to have decided to emphasize the “rule of law” as a central tenet of Japanese foreign policy.
Threats to humankind do not only come from within, and while it may still sound like science fiction to many, the possibility of a sizable asteroid impacting Earth remains a major concern for the space and national security communities. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi recently reminded the public of this fact, and furthermore called for an international effort to detect and deflect incoming celestial bodies. Given the advanced capabilities of the Russian space program, Moscow would be a much welcome partner in such an enterprise.
Japan is taking a major step in its military strategy, conducting a large-scale amphibious drill designed to put on display its ability to conquer an island. This follows Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s repeated references to the Falklands in his speeches, a polite and indirect, yet unequivocal way, of warning China that an “invasion” of the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands would be met with an amphibious counterstrike.
Canada is one of those countries whose relations with Japan seldom prompt front page news. However, in addition to sharing some key interests, certain developments may help the relationship grow tighter over the coming years. These include energy, a field where Ottawa is a major player and Tokyo is in the midst of a major overhaul. The two countries are also taking steps in security and defense cooperation.
The appearance on September 9 of an unmanned airplane near the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims under the name Diaoyu, was just one of many incidents reported by the media over the last few weeks. However, it attracted the attention of observers who wondered whether this was a harbinger of things to come. On the one hand, it was just a matter of time until this kind of weapon would be deployed by the various powers in the Asia-Pacific region, where rumors about its presence already abounded.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s latest trip abroad has taken him to Djibouti, the strategically located small country in the Horn of Africa, home to Japan’s only overseas military base. Abe visited the military facilities and met President Ismail Omar Guelleh. The Japanese prime minister confirmed plans to provide patrol boats to Djibouti to help build its coast guards’ capacity. The visit thus fits with the Japanese policy of cooperating, both bilaterally and multilaterally, in the fight against piracy.
Tokyo’s defense policy continues to shift and pushes the boundaries of what was acceptable in the past. Self-Defense Forces capabilities are expanding, and this is an essential component of the growing coordination between the region’s maritime democracies.