JIN-414 -- The Defense of the Indefensible

J@pan Inc magazine presents:
The ‘JIN’ Japan Inc Newsletter
A weekly opinion piece on social, economic and political trends
in Japan.
Issue No. 414 Wednesday May 16, 2007 TOKYO

The Defense of the Indefensible

Political commentators seem obsessed with questions of
definition. Is the violence in Iraq a ‘civil war’? Is the
structure of US power ‘empire’? Is Taiwan a ‘state’? Is the
slaughter in Darfur a ‘genocide’?

Of course these are important questions to ask but the phenomenon
of the current preoccupation with language is interesting of
itself. George Orwell observed in an article of 1946 that
‘political speech and writing are largely the defense of the
indefensible’, an observation that lay behind his invention of
Newspeak, the official language of Oceania in 1984- the
government could narrow the range of thought by imposing tight
controls on language. Fortunately, these days in parts of the
world where the press has at least relative freedom, political
language can be deconstructed, analyzed, and if necessary
ignored. For example, when a government minister talks about
‘generous donations to the party’ we know that 9 times out of
10 they are talking about shady business deals, or that the
‘developing world’ refers to countries where people live in
abject poverty without necessarily any signs of progress (as we
might define it) whatsoever.

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Although it is currently the fashion to bash political
correctness and expose euphemisms for the ugly realities that
they refer to, it may be that there are times when we should
respect the niceties of convention and stick to words that allow
plenty of room for misinterpretation.

One word that has evolved in terms of its meaning in political
language is ‘defense’. The current Ministry of Defense in the
UK used to be called the Ministry of War until the middle of the
last century and countries purchasing arms routinely use the word
to sum up their motives for buying any number of offensive
warheads. In such cases the political tendency to euphemism is
often mocked by journalists as a weak attempt to obscure the
truth and as a generator of an unnecessary misunderstanding.
This week for example, reporting on the Russian reaction to US
plans to build a missile defense system in East Europe fell into
two categories. While obedient reporters scratched their head as
to why the Russians might worry about the plan to deploy
‘defensive’ missile systems, others sought to uncover the
strategic angles to the proposal and the reaction. Drop the word
‘defensive’ and both approaches to the issue seem irrelevant and
we potentially have an international crisis on our hands.

In Japan, the word ‘defense’ is used in reference to anything
even remotely related to the military, or in proper parlance, the
Self Defense Forces (SDF). The current debates over
constitutional reform related to widening the scope and resources
of the SDF can essentially be seen as wrangling over language.
Japan already ranks in the top three for government spending on
defense and since 2000, in a ‘peacekeeping’ capacity, the SDF
have been involved in operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and
Indonesia. Jennifer Lind, a security analyst describes Japan as
having ‘potent’ offensive and defensive capabilities,
particularly in terms of its air force and naval resources. Japan
has recently made much progress on its $2.7billion dollar
agreement with the US to acquire a Ballistic Missile Defense
system and has reportedly ordered a fleet of 100 F-22 fighter
planes as well, at an estimated cost of at least $150million per
unit. This would give Japan the second most powerful aerial
capability in the world.

The reasons behind such spending lie of course in security fears
over growing Chinese military budgets and ongoing concern about
the potential nuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Labeling
such projects and capabilities as ‘defensive’ is in this sense
both accurate and necessary, after all, can you imagine the
consequences if Japan announced that it was developing an
offensive armory in order to achieve military superiority in

But Abe and his faction are keen to update Japan’s military
nomenclature partly because they don’t want feelings of
self-remonstrance and apologetic rhetoric to detract and obscure
what is in fact a world-class military power. One wonders whether
the SDF will drop the ‘Defense’ from their title; the ‘Japanese
Armed Forces’ would arguably cause a lot of foreheads to crease
around the region. Moreover, keeping the nomenclature of
‘defense’ will be particularly important in light of two key
contextual developments.

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The first relates to arms trading, and the second to an arms race
in the region. Japan’s three principles of arms trading were
developed during the Cold War and Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma
made the headlines last week when he called for a rethink on this
issue. Japan first eased its regulations in 2004 allowing arms
contractors such as Mitsubishi and Kawasaki Heavy Industries to
take advantage of a number of opportunities. Principally designed
to facilitate missile-building programs between Japan and US the
legislation will grant Japan greater freedom in terms of
where it sells its weapons too. Unlikely that Tokyo will start
selling its arms to volatile states in the region but
proliferation is proliferation and the principle that if everyone
has a gun then everyone is safe is highly dubious in interstate

The second development relates to a growth in government defense
budgets in Asia. Robert Hartfiel and Brian L. Job’s recent
research findings in The Pacific Review analyze ‘defense spending
trends and competitive arms processes in East Asia’. Their report
essentially points to the conclusion that Asia is currently
seeing what can only be described as an arms race. Or should that
be ‘defense race’? They report that South Korea’s defense budget
increased by 4.5% from 2002 to 2005 and Malaysia’s by 19% between
2001 and 2005. China’s spending they evaluate as growing steadily
by 12% per annum between 1998 and 2005. A constant build up in
the Taiwan Straits and on the Korean peninsula has also been

It is important not to panic at such trends but as the authors of
the report suggest, some sober political decisions need to be
taken. Last summer when Kim Jong-Il tested missiles the words
‘pre-emptive strike’ were tossed around the Diet and quickly
followed up by efforts to accelerate existent arms building
programs and the agenda for constitutional reform. As stated
earlier, bringing language in line with reality is probably no
cause for concern, but when choosing words and naming policies it
would be wise to remember that euphemism and political
correctness has its benefits. And to break the mold, keeping
tight regulations on arms exports mightn’t be a bad idea either.

By Peter Harris
Chief Editor, J@pan Inc magazine

J@pan Inc invites all comments and suggestions on the content
of its newsletters, online and print media. Please visit our
website at www.japaninc.com or, if you have a comment directly
related to this article, email it to peter.harris@japaninc.com

Entrepreneur Association of Tokyo:
4 Year Anniversary Seminar - June 11

Speaker: Yoshito Hori, Chairman and CEO of Globis Group

Join us in celebrating our 4 year anniversary at the Globis
Head Office in Kojimachi with Yoshito Hori of Globis Group.
Founded in 1992 the Globis Group has five lines of business;
Globis Management School (GMS), Globis Organization Learning
(GOL), Globis Management Institute (GMI), Globis Management
Bank (GMB), and Globis Capital Partners (GCP) which manages
3 funds with ommitment exceeding JPY38bil. (US$360mil.).

Date/Time: Monday, June 11, 7:00 pm
Location: Globis Head Office
Language: English

Website: http://www.ea-tokyo.com
Email: info@ea-tokyo.com