Who's afraid of the conservatives?

Yamasaki Taku, perhaps the leader of the LDP's remaining doves, spoke at a Genron NPO meeting Thursday afternoon at which he addressed Ryohei Murata's revelations of the secret deal between the US and Japan that permitted the US to "introduce" nuclear weapons to Japan. (Previously discussed in this post. )

"It is appropriate to approve this kind of action for US deterrent power," he said, in light of the nuclear standoff with North Korea, this kind of action being a revision of the non-nuclear principles to permit explicitly the introduction of US nuclear weapons into Japan as in the 1960 secret agreement.

Yamasaki is no pacifist, so this statement is not exactly a bombshell, but it does suggest that there is more to this debate than suggested in Armchair Asia's discussion of Murata's revelations. The anonymous author of Armchair Asia outlines Murata's conservative motives in this post, arguing, "In reality, it is part of a convoluted Rightist strategy to repeal Article 9 and create a military independent of the United States."

I do not disagree that Murata has a number of affiliations that strongly suggest his political leanings. The Shokun! article cited in the initial post — Shokun! obviously triggers various red flags — uses a number of conservative code words, "pride," "independent country," and the like. A subsequent post includes a translation of an op-ed by Hisahiko Okazaki, the notoriously hawkish Foreign Ministry OB who was once known as "Abe's brain," defending Murata's actions. (Available in Japanese here. )

But so what? Why should it matter that Murata is a conservative nationalist? And why should it matter why he decided to reveal the secret agreement (or why Okazaki has defended him)? After watching the Abe government blow up, it is hard to muster up the same concern about the influence of the conservatives. The author writes that of how Murata's remarks will be used by those "who want to use any means to repeal Article 9 and advance Japan's rearmament." Events seem to have taken care of both causes. As I have written previously, the economic crisis has greatly diminished the power of the conservatives even within the LDP, to the point that constitution revision might not even be included in the LDP's manifesto this year (if the LDP ever gets around to writing one).

Is Article 9 really at risk? Even in the best of times, it was unlikely that the conservatives would get what they wanted on Article 9. Oh sure, they could get the article revised, but the need to assemble two-thirds of the members of both houses plus fifty percent plus one of the Japanese public would guarantee that the article would be amended but not abandoned. Revision would likely shift the yardsticks, ratifying changes that have been made that appear to depart from the letter of the law, without removing all limitations on Japanese security policy. And, incidentally, I see no problems with revision of this sort. No document drafted by human hands is beyond revision. My problem is with those obsessed with revision, like Shinzō Abe , not revision itself.

In any case, with the LDP in its death throes, it bears mentioning that constitution revision is even less likely under a DPJ-led government in coalition with the SDPJ. A DPJ government is likely to take its cue from public opinion polls that show the percentage of respondents interested in constitution to be under five percent. Raising constitution revision would only serve to weaken the coalition and sow dissent within the LDP, while strengthening an opposition LDP.

The same goes for "rearmament," the second concern voiced by the author of Armchair Asia. The conservatives have been ascendant for roughly the same period that Japan has let its defense spending stagnate, which suggests, of course, that for all their rhetorical might their reach exceeds their grasp. Their reach will only decline further should the LDP lose power this year. They have allies in the DPJ, but if the DPJ is able to deliver on its plans for a government that unifies cabinet and party, conservatives like Seiji Maehara will find themselves straitjacketed by government service. And there is no chance that a DPJ government elected on a platform of Seikatsu dai-ichi would, upon taking power, proceed to channel significant sums of money into defense spending. Elected on a platform stressing butter, butter, butter and facing skyrocketing pensions costs, it is highly unlikely that the DPJ will decide to invest in guns once in office.

There may be more to rearmament than defense spending, but as with some limited form of constitution revision, what is the problem with Japan doing incrementally more without drastically increasing its spending?

To conclude a discussion that has run longer than I intended, the conservatives should be challenged but their strength and influence should not be exaggerated. And if Ambassador Okazaki wants an open debate, then someone in Japan ought to give him his debate.

Meanwhile, as I wrote in my original post on Murata, I think that whatever his motive, it is good that the Japanese government will be forced to address the role of nuclear weapons in the US-Japan relationship openly. It is entirely possible that the Japanese public — with a nuclear North Korea next door — will recognize a revision of the non-nuclear principles that explicitly permits the US to do what it has been doing all along will strengthen Japan's security. Despite the wishes of the conservatives, the public isn't exactly pressing for Japanese nuclear weapons as a substitute for US nuclear weapons.

It is encouraging that the two governments will hold a working-level meeting this month to discuss the nuclear umbrella, a discussion that is long overdue. One meeting will not resolve the paradox of Japan's trying to be the world's conscience on nuclear weapons while being defended by US nuclear weapons but it will at least help call attention to the paradox and force the Japanese public and their representatives to address it. The US should not be forced into a position where it would have to use nukes to defend Japan (at the behest of its elites) even as the Japanese public condemns the US. Explicitly permitting US nuclear weapons in Japan would certainly help make both countries responsible.

Other posts by Tobias Harris: