Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Japan Sails Away From Uncle Sam

Japan begins to shake off US foreign policy influence

New government’s efforts to break free from decades of subservience, starting with withdrawal of ships from Afghanistan campaign, raise potential for discord with US.

Japan’s confirmation today that its refuelling ships will be withdrawn from the Indian Ocean in January is the first real sign that the new Tokyo administration is honouring its election pledge to break free from decades of subservience to US foreign policy.

The announcement had been expected for weeks after heavy hints from the prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, and other senior officials that Japan would seek other ways to contribute to peace in Afghanistan.
Since 2001 Japanese vessels have provided fuel and water to US and allied warships in support of the war effort. Hatoyama, whose Democratic party of Japan (DPJ) has consistently opposed the mission, will instead attempt to ease US concerns with a raft of humanitarian measures. He hopes to have a comprehensive plan in place before Barack Obama arrives in Tokyo on 12 November for a two-day visit.


Support ships are not as sexy as the other big gray things that float. They don’t have any kind of boom big or small. Most are not even US Naval Ships but belong to the Military Sealift Command or are contracted out by MSC. But these “beans and bullets” vessels are a critical part of power projection.

They are a critical part of the very long logistical tail of our military might. The departure of the Japanese ships means that our merchant mariners and the merchant mariners of our allies will have to suck up the difference. As these ship spend a majority of their time at sea there is little wiggle room for rejiggering the deployment schedules of the support ships. The worms eye view is more and longer deployments for the merchant mariners.

The big picture is not looking that rosy either. Granted this move by Japan is long overdue. The strains caused by our overseas bases in Japan is a little remarked upon fact, at least on this side of the Pacific.

In the land of the rising sun our bases have caused much ill-will and friction with Japanese. The Okinawans wanted us gone sometime in the 1970’s. It does not help when Sailors and Marines do epically stupid things like beat-up and rape school-aged girls. A small number of our service members have been terrible guest to our Japanese hosts.

But even if all of our service members were perfect guests it does not change the fact that Japan is now all grown up. Japan is becoming Japan again, not a client state of the United States. Only the dead hand of the LDP prevented this from happening earlier. One wonders how our lady of the tastefully appointed pant-suit will handle the new facts on the ground. Muscular Diplomacy ain’t going to cut it with the Japanese.
Japan lies on the ring of fire and a tectonic shift has occurred in the relation between the US and Japan. Ms Clinton and the President will need all the intelligence and tact at their disposal to make sure that this stays a minor temblor and not a 9.0 on the Diplomatic Richter scale.
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