Sunday, November 19, 2017

Monday in Washington, November 20, 2017

READINESS ON THE LINE: PREPARING TODAY'S FORCE FOR FUTURE FIGHTS. 11/20, 9:30-10:30am. Sponsor: Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, Air Force Association. Speaker: Gen. Mike Holmes, Commander, Air Combat Command, U.S. Air Force.

11/20, 10:00-11:00am. Sponsor: Manama Dialogue 2017 Discussion Series, IISS-Americas. Speakers: Mark Katz. Professor, Government and Politics, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University; Neda Bolourchi. Research Associate, Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE).

11/20, 12:30pm. Sponsor: National Press Club (NPC). Speaker: Jim Yong Kim, President, World Bank.

COSTING U.S. NUCLEAR FORCES. 11/20, 1:00-2:30pm. Sponsor: Carnegie. Speakers: Michael Bennett, Analyst, National Security, Congressional Budget Office; Kingston Reif, Director, Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, Arms Control Association; Moderator: James Acton Co-Director Nuclear Policy Program, Senior Fellow, Carnegie.

. 11/20, 4:30-5:30pm. Sponsor: Institute of World Politics (IWP). Speaker: Rebeccah L. Heinrichs, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Monday in Washington, November 13, 2017

MORAL INJURY: TOWARD AN INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE. 11/13, 8:15-11:15am, Coffee. Sponsor: New America. Speakers: Brad Allenby, President’s Professor, Affiliated Faculty, Center on the Future of War, Arizona State University; Andrea Ellner, Lecturer, Defence Studies, King’s College London; David Wood, Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist, Author, What Have We Done, The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars; Moderator: Rosa Brooks, Professor, Georgetown University Law Center.

WINNING THE SECOND WORLD WARS: HOW THE FIRST GLOBAL CONFLICT WAS FOUGHT AND WON. 11/13, 9:00-10:00am. Sponsor: Project on Military and Diplomatic History, CSIS. Speaker: Victor Davis Hanson, Author, Senior Fellow, Hoover.

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AT THE TURNING POINT: ECONOMICS, SECURITY, AND AMERICAN POLITICS. 11/13, 12:30-5:00pm. Sponsors: Economists for Peace and Security and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Keynote speakers: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA); Heather Hurlburt, New America; William Hartung, Center for International Policy; Matthew Duss, Foreign Policy Advisor to Senator Sanders.

PREPARING MILITARY LEADERSHIP FOR THE FUTURE. 11/13, 1:00-5:00pm, Coffee. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Rudy de Leon, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress, Former Deputy Secretary of Defense; General (Ret.) James Cartwright, USMC, Chair, Defense Policy Studies, CSIS; Moderator: Ray DuBois, Senior Adviser, CSIS.

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RELIGION AND FOREIGN POLICY: EXPLORING THE LEGACY OF "MIXED BLESSINGS". 11/13, 2:00-3:30pm. Sponsors: Human Rights Initiative, CSIS; Georgetown University. Speakers: Shaun Casey, Director, Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown University; Liora Danan, Former Chief of Staff, Office of Religion and Global Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Rebecca Linder Blachly, Director, Office of Government Relations, Episcopal Church; Eric Patterson, Research Fellow, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown University; Moderator: Shannon N. Green, Director and Senior Fellow, Human Rights Initiative, CSIS.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AS SEEN BY BARBIE AND MICKEY. 11/13, 6:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: Intellectual Property Law Program, George Washington University Law School. Speaker: Jane Ginsburg, Professor of Literary and Artistic Property Law, Columbia Law School, Columbia University.

UNRAVELLING THE KASHMIR KNOT. 11/13, 6:00-8:00pm. Sponsor: World Affairs Council. Speaker: Aman Hingorani, Author, Lawyer and Mediator, Supreme Court of India.  Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Horizon Ballroom. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Monday in Washington, November 6, 2017

CLINTON 25: GEORGETOWN REFLECTS ON THE VISION OF BILL CLINTON. 11/6, 9:00am-6:00pm. Sponsor: Georgetown University, Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy. Speakers: President Bill Clinton; Bruce Reed, former Chief Domestic Policy Advisor; Rahm Emanuel, former Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategy; Minyon Moore, former Director of White House Political Affairs; Maria Echaveste, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff; Mike Bailey, Interim Dean, McCourt School of Public Policy (Moderator); Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State; President Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico; Strobe Talbott, former Deputy Secretary of State; Joel Hellman, Dean, Walsh School of Foreign Service (Moderator); Mack McLarty, former White House Chief of Staff, Clinton Administration; Erskine Bowles, former White House Chief of Staff, Clinton Administration; John Podesta, former White House Chief of Staff, Clinton Administration; Judy Feder, Professor, McCourt School of Public Policy; Faculty Liaison, Baker Center on Leadership and Governance (Moderator). 

THE NEW EURASIA ENERGY LANDSCAPE. 11/6, 9:00am-2:00pm. Sponsor: German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). Speakers: Jonathan Katz, Resident Fellow, GMF; Steven Burns, USAID E&E Bureau Director of Energy and Infrastructure office; Will Polen, Senior Director, United States Energy Association; Robert Scher, Head of International Affairs, BP America; Jonathan Elkind, Former Assistant Secretary for the Office of International Affairs, Department of Energy; John McCarrick, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Energy Resources, U.S. State Department.

HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE NORTH KOREA? 11/6, 9:00am-Noon. Sponsor: Cato. Speakers: Bill Richardson, Former Governor of New Mexico and North Korea Negotiator; Joe Cirincione, President, Ploughshares Fund; Suzanne DiMaggio, Senior Fellow, New America. 

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ALLIES UNDER THE SHADOW: THAILAND, THE PHILIPPINES, AND THE STATE OF U.S. ALLIANCES IN SOUTHEAST ASIA. 11/6, 11:00am-Noon. Sponsor: Southeast Asia Program, CSIS. Speakers: Dr. John Blaxland, Director, Southeast Asia Institute; Richard Heydarian, Resident Political Analyst, GMA Network; Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery (Ret.), Policy Director, U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee; Moderator: Dr. Amy E. Searight, Senior Adviser and Director, Southeast Asia Program, CSIS.

BRAZIL AND CHINA: A DEVELOPING PARTNERSHIP? 11/6, Noon-1:30pm. Sponsor: Elliott School of International Affairs, GW. Speakers: André Soares, Counselor, Inter-American Development Bank's Board of Directors; David Shambaugh, Director, China Policy Program, Elliott School of International Affairs. 

INDIA'S RESPONSES TO THE COMPLEX ROHINGYA CRISIS IN MYANMAR. 11/6, Noon-1:30pm. Sponsor: East-West Center. Speaker: Baladas Ghoshal, Secretary General, Society for Indian Ocean Studies.

NORTH KOREA PUBLIC DIPLOMACY. 11/6, Noon.. Sponsors: Monday Forums, joint project of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, and Public Diplomacy Council. Speaker: Robert Ogburn, visiting State Department public diplomacy fellow, School of Media and Public Affairs, GWU. Location: American Foreign Service Association, 2101 E St., NW. Contact:

ISLAM AND THE STATE IN CENTRAL ASIA - A FRIEDRICH EBERT FOUNDATION REPORT. 11/6, 2017, 12:30–2:00pm. Sponsor: Central Asia Program, Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, GW. Speakers: Dr. Sanat Kushkumbayev, Deputy Director, Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

13TH ANNUAL ALVIN H. BERNSTEIN LECTURE WITH ROBERT O. WORK, FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE. 11/6, 4:45-7:00pm. Sponsor: SAIS, Johns Hopkins. Speaker: Secretary Work is the Distinguished Senior Fellow for Defense and National Security at the Center for a New American Security and the owner of TeamWork, LLC, which specializes in national security affairs and the future of warfare.

5:00-7:00pm, Sponsor: Hoover Institution. Speakers: Elliott Abrams, Author, Senior Fellow, Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR); Samuel Tadros, Visiting Fellow, Middle Eastern Studies, Hoover Institution. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

October Election No Mandate for Abe

By William Brooks, SAIS, Johns Hopkins Fellow and APP Senior Fellow

Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) walked away with an easy win in the October 22 general election. The LDP, with its coalition partner the Komeito, attained a two-thirds majority (313) in the House of Representatives (Lower House). This “landslide victory,” however, should not be interpreted as a mandate for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – who is now likely to stay in power until 2021. He is unlikely to implement the most controversial part of his policy agenda, that of amending Article 9 of Japan’s peace Constitution. Public and media opinion are not necessarily on his side, and the LDP arguably won because the opposition was poorly organized and unprepared.

Abe’s Calling Snap Election Had Little to Do with Policy

Prime Minister Abe cited the North Korean threat, which he deemed a “national crisis,” and demographic issues as his reasons for dissolving the Lower House and calling a snap election. In reality, his motive was purely political. Policy debates played a minor role in the election campaign. Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso even joked after the election that the LDP won “thanks to North Korea,” no doubt knowing that such was not the case.

Abe used the election to shore up his base within the LDP. It had eroded due to plummeting approval rates brought on by two personal money scandals and his party’s ignominious loss in the July Tokyo assembly election. The Kochikai faction in the LDP was getting set to run former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in the party head election next year to prevent Abe from winning another three years as president and thus prime minister.

Abe also worried about the new opposition party led by Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike and her Party of Hope [PH] (the “Koike boom”). He was keenly aware that if the general election came a year later as scheduled, opposition parties could by then form a possibly undefeatable united front. An election took advantage of a still weak, fragmented, and ill-prepared opposition.

“Balkanization” of Opposition Forces
Democratic Party (DP) head Seiji Maehara’s sudden dissolution of his party, ostensibly to create a larger opposition party by joining the Party of Hope, failed. Koike, in a major tactical mistake, refused to accept the DP’s liberal wing. As a result, the progressives quickly organized the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) to run candidates in the election. Other DP members unwilling to join either side formed an unaffiliated group led by former Foreign Minister and DPJ president Katsuya Okada.

The collapsing DP in short split the opposition camp into conservative and liberal groups that ended up fighting each other in the election. Such confusion may have convinced voters to stay home, since the turnout rate in the election was only 55.6%, the second lowest in postwar history (the lowest being in the last Lower House election in 2014).

The LDP’s win still seems odd because the pre-election polls showed Abe’s lack of popularity, and a majority of the public not favoring him staying on as prime minister after the election. Reports of the LDP candidates campaigning across the country found no outpouring of support for Abe, as well. And yet, the LDP won handily. Why? The poor turnout as potentially anti-LDP voters stayed home must be linked also to the opposition camp’s disarray.

The conservative Party of Hope led by Koike, who did not run for a Diet seat, fizzled. It backed 235 candidates (trying to achieve a majority or 233 seats) but won only 50 seats. It turned out also that the popularity of Koike was primarily a Tokyo phenomenon. But even Koike’s choice to head PH, Masaru Wakasa, lost his seat in Tokyo’s District 10.

The liberal CDPJ, backed by Rengo, the labor union federation, outpaced PH to take 55 seats, emerging as the largest opposition party in the Lower House. The CDPJ, which campaigned on a platform of protecting the Constitution from revision and scrapping all nuclear power, not only captured the liberal vote (perhaps the last gasp of that dying movement), it also drained centrist votes from the Komeito, which lost in Kanagawa, ending up with 34 seats. The biggest loser in the election, though, was the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), which lost half its seats. Apparently, the protest votes that used to go to the JCP went to the CDPJ this time.

LDP Wins by Standing Still

The LDP won 284 seats in the election, but this is the same number it had before the election. In fact, the LDP has not attracted more votes in any election since 2005. The party’s absolute ratio of votes (ratio of votes to the total number of voters; not the turnout rate) in the latest election was 25.2%, about the same level as in 2009, when it lost to the DPJ. The party’s strength has been in the 22-25% range since 2005, when then Prime Minister Koizumi successfully attracted millions of unaffiliated voters to bring the ratio to 32% (and win 296 seats for the LDP).

Polls regularly show that between 40-50% of voters are unaffiliated (mutohasou) and able to swing elections, as in 2005 and 2009, when they did decide to vote. Strong issues in the campaign can mobilize them, but the low turnout in this election showed that a large number of unaffiliated voters were disinterested and stayed home.

Another way of looking at the election is the tally of votes in the proportional representation blocs, in which people vote for a party not a candidate. The CDPJ won about 11.07 million votes, and the PH won 9.66 million votes – a combined total of 20.73 million votes. The total of votes won by the LDP in the proportional representation blocs was 18.52 million votes, or about 2 million votes less than that of the two opposition parties combined. The conclusion reached is that the LDP owes much of its victory to the split in the opposition camp.

The results also show that the three way battles in most districts among the LDP, CDPJ, and PH favored the LDP. In 226 of the 289 single-seat districts, a single ruling coalition candidate took on multiple candidates from the opposition camp. The ruling coalition candidates won 183 of the 226 districts or more than 80%. A united front candidate from the opposition camp would likely have changed the results significantly.

Abe Has No Mandate for Constitutional Reform
Assuming that he will serve as Prime Minister until 2021, Abe now plans to move decidedly toward amending the Constitution, based on his own ideas and on proposals that the LDP is now preparing. For example, Abe would like a clause added to Article 9 to specify the legitimacy of the Self-Defense Forces.

He is counting on his popularity to recover, and indeed a Yomiuri poll released on October 25 showed the Abe Cabinet’s support rate is up 11 points to 52% from only two weeks earlier. But an Asahi poll on the same day has the support rate only up four points from a week earlier to 42%, with the non-support rate down a point to 39%. Moreover, asked about Abe’s desire to amend Article 9, 45% were negative and only 36 were positive. At best, the nation is split on amending the Constitution in the way that the LDP may want, and if that wariness continues, a future referendum to approve the Diet’s changes could fail.

In the Diet, although most LDP members are eager to amend the Constitution, the Komeito, which gives the ruling coalition the two-thirds majority needed to pass Constitutional changes, remains reluctant to tamper with Article 9. Komeito has the capability to put the brakes to Abe’s drive to reshape the Constitution.

The media is also skeptical. Editorials after the election, liberal and conservative alike, rejected that Abe had a mandate. The editorials were wary of Abe and the LDP having too much power in the Diet now and admonished the Prime Minister to “implement politics humbly” and take a cautious approach. They encouraged the administration and the LDP to “listen to the people’s voice” and to build a consensus with the opposition on contentious issues.

The LDP win is attributed to the “missteps of the opposition.” The voters and the press are concerned that he will be “high-handed” on constitutional revision or other issues with his Diet super majority. Yet, the election made Abe appear the more the canny politician than the reckless crusader. He knows will have to proceed cautiously with as monumental a task as changing Japan’s revered Constitution. After all Abe is a conservative in a country that does not like change.

Bill Brooks and Kent Calder, SAIS, Johns Hopkins, Washington, DC, October 25, 2017
Election Discussion

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Monday in Washington, October 30, 2017

INDIA’S POST-DEMONETIZATION POLICY AGENDA. 10/30, 10:00-11:15am. Sponsor: Carnegie. Speakers: Milan Vaishnav, Director and Senior Fellow, South Asia Program, Carnegie; V. Anantha Nageswaran, Professor, Singapore Management University.

ASIA’S RECKONING: CHINA, JAPAN, AND THE FATE OF U.S. POWER IN THE PACIFIC CENTURY. 10/30, 12:45-2:00pm. Sponsor: Sigur Center for Asian Studies, The Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University. Speaker: Richard McGregor, Author, Asia's Reckoning.

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RUSSIA’S DEMOGRAPHY: THE BASIS FOR A PROSPEROUS FUTURE? 10/30, 2:00pm. Sponsor: Atlantic Council. Speakers: John Herbst, Director, Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council; Gaiane Safarova, Acting Director, St. Petersburg Institute for Economics and Mathematics; Ilan Berman, Senior Vice President, American Foreign Policy Council; Judyth Twigg, Professor, Political Science, Virginia Commonwealth University; Moderator: Alina Polyakova, Fellow, Foreign Policy, Brookings. 

TRANSOCEANIC EMOTION: FEELING GLOBAL IN A LIMITED WORLD. 10/30, 2:00-6:00m, Washington, DC. Sponsor: India Initiative and Program on Justice and Peace, Georgetown University.

GLOBAL TRENDS IN HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE. 10/30, 3:30-5:00pm. Sponsor: Humanitarian Agenda, CSIS. Speakers: Sam Worthington, CEO, InterAction; Jérôme Obbereit, Secretary General, Médecins Sans Frontières; Moderator: Kimberly Flowers, Director, Humanitarian Agenda and Global Food Security Project, CSIS.

DEBATES ON U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY: IS PAKISTAN A PROBLEM OR OPPORTUNITY FOR THE UNITED STATES? 10/30, 4:45-6:00pm. Sponsor: Foreign Policy Institute, SAIS. Speakers: Ambassador Douglas E. Lute, Former White House Coordinator for Afghanistan and Pakistan; Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan; Moderator: Shamila N. Chaudhary, Fellow, Foreign Policy Institute, SAIS.
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THE IMPORTANCE OF COLLECTIONS IN CYBERSPACE OPERATIONS WITH PAUL DE SOUZA. 10/30, 5:00pm. Sponsor: Cyber Intelligence Initiative, Institute of World Politics (IWP). Speaker: Paul de Souza, Founder, Cyber Security Forum Initiative. 

SAFEGUARDING DEMOCRATIC CAPITALISM. 10/30, 5:30-7:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsors: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA); Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs, SAIS, Johns Hopkins. Speakers: Thomas G. Mahnken, President and CEO, CSBA; Eric Edelman, Counselor, CSBA; Hal Brands, Senior Fellow, CSBA Professor, Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs, SAIS, Johns Hopkins; Melvyn Leffler, Author, Professor, University of Virginia. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Abe After The Election

What To Do With Power?
By Daniel Sneider, Lecturer in East Asian Studies at Stanford University and APP member

Tokyo Business Today, October 24, 2017

Shinzo Abe has once again defied his critics and proven himself to be one of the most skillful Japanese politicians of the post-war era. Facing scandals eroding his popular support, and a challenge from within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to his continued leadership, Abe opted for a frontal attack.

Calling early elections before his opponents were ready to seriously confront him, and taking advantage of the vague sense of impending crisis surrounding North Korea, Abe successfully re-established his power, in the country and in the ruling party.

Now the question is what Abe intends to do with that newly refreshed authority. Will he spend it on a possibly chimerical pursuit of his life-long goal of constitutional revision, or will he finish another part of his wartime time history agenda and make a peace treaty deal with Russia? How will he continue to manage the constant chaos created by U.S. President Donald Trump, who arrives shortly on his doorstep? And what indeed will happen with North Korea? Perhaps most important of all, can he ever fulfill his promises of economic revitalization of Japan?

“In policy terms, the impact of the general election will be limited,” predicts Tobias Harris, a leading American analyst for Teneo Intelligence. “The ruling coalition’s victory was a victory for stability and continuity,” he wrote just after the vote was counted. That means moving first on domestic policy issues such as passage of a supplemental and then general budget and a crucial decision on the Bank of Japan’s governorship. Constitutional revision will likely take a back seat to those priorities, Harris believes.

But Abe is a Prime Minster who sees foreign and security policy as his main legacy and those questions will be at the forefront of his concerns. Before tackling those other questions, however, it is important to understand what happened in this election. As exit polls make clear, once again, the Japanese voters present a paradox.

They supported the continuation of the LDP-Komei government but not its policies, nor even Mr. Abe personally. When it comes to constitutional revision, or tax policy, or even the purported threat of North Korea, the majority of Japanese voters either oppose Abe’s policies or do not fully share his views.

Rather, Abe has brilliantly exploited the electoral system that was created more than 25 years ago to drive the LDP out of power. The single member districts were intended to encourage the creation of a two-party system, to give voters a choice between two centrist parties in the style of American politics.

That worked well in 2009 when the Democratic Party of Japan offered a credible left of center alternative – and swept the vote. But the collapse of the DPJ administration splintered the opposition and now the system works instead to the advantage of an LDP that easily wins most of the SMDs despite the fact that it does not command a majority of votes.

Abe had a brief scare when Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike moved to try to fill the void created by the DPJ and set up a serious centrist alternative to the LDP. By calling the early election, Abe caught her off guard – and the campaign exposed her own arrogance and unpreparedness to lead a national party.

Ironically, it also destroyed the unwieldy DPJ and replaced it with a more cohesive leftwing party – one that may be very effective at mobilizing opposition to constitutional revision but, like the old Socialist Party, is unable to come to power by itself.

That leaves Abe in a somewhat odd situation. He has great power but he lacks the popular support to really wield it effectively.
When it comes to foreign and security policy, particularly relations with Japan’s only ally, the United States, a somewhat similar dilemma exists. Abe enjoys an almost unique position among American allies in having created a close relationship with President Trump. His senior advisors claim to wield an influence over Trump that is the envy of other U.S. allies. But that relationship depends on Abe consciously avoiding any challenge to Trump’s policies. Does his influence disappear the moment he crosses Trump?

The view of Trump inside the senior levels of Japanese officialdom, as conveyed to this writer in numerous conversations since coming to Tokyo last month, is typically pragmatic. There is no moral posturing about the threat to democracy posed by the Trump presidency.

Rather, as one Abe advisor put it to me, there are two basic conclusions held in Tokyo. The first is that Trump’s foreign and security policies are a mess, both in their content and in the lack of professional knowledge within the administration. Trump, in this framework, has no respect for the sovereignty of other countries, including Japan. However, the advisor goes on, after all we have to deal with this President -- we have no other choice.

That relationship will be put on full display on November 5 when Trump arrives for his brief visit to Japan. From a golf outing to private dinners, an audience with the Emperor, and a visit to Japanese and American military forces, the visit is designed to not only offer visual evidence of the close partnership but also to avoid any uncomfortable issues, such as trade. Officials on both sides are working overtime to ensure the success of the visit and there is no reason to think it won’t go well.

Under the calm surface, lies the iceberg of North Korea. Despite the talk of war that one hears increasingly in Washington – whether it is a preventive strike on North Korean missiles or other scenarios for conflict – Japanese senior officials continue to express confidence that the military option is not really on the table.

They see the threat of the use of force mainly as a tool to both press the Chinese into action and to deter the North Koreans from doing anything too provocative, such as testing a missile in the direction of the U.S. bases on Guam.

Indeed Japanese officials say they are more worried that Trump will make a deal with North Korea at Japan’s expense. They envision some kind of bargain in which North Korea agrees to halt the testing and development of long-range missiles that can reach the continental U.S. in exchange for a lifting of sanctions and perhaps a cutback in U.S. military exercises.

It is a deal that Trump could proclaim protects the U.S. and is the product of his policy of pressure, but one that would leave Japan and South Korea even more exposed to the nuclear blackmail and threat from North Korea.

Still, even those officials admit they worry about the possibility that Trump may opt for a military strike, one that would expose Japan to a possible North Korean response. Even in that situation, it is far from evident that Abe would defy Trump, a likelihood that concerns some Japanese policy makers. “Japan’s responsibility is to do something,” says a former Japanese senior foreign ministry official. “Japan should be more active and let Trump understand that you cannot destroy Japan.”

Anchored within the alliance system, there are some signs of Japan’s search for greater autonomy. Japan has asserted leadership in convening the talks among the signees of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the so-called TPP11 negotiations. Japanese negotiators are hoping to reach a deal among the TPP11 that can be announced at the Asia Pacific summit in Vietnam next month. Though Japan is hopeful that the U.S. will eventually return to join the TPP, they are also increasingly comfortable with playing this leadership role.

Abe also hopes to convene the long-delayed trilateral summit of Japan, China and South Korea in December. And he still is searching for a way to reach the long-sought agreement with Russia on a peace treaty, settling the territorial dispute over the Kurile Islands. But that will require Abe to finally back down and agree to a territorial compromise along the lines of the 1956 talks – which he now has the power to do, if he wants.

These tentative steps toward Japanese leadership could fall apart, however, if Abe decides to use his newly restored power for the purpose of settling, at least symbolically, what he, echoing his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, sees as the fundamental loss of Japanese sovereignty in the American-imposed constitution and its famous peace clause.

Mr. Abe has been compelled to offer a much watered down version of what he seeks to change in Article 9 – but he may chose to go back to the LDP’s original more ambitious goal of rewriting the entire clause.

It is evident, however, that a serious push for constitutional revision would trigger renewed tensions with China and South Korea, all amidst the North Korea problem. Nor is it clear that the Japanese public, not to mention the political system, is truly prepared to take on a long-stalled and potentially highly divisive debate about the postwar role of Japan in global security.

This election has once again put Abe in a position of almost unchallenged power, for now. But, as Spiderman put it, with great power comes great responsibility.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Identifying the ‘liberal’ in Japanese politics


Japan Times, October 21, 2017

The current group of conservative public figures in the United States wants to return to an age when certain middle-class values were ascendant, without acknowledging that many of those values were realized because President Franklin Roosevelt implemented progressive social policies and trade unions had real power. They maligned Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for his avowed socialist platform during the 2016 presidential campaign, but much of that platform constituted the status quo in the 1950s. Later, Ronald Reagan dismantled the government structures that made the era prosperous.

There’s a similar nostalgia at work in today’s Japanese general election. On the one hand, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to rewrite the Constitution in a bid to re-create the “beautiful Japan” he thinks existed before the country lost World War II, without recognizing that some of the qualities he admires led Japan to destruction.

On the other side of the ideological divide, some left-leaning politicians have feelings for the immediate postwar era, when the hard-won freedom of conscience was considered a precious right. And then there’s Yukio Edano, the former Democratic Party leader who just formed the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan as a tribute to relatively iconoclastic leaders who held sway in the early 1990s, like Takako Doi, when the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) — which had held power continually since its creation in 1955 — was losing its relevancy.

As Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed, today’s election was originally seen as a two-way race between different right-wing flavors — Abe’s nostalgic LDP on the one hand and former LDP stalwart Yuriko Koike’s more media-savvy conservatism on the other. Edano’s party supposedly fills the liberal vacuum created by the collapse of the Democratic Party, whose members were not consistently liberal across its ranks anyway. In fact, many members were as conservative as Abe, which is why it was so easy for them to jump ship to Koike’s Party of Hope, especially when Koike purged it of any liberal influence.

This situation set off a conversation in the media as to what Japanese liberalism is. According to manga artist and conservative firebrand Yoshinori Kobayashi, only “stupid people” in Japan believe left-wingers are synonymous with liberals. Despite his own longing for prewar Japanese ideals, Kobayashi admires liberals for their dedication to “freedom,” which he thinks is the main philosophical pillar of liberalism. In an Oct. 7 blog post he admits to identifying more with the Japan Communist Party (JCP) — which he sees as being liberal, meaning centrist, and not “leftwing” — more than he does with the LDP or its doctrinaire brothers-in-arms Nippon Ishin no Kai. The JCP has abandoned many left-wing positions for a more practical stance.

“The JCP is changing all the time,” Kobayashi writes. “It no longer insists on abolishing the Emperor system or the Self-Defense Forces.” More significantly, the JCP is against neoliberalism and the free trade Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Kobayashi also opposes. “JCP’s policies are based on a nationalism that overlaps with conservatism,” he says, “while the LDP and Ishin support globalism and only call themselves conservatives.”

Kobayashi may be confusing liberalism with libertarianism, which, according to freelance journalist Tetsuo Jimbo, has no traction in Japan. In a discussion with veteran political operative Norihiko Narita on Jimbo’s website,, Jimbo says he thinks the late LDP Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa once represented the “liberal” wing of the party, though Narita makes the point that Miyazawa eventually became the standard bearer for what the media called the “new right” in Japan. Until the ’90s, the main opposition was the Japan Socialist Party, which was against the U.S.-Japan military alliance and advocated for a strict interpretation of the postwar Constitution.

Ironically, the LDP maintained power for so long because of policies that were socialist in nature. It carried out income redistribution through public works projects, which stimulated the economy until the asset-inflated bubble burst at the dawn of the ’90s. Opposition parties took advantage of the LDP’s weakness in the general election of 1993, which Narita says resembles the upcoming election in that a great deal of political retrenchment took place. The idea was to create a real two-party system, but what happened is that, due to election reform that designated one person from each party running for a constituency seat, the LDP’s traditional “faction” structure fell apart, resulting in greater power for whoever is the leader of the ruling party.

Since then, “opposition parties have become even weaker,” says Narita, “which means the media has had to act as the opposition party.” However, the press has been effectively cowed by the Abe administration. “Their fangs have been removed,” Narita says, and now there is no clear liberal force in Japanese public life.

Because there is no equivalent term in Japanese, the English word “liberal” is used. An Oct. 8 Asahi Shimbun article attempted to parse the meaning of the word and found that even Japanese dictionaries define it differently. Since both the LDP and Koike demonstrate libertarian impulses, some people are confused, and Edano has muddled matters even more by calling himself a “liberal conservative.”

If there’s anything that ideologically distinguishes ruling party conservatives, it is the idea of “individual rights,” which both Abe and Koike seem to abhor, since they equate individualism with selfishness. Pundit Takeshi Nakajimasaid in the Asahi that the LDP’s conservatism is inherently “paternalistic,” and as Narita told the Mainichi Shimbun, “50 percent of the population is opposed to changing the Constitution,” which, as it stands, guarantees the rights of individuals.

A person who defends the postwar Constitution may be the best way to identify a Japanese liberal.