|Different securitising practices will affect security policy differently.|
When analysing Japan's security policies in the postwar period, one of the most striking features is the fact that some issues became over-securitised while others, au contraire, were blatantly de-securitised. Of course this analysis adopts many of the assumptions of the Copenhagen School view (pdf) on international security, which is not without its criticisms. But let us follow along this line of thought a little further. As this view focuses on "securitisation" and "speech acts", among other issues, I take it to be a valid analytical category with which to approach security concerns. In a nutshell, the Copenhagen School argues it is fundamental to look at three different units of analysis when one discusses securitisation:
- Referent object, or that which is being securitised (eg. territory, resources, citizens, etc.)
- Securitising actor, or the entity whose security is affected (eg. Japan, Japanese people, etc.)
- Audience, or the target recipient of the speech act (eg. United States, ASEAN, international community, China, etc.)
In the end we shall see how these three levels have a bearing on Japan's or any other country's security policy.
The very fact that an entire subfield of international studies on Japan has been devoted to its "normalisation", notwithstanding the murkiness of the concept, attests to the irregular nature of security practices and discourses in the country of the rising sun. Four examples of contrasting nature will illustrate how issues can be successfully securitised or de-securitised in security discourses. I will start precisely with those events which have been de-securitised, for they provide a clearer illustration of how security practices shape a country's policy.
Firstly, there is the US naval shelling of Tokyo bay during a military exercise in the 1980s, which almost led to the sinking of a stand-by fishing vessel and the killing of its captain. You cannot recall this happening or reading about it? Well it would only prove my point beforehand. This episode has been (in)famously alluded to by Ishihara Shintaro in his controversial book "A Japan That Can Say No". Unsurprisingly, Tokyo Governor Ishihara - then Transport Minister - intended to denounce the asymmetry in Japan-US relations, as the former subordinated itself to the latter, and picked up the Tokyo Bay Incident as a linchpin to justify Japan's emancipation as a partner amongst equals. Nevertheless, the official line of the government's position downplayed the event and no significant ripple effects were observed in Japanese society, despite some grumbling in a few ministries as to the absurdity of the situation.
Secondly, there is the example of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) of China overhauling its first aircraft carrier in recent years. The move has signalled a growing investment in military capabilities, as Beijing exercises its economic muscle and seeks to attain more politico-military leverage in pursuing its national interests. The aircraft carrier has triggered no substantial response in Japan, whereas in the United States and some European countries it raised arguably a greater awareness, especially in late 2011, regarding Beijing's true strategic intentions for the medium to long-term planning.
It should be noted that I am not advocating any normative agenda in favour of this or that approach to Japan's security issues. I am merely observing the fact that some events have caused a great deal more fuss in policy and public circles than others, apparently in spite of perceptions of security of the body politic. After all, it would be reasonably safe to conclude that widespread angst would be expected if a US Navy vessel shelled a Japanese fishing boat right in Tokyo Bay, whilst the development of aircraft carrier capabilities by China would probably not make the Japanese do more than to raise a few eyebrows.
This brings us once more to the issue of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Incident of September 2010. As it involved Japanese Coast Guard vessels and not Maritime Self-Defense Force ships, on the one hand, and a Chinese trawler and not a PLAN ship, on the other, it would not be unreasonable to expect the issue to be dealt with in the context of an infraction/violation to Japan's domestic law. The trawler would be confiscated, the captain arrested and detained, and punitive actions taken to remedy the damage and deter future perpetrators. In fact, all these measures were taken, but that was not the end of it.
Other actors successfully securitised the incident, prompting the intervention of the national governments of Japan and China, thereby consolidating the linkage between an internal affair and an international security one.
To conclude, securitising and de-securitising events have important consequences to a country's security policy. If Japan should learn anything from the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Incident of 2010, it is that more attention should be paid to the narrative that is advocated to legitimise a speech act (Point 1). Japan should also acknowledge that the release of information has a impact on the way that security is perceived (Point 2). Finally, it must make a more comprehensive selection of what is the target audience of its securitising practice (Factor 3). Was Japan trying to convince the United States of China's violation, or the international community as a whole? If so, what could the United States do to favour Japan's position? Who exactly speaks on behalf of the international community and who is there to back Japan's claims? Did Japan take full advantage of the video release to legitimise its standpoint? How did the Cabinet deal with the media, knowing the Chinese would be "listening in"?
As the incident happened in blurry circumstances, it came as shock and was dealt with great urgency. It should not necessarily be so, as temporary spikes of "conflictuality" in a country's security perceptions are more likely to lead to a state of hyper-sensitivity rather than to moderation. And unreasonable actions will only deteriorate the fragile security dynamics in East Asia.