|PM Abe Shinzo. Courtesy: Tokyo Times|
One of the topics which has received widespread attention is PM Abe's concept of a "security diamond". The concept was introduced as part of an op-ed released on December 27, at Project Syndicate. Written in English, the text has enough material to keep folks debating the true implications of this vision for quite some time to come.
Not wanting to debate its strategic significance with great detail for now, allow me to point out a few basic facts which should be common ground by now, but which can help frame future debates on this issue.
First, military integration between the diamond's quadrilateral framework - Japan, United States, Australia and India - has been in motion for some time now. In other words, Abe's security diamond is not exclusively aimed at China, although it does possess an anti-China edge to it. To frame Japan's expected diplomatic inroads with the said countries within the discourse of a "rising China" is to ignore transformations in Japan's political, economic and security environment since the Cold War.
This progress has been ongoing in the areas of peace-keeping operations, initiatives to tackle the proliferation of WMDs, in the fight against terrorism and transnational organised crime, in post-conflict reconstruction, in the combat against piracy, and so forth.
Second, a careful examination of bilateral relations between Japan and these countries will promptly dismiss the existence of any continuous, deliberate and self-motivated attempt to bring forth a democratic alliance of states to counter China's inexorable path toward revisionism and competition for regional dominance. Furthermore, to attribute such qualities of strategic foresight to a somewhat cohesive group of Japanese ring-wing politicians and intellectuals is to downplay the rich variety of perspectives and debates of Japan's political landscape. The first exercise in unveiling the said variety of perspectives and debates should focus on determining the differences between being right-wing and being conservative.
Third, an overview of that same record of bilateral relations will also suggest that each has its own logic, its own driving forces and limiting factors, not to mention a fair share of missed opportunities and unforeseen results. The obvious case concerns US-Japan alliances, which presents itself with a lexicon of its own, imbued with referents that can only be found and attributed significance within the strict boundaries of alliance politics. Concomitantly, when Japanese officials state they want to strengthen ties with India, they are referring to strategic debate which differs on its essential terms from that applied to strengthening ties with America. The same is true of recent calls to strengthen Japan-Australia relations.
This may appear straight-forward, even banal to observers with some historical and strategic sensibility, but it causes real confusion when debating more specific matters of mil-mil cooperation, such as progress in Indo-Japanese naval contacts, in intelligence sharing, or in logistical agreements between Japanese forces and these countries' for fielded troops.
|Asymmetries in military capabilities are evident. Australia is not even ranked. Adapted from "Military Balance 2012". Courtesy: IISS|
Fourth, one can find historical evidence pertaining to the ideological affinity by influential Japanese policy-makers and intellectuals toward the idea of a coalition of democracies in Asia. Obviously this vision is distinctly different from American and British democratisation studies, from Schumpeter to Held and Huntington. Japanese debates on a concert of democracies in Asia, for a lack of a better expression, has been far more conservative in nature than its anglo-saxon counterpart, and aimed mainly at the Soviet Union, and now increasingly more against China. Abe's formulation in public speeches, occasional pieces and publications is but the latest strand of this intellectual tradition.
Fifth, Beijing will not seat idly by as this ongoing quadrilateral integration develops its anti-China edge. Consequently, Beijing has sufficient space for manoeuvre to exercise some pressure in particular levers. One of them is Japanese public and elite sensibilities towards North Korea, which despite recent setbacks still possesses privileged access to its higher echelons. More revealing has been China's growing influence in South Korea amidst prosperous economic ties and a good environment between both leaderships. Great attention is now being given to the future of this Seoul-Beijing tie-up in the context of Ma's recent election. If one adds to the equation China's leverage over Pakistan as well as its bargaining chips within ASEAN, it is not difficult to imagine the restrains policy-makers in Tokyo, New Delhi and Canberra may feel if they press too hard on this anti-China edge in bilateral and quadrilateral relations.
|Japanese and Indian naval vessels sail together in joint exercise. Courtesy: Japan's MOD|
Sixth, Sino-American relations are driven by a far more complex logic of economic interdependence and grand strategic competition, which may or may not be reflected in the emergence of security initiatives amongst its allies and partners. It shall thus remain as the elephant in the room and escape further scrutiny.
Despite all these considerations, one has to patiently wait to see what is the impact of this "security diamond" concept in shaping Japan's strategic debates. Unlike the Western security studies community, which is blatantly thirsty to debate any new piece of information that comes its way, domestic analysts act on a different time-scale, clearly not as reactive to hype as the former. It may very well result in nothing of significance. In fact, if Abe wanted to provoke a meaningful debate he would not have published the piece on December 27!*
* International readers may have noticed how major news agencies have mostly skipped reporting Japan's New Year's Eve celebrations. That is because this is a country notoriously uneventful during that season, surrounded by such spectacular celebrations as those of Sydney, Seoul, Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and most other major cities west of Japan.