23 September 2004
HIROSHIMA, JAPAN - Airliners flying to cities in western Japan from Tokyo's Haneda Airport must first head far to the south, then negotiate a crowded, narrow air corridor where near collisions are frequent.
Japanese planes cannot fly directly to western Japan because fifty-nine years after the end of World War II, they are still banned from a huge airspace around the US Yokota military base in western Tokyo.
Japan is still governed by the same constitution promulgated by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the 1940's. It denies itself offensive military forces, and plays reluctant host to over 40,000 US military personnel in numerous air and naval bases. The US-Japan Defense Treaty calls on the US to defend Japan against any attackers, but does not require Japan to defend the US. Japan is often called `the biggest US aircraft carrier.'
Japan, a key democracy with the world's second largest economy, remains a US protectorate under America's nuclear security blanket. This mighty nation of uniquely energetic, courageous, and intelligent people still behaves in foreign affairs like a recently defeated nation.
Most Japanese and neighboring Asians accept this curious arrangement. It deters Japan from building powerful offensive military forces that would greatly upset China and the Koreas, and it satisfies bedrock anti-military feelings among Japanese, all of whose major cities were razed during World War II. More Japanese civilians were killed in one night's firebombing raids on Tokyo, for example, than in the atomic bombing of this once beautiful port.
But this comfortable yet unnatural status as economic giant but politic-military midget must come to an end.
Japan's Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi went to the UN this week to request a permanent seat on the Security Council. He has been trying to tiptoe Japan into world affairs.
It's high time the UN seat the world's number two power and its second largest contributor. Japan needs to be politically integrated with the world and thus exercise a stabilizing influence. Japan's exclusion from the Security Council is illogical, unfair, and increasingly counter-productive.
The Iraq War showed the UN Security Council to be useless. It failed to prevent the illegal US invasion of Iraq, then blessed this act of aggression. Critics claim the Security Council is an arm of the US State Department.
Two major changes are needed. Japan must be seated, followed, soon after, by Germany. Second, the veto power wielded by the Council's permanent members must be amended. In the event a veto is cast, the vote should then be decided by the General Assembly. But the US is not interested in this badly needed reform that would dilute its paramount influence in the UN.
Proposing a Security Council seat for Japan will immediately raise howls of indignation from the Koreas, China and the Philippines, all of whom felt the ferocity of the Imperial Japanese Army. But that was six decades ago. North Asia's nations have to forget the past, stop acting like cry babies, and stop extorting guilt money from Japan.
If they and the US keep Japan politically isolated, one day a fierce nationalist explosion may erupt as a new generation of proud Japanese casts off the hair shirt and abjures the role of apologizing penitent.
Equally important, Japan's long recession appears to be ending. The economy is showing signs of growth, as the spirit of national depression recedes. Ironically, much of Japan's previous political and economic problems stem from the US-designed system of postwar government, which created feuding clans of feeble, corrupt politicians while real decision-making power was wielded by the nation's near invisible permanent bureaucracy.
Japanese badly need a modernist democratic revolution that sweeps away the rotten, dysfunctional old order. Alas, none is yet apparent. Every attempt to reform the old system gets buried in bribes, sabotage, and inertia.
Japan's international role, economy and politics need urgently to be kick-started. North Asia is becoming a key geopolitical pressure point. There is no time to be lost in restoring Japan to its rightful role in world affairs before the clashing interests of China, Japan, the Koreas, Russia and the US send this most strategic region into crisis configuration.