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The Case for UK-US-Japanese Cooperation in Post-2014 Afghanistan

(Part 2 of UK-Japan-US Trilateral Proposal)

By Dr. Victoria Tuke

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For over a decade, the stability of Afghanistan has represented a common foreign policy priority for the US, UK, and Japan. Immediately following the attacks of 9/11, all three worked together to ensure Pakistan’s leader, Musharraf, joined the US-led NATO ‘War on Terror.’ Today, the US and Japan are the top two financial contributors and the US and UK are the top two military contributors. US forces have suffered over 2,000 fatalities and the UK over 440, with many thousand more wounded. For Japan, whilst no ground troops have been deployed in armed missions, its economic contributions to a number of security areas including security sector reform remain essential. Between 2001 and 2012, $9 billion of aid was committed, and in July 2012, Tokyo hosted the latest multilateral forum on Afghanistan’s future.

Competition rather than cooperation, however, has prevailed in Afghanistan policy, as various donors have sought opportunities to contribute to post-Taliban development. Donors have failed to adequately deal with local complexities, resulting in delayed projects, mismanaged funds, and vulnerability to corruption. As troop numbers are scaled back, this paper argues for a post-2014 agenda which requires cooperation, not just at the multilateral level but within this structure between such heavily involved governments as those in Washington, London, and Tokyo.

Recommendations

  • Dialogue through a trilateral forum should aim to improve understanding of each others’ policies and activities.
  • With budget constraints affecting all three states and domestic pressure to defend aid contributions, efforts should be made to improve efficiency and avoid overlap of development projects. Through greater information-sharing, the US, UK, and Japan can take advantage of each country’s individual strengths, such as favorable opinion among Afghan elites, strong on-the-ground presence, and sound stabilization methods.
  • With sustainability of projects a priority, and the shift from a war to normal economy a substantial challenge, the three governments can coordinate over how best to manage the transition of Afghanistan’s economy towards self-sufficiency. Such work would also secure the US, UK, and Japan a stake in Afghanistan’s future.
  • Each country has unique relations with regional partners which should be capitalized upon to expedite the effectiveness of policies

Current levels of dialogue

Limited dialogue exists between the US, UK, and Japan. For example, only the US, UK, Japan, and Germany have Special Representatives responsible for coordinating government policy regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan.At this senior level, communication channels take place at the departmental level and can be seen in the regular conferences on Afghanistan hosted by these governments. The Tokyo Conference held in July 2012 was largely seen as a success. Yet the follow-up scheduled to be held in the UK in 2014, after Afghanistan continues the transition process with a presidential election, will be even more important.

Potential areas for deeper coordination

In advancing the case for closer US-UK-Japan trilateral dialogue on Afghanistan, it must be first recognized that Afghanistan resonates differently with the domestic audiences of all three states. Within the US and UK, the debate on Afghanistan is primarily about terrorism, whilst for Japan, the debate on Afghanistan revolves around development assistance.

The three differ in their styles of distributing aid, with Japan often taking a more business-focused approach through loans, rather than offering grants, more favored by the other two. Japan is also not in the habit of attaching moral conditions, such as human rights commitments and universal values to ODA, and in general has resisted pooling aid with others due to an aversion to this type of conditionality. The UK and US on the other hand, have no such reservations about making aid conditional on the application of values.

Increase efficiency

There remains significant room for improving the monitoring of development aid. Given the substantial commitments of USAID, DfID, and JICA, sharing information on successes and failures in the field would provide help all three through the learning process in a very fluid and dynamic field of operaitons. All three are facing domestic financial constraints, making the need even greater to ensure funds are allocated effectively and minimize overlap and duplication.

In the US and UK, public scrutiny of aid budgets is intense, spurred by government-wide spending reductions and reports of (US) mismanagement of aid to Afghanistan. Such mismanagement of funding has damaged public perceptions of each government’s work, presenting potential obstacles to future funding streams. In the summer of 2012, Washington was forced to defend claims that a $45 million compound for Afghan security forces was too expensive for Afghanistan to operate. The UK government was also under fire in September 2012, when British-built schools were forced to close since there were no staff available to run them. In Japan, by contrast, public interest is minimal and rarely discussed in public fora.

Information-sharing

Japan differs from the UK and US in having a severely limited physical presence in Afghanistan. By avoiding boots on the ground, Japan has learned to operate large-scale funding operations with an extremely small national footprint. This has largely been achieved by ‘Afghanizing’ the monitoring stage of its aid process and by accepting losses to corruption. This small footprint presents both challenges and opportunities for USAID and DfID, who may have to resort to similarly small operations in-country. On the one hand, they have much to teach JICA on monitoring of development funds, while JICA has much to teach them on operating with vastly minimized staff numbers. In a country as large as Germany, achieving both of these functions should is essential to the combined efforts of Washington, London, and Tokyo.

Japan enjoys a very favorable image in Afghanistan which could benefit others. In part this stems from Japan’s lack of history in the region and absence of ground troops. Through the consistent commitment of funds to Afghanistan, Japan has accumulated moral capital and the perception of credibility as well as impartiality. This asset, when coupled with US and UK commitments and development expertise, can act as a force-multiplier creating mutual benefits.

Sustainability – the transition from aid to economic investment

Going forward from 2014 in Afghanistan, sustainability will be key. To date, substantial amounts of aid have been allocated and each of the three governments share a significant interest in ensuring the smooth continuation of project work and the development of self-funding efforts. With the withdrawal of troops by the end of 2014, the donor community will remain but efforts to make the transition from an aid-dependent to a self-sustaining economy. Efforts will need to accelerate in passing over civilian-control of development projects to Afghan organizations. Here, the US, UK, and Japan hold a shared, noncompetitive objective, which would benefit from coordination and information sharing of best-practices and lessons learned.

Until now, the unstable security situation has dissuaded the US, UK, and Japan, as well as other European countries from deepening private sector investment. However, looking ahead, despite understandable reluctance, greater efforts are needed to invest in Afghanistan’s economy and create a new model for economic development that places responsibility in Afghan hands.

Among other initiatives therefore, the US, UK, and Japan should begin coordination over how risks could be shared in the potential boom of such productive sectors as mining, agriculture, energy, and Afghanistan’s nascent private sector. These efforts would provide long-term results for the Afghan people by creating new sectors and industries and providing the Government of Afghanistan with much needed revenue. Financial contributions are set to dramatically decrease following the withdrawal of troops in 2014. Whilst $110 billion to $120 billion a year is estimated to have been allocated by the US alone since the 2010 ‘surge,’ this could be reduced to a still-substantial-sum of $2.7 billion.As the scaling back begins, assisting in the transition from a war to a normal economy and securing funding for the Government of Afghanistan (GOA) will ensure the stability of any future regime.

Such efforts would also ensure for the trilateral members a future stake in Afghanistan and secure another presence from that of military or aid provider. China, India, and Russia are already investing heavily. China, for example, has signed a partnership agreement and was the first to take an interest in Afghanistan’s mineral resources, investing $4.5 billion into the copper industry and $7 billion over 25 years into Afghanistan’s oil resources.Russia has also shown interest and Afghanistan was admitted as an observer member to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in June 2012.

Using Soft Power

Each government also has built relationships in the region which, if utilized effectively, could provide wider benefits. For example, all three have been deepening ties with New Delhi, which stands as a vital partner in future Afghanistan stability by ensuring Pakistan does not support the Taliban. Pakistan is crucial for Afghanistan’s future; therefore, how the three co-ordinate with Islamabad is also important. Relations between the US and Pakistan have been strained due to US drone attacks, but with good relations between Japan and Pakistan continuing as well as with other Afghan neighbors, Japan can encourage Pakistan further to support Afghanistan’s transition to stability and encourage consensus. Despite some setbacks, the US continues to hold influential sway over Pakistan, as does the UK, which has historical, demographic, and economic relations.

The US, Japan, and UK have already invested large amounts of money, men, and materiel into Afghanistan. The withdrawal of troops in 2014 will mean more pressure on the government of Afghanistan, and the gradual lessening of ISAF. It is incumbent on all three to ensure that this transition is a smooth one for Kabul and that the future of Afghanistan is a bright and secure one.

For access to the original chapter, please click here.


International Stabilization and Reconstruction and Global Korea

Asia Unbound, November 15th 2012

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South Korea’s stabilization efforts in Afghanistan have not gained a lot of prominence in the Western media, but they are arguably one of the great successes of recent ROK overseas policy and deserve international recognition. The decision, made this September, to extend South Korean involvement in the Afghan theatre for one more year, demonstrates Seoul’s determination to continue its contribution to the stabilization efforts of International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) and NATO troops and to solidify its Global Korea posture.

However, it is not yet clear if the next administration in Seoul—to be elected this December—will seek to maintain South Korea’s stabilization and reconstruction (S&R) activities as described in CFR’s new ebook Global Korea. It is not beyond South Korea’s capacity to develop the skill sets required for these missions, since they have already – to some extent – begun the process of acquiring and honing them for the last two years building and maintaining a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Parwan Province, Afghanistan. However, carrying out S&R work under securitized conditions is a historically unusual activity for South Korea, and much will depend on how South Koreans view the net gain of such operations.

Keeping military personnel in, what are commonly described as, ‘traditional’ roles is a basic assumption of any global military. These traditional roles include war-fighting, defense of state sovereignty, internal security, and, over the last century, disaster relief. Two areas added to this list of functions in the past fifty years have been peacekeeping and stabilization and reconstruction. While disaster relief, peacekeeping, and S&R share commonalities (a high level of civil-military engagement), they have pose different levels of security threats. Of the three, S&R activities are commonly agreed to as having the highest risk factor for deployed personnel since, by its function, development work takes place while a conflict is still on going.

South Korea has three reasons for wanting to carry out stabilization activities. In no particular order, they are: a function of their alliance commitments to the United States; a realization of ROK sense of obligation to ”international society”; and a potential tool necessary in any collapsed regime scenario involving North Korea. (Michael J. Finnegan highlights the potential benefits of South Korea’s S&R activities to the U.S.-ROK alliance in the event of North Korean instability in U.S.-ROK Alliance: Meeting New Security Challenges). According to interviews with South Korean diplomats, development workers, and military personnel conducted this past year, all three factors played a part in the decision to deploy the PRT in Parwan, and were a result of fortuitous timing with South Korean internal politics and internal U.S. alliance dynamics. Whether South Korea wants to retain this capability is essentially a political decision and difficult to predict.

However, should a new South Korean president decide to keep S&R, what do ROK government agencies have to do to maintain this capability? As the involved agencies of the United States and the United Kingdom have learned, S&R is difficult to maintain, requiring intense training and adaption of force postures to the unique practicalities required. Here are some basic recommendations:

  • South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) should set stabilization as a core mission alongside war fighting and peacekeeping
  • South Korea should send bi-ministerial research teams (consisting of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and MND personnel) to the United States, the United Kingdom, and NATO Centres of Excellence to look at how those entities maintain this function
  • The Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) should establish a joint department training facility, staffed jointly by MND, MOFAT, and Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) personnel. As well as running courses for pre-deployed personnel, the facility could also host visiting scholars and practitioners from the international community which deals with stabilization activities
  • MND and MOFAT should also create S&R units within their ministries, whereby they may contain these functions. Alternatively, the MND could add these functions to the Evergreen PKO unit
  • South Korea should establish a taskforce to establish how best to deal with the operational and planning difficulties presented by stabilization at the bureaucratic level. For example, there is the ‘joint unit’ system as in the United Kingdom’s Stabilization Unit, or the ‘coordination function’ system such as the American Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations
  • The Korean Institute for Defense Analyses and the Korean National Defense University should be allocated research grants for building programs that carry out S&R research and contain S&R fellows

Global Korea: South Korea’s Contribution to International Security

Council of Foreign Relations, October 2012

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The Korean peninsula often comes to mind as a global security flash point. The most recent reminders include North Korea’s April 2012 failed test of a multistage rocket and the November 2010 North Korean shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island. Given the seriousness of the ongoing standoff on the Korean peninsula, South Korea’s emergence as an active contributor to international security addressing challenges far from the Korean peninsula is a striking new development, marking South Korea’s emergence as a producer rather than a consumer of global security resources. This volume outlines South Korea’s progress and accomplishments toward enhancing its role and reputation as a contributor to international security.

Contents Overview Scott A. Snyder Korea and PKO: Is Korea Contributing to Global Peace? Balbina Hwang South Korea’s Counterpiracy Operations in the Gulf of Aden Terence Roehrig The ROK Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan John Hemmings Counterproliferation and South Korea: From Local to Global Scott Bruce Publisher Council on Foreign Relations Press

Release Date October 2012 Price$10.00 100 pages ISBN 978-0-87609-542-3

Take, Hold, Build: Hope for Afghanistan?

PNXY Comment on Global Security and Politics, 11th October 2011

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Flying over Afghanistan, one cannot help but be intimidated by the view from the air. Dry, brown craggy mountains reach into the horizon with few signs of human habitation or life. Below, small patches of greenery stubbornly cling to rivers basins, which meander through the bleak landscape. It is altogether too easy a metaphor for the conflict in Afghanistan – now in its 10th year, to suggest that the efforts of ISAF, the US, and UK are swallowed by such a landscape. But flying into Kabul presents one with another vision altogether, an ever-expanding cityscape, with new roads, newly-built apartment blocks, and office blocks next to traditional walled houses. And littered throughout this landscape, are parks of cargo containers, in their hundreds of thousands. Whole neighbourhoods seem to be built out of the heavy metal containers, and the sheer scale of their presence is a hint at the massive undertaking in supplying, feeding, clothing, and providing for the international effort that is Afghanistan. Flying over the airport, one sees lines of trucks bearing the cargo containers lining the highways, as traffic pushes as sluggishly as any Western city.

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The population of Kabul in 2001 was around 500,000 and it is now almost 4 million. This growth shows itself in the haphazard nature of development that seems to have mushroomed along the road from Kabul Airport, with apartment complexes; marriage centres and shopping centres hugging the congested highway. While one is constantly aware of the security situation, one cannot help but be impressed by the hustle and bustle of the city. Certainly, the steely faces of Afghan National Police manning weapons at roundabouts and intersections reveal the underlying tension, but that is not the only story. As night falls, the city glows with light, an improvement in power generation from only a few years ago. Furthermore, side streets reveal busy night markets, with men sitting in doorways, fanning flames at kebab stalls. Yes, it is a city under siege, but it does not seem to be – odd as this may sound – a city at war. Certainly, the hotels, the embassies, and the government ministries are heavily fortified, but the overall sensation is one of business, commercial success and vibrancy.

Notable on the sidewalks are crowds of male and female students dawdling on their way home. In 2001, fewer than 1 million children attended some form of education. Now, according to the UK Department for International Development (DFID), more than five million attend school, and almost a third of them are girls. While Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world, its economic growth – bolstered by international aid – is impressive, with growth at 22.5% in 2009/10. Last year’s harvest also saw a growth of agriculture output of 36%. In 2006, President Karzai established the Independent Board for the Development of Kabul New City, brought together the private sector, urban specialists, and foreign donors like the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to carry out a massive redevelopment plan for the city. The project, it is estimated, will eventually end up costing some US$35 billion dollars, and push many of Afghanistan’s 35% unemployed into of the largest development projects in modern history.

While all of this is good news, there are still a lot of ‘ifs’ involved before such projects bear fruit. The main question is whether the current system is sustainable, and this is what donors in Afghanistan should be focused on. While agriculture has improved, Afghanistan’s arid landscape means that the sector is heavily dependent on rainfall and snowmelt, so while modern methods can continue to improve output, this will remain volatile.

This volatility will also be true in terms of the security situation and the commitment of international partners to the Karzai government. Around 47% of Afghanistan’s GDP is dependent on international donors, which means that Kabul will have to negotiate a continuation of funding for some years to come from countries already beginning to feel the pinch at home. One answer to this conundrum has been for Kabul to woo investment into its largely untapped mineral and mining sectors, aided by a 2006 government mining law and a 2010 US geological survey. According to a New York Times article, the US-backed survey discovered nearly US$1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits – including lithium, copper, iron ore, and cobalt – enough to fundamentally reshape the Afghan economy and make the country a world supplier. The Aynak Copper Mine in the mountainous region of Logar Pronvince is one indication of how things could go with a Chinese firm winning the bid by promising US$3 billion in direct investment and infrastructure projects.

What is clear, is that the world is doing something in Afghanistan aside from soldiering. It is building something, or trying to. The question is whether this will have a real effect, but certainly there are plenty of hopeful signs for those who would look for them. Easy metaphors aside, Afghanistan may stand as ‘a graveyard of Empires’, but this should not stop us from viewing the good being done there, however many ‘ifs’ are required to keep it going.

 


West stares into Afghan abyss

CNN Commentary, July 15, 2009

Bagram Air Field

Bagram Air Field

Given its long history of warfare, the United Kingdom is not squeamish about fatalities in time of war and yet a debate has been ignited by the deaths of 15 British soldiers in Afghanistan over the last few weeks. The question now is whether this profound soul-searching results in a more efficient policy towards the war-torn country.

The West became involved in fighting in Afghanistan principally because the Taliban government allowed a non-state actor to carry out acts of terrorism unhindered from within its borders.

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and the Taliban’s subsequent refusal to extradite members of al Qaeda, the United States allied itself to the Northern Alliance and moved to bring down the Taliban. Following this, the UK and other NATO member states stepped forward to help rebuild the country under a United Nations mandate.

While critics of the war have claimed that al Qaeda and the Taliban are separate entities, the links between the two organizations were quite strong; both share a strict interpretation of Islam and a deep antipathy for the West and modernism more generally. And this affinity has not been played out in the ideological sphere alone: before 9/11, an elite al Qaeda formation called the 055 Brigade fought alongside the Taliban in northern Afghanistan and provided training and strategic support. This military co-operation is likely to continue today.

The level of interconnection is best exemplified by the fact that Osama Bin Laden’s son was married to Mullah Omar’s daughter in the sort of political match which is meant to forge a blood kinship between the two. The main difference between the two seems to be in the scope of their objectives: while the Taliban is content with imposing its religious beliefs system on Afghanistan, al Qaeda has a global agenda of building a new Caliphate.

Gordon Brown’s statement in 2007 that two-thirds of all terrorist attacks originate in the region reveals not only the severity of the threat but also the fact that many of these plots are hatched over the border in Pakistan. And yet sending British troops across the border is not an option. The Pakistani military has been engaged in a low-level war in the border regions with elements of the Taliban since 2001, when they streamed into the country, chased by U.S. and Northern Alliance forces.

These elements have successfully taken over the region by emphasizing their Pashtun kinship, the predominant ethnic group in the area, and by killing or intimidating pro-Pakistani government tribal elders. They have been able to negotiate one false cease-fire after another with the Pakistani security forces, while at the same time regrouping and repairing their losses.

Despite the grave threat at its doorstep, Islamabad is unable to invite foreign troops across its border as that would be to admit that it cannot protect itself and would induce severe public censure from its own population.

The military campaign in Helmand has a chance to succeed, but will require luck, energy and increased co-ordination of efforts by International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) forces. The shift from chasing insurgents to protecting the population offers the potential to gain the allegiance of the local population, but results are unlikely to show themselves for at least six months.

If the military part of the campaign is to succeed, there must be positive results in diplomacy, development and security sector reform.

The first will be necessary to bring regional actors like Iran, Pakistan, and India to the table, and to buy over local Taliban commanders and their fighters. In development terms, northern Afghanistan is already showing some results, but there is much more to be done in the south where the fighting is the most severe.

One key area of development work that can be improved is the removal of the Western cultural bias from the efforts. Taliban fighters and local resistors are known to be galvanized by development efforts that stress Western values, such as gender and human rights.

Development efforts should instead focus on cultural-neutral projects such as building a civil service, developing agriculture, building lanes of communication like bridges, roads, and train lines. Local and national markets should be developed, for nothing breeds peace like prosperity.

We should not be imposing our vision of how society should be, but rather building an Afghan state that can survive and thrive in the cultural context in which it sits. Furthermore, development efforts should be reformed with government agencies taking more of the brunt of the work than private contractors.

One of the biggest military obstacles is fighting an insurgency with insufficient forces and equipment. While U.S. President Barack Obama’s surge is intended to correct this, the numbers of troops in Afghanistan are very low compared to those in Iraq.

A further obstacle is putting an Afghan face to the fighting. Afghanistan is essentially engaged in a civil war, and while the West must assist and support the current government, it must also build that same government’s capacity to defend itself. Indeed, in a country where foreign troops have been a liability, the sooner the Afghan government in Kabul is able to do this, the more credibility it will have in the eyes of its own people.

While the specter of defeat always looms in public debate, victory remains within grasp. Certainly, throwing in the towel would have grave consequences for both the region and for the West more generally.

The first result would be the rejuvenation and galvanization of al Qaeda and other similar fundamentalist groups around the world. While victory is possible, it must be carefully defined. Already, signs of success are evident in other parts of the country that detract from the gloomy view that we regularly receive from our newspapers and television.

According to a UK Department for International Development report released in April, the number of Afghan children in school has increased from one million in 2002 to six million in 2008. Healthcare is now available to more than 82 per cent of the population, and 40,000 more children will live beyond their first birthday than in 2002.

A sudden withdrawal by the West would send the wrong message to both friends and enemies alike in the region and would result in the probable collapse of the infant Kabul government. Furthermore, given that UK losses (to take one example) have been lower than those experienced in the Northern Ireland and the Falklands campaigns, withdrawal would question the UK ability to stomach losses defending itself and its allies.

It would appear to be a long uphill struggle, but the alternatives indicate that this struggle is a necessary one.


Japan and the Maritime Interdiction Operation: Back in Business

RUSI Analysis, 25th Feb 2008

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On 11 January, Japan’s parliament enacted a law to resume refueling operations in support of foreign vessels participating in anti-terrorism operations near Afghanistan. To some, the decision represents a long-term shift away from Japan’s pacifist foreign policy.

The six-year operation had been halted in early November 2007 by opposition lawmakers, and Prime Minister Fukuda had to resort to a rarely used overriding power to bring the bill to a second vote in the lower house. Within three days, Fukuda’s Cabinet had met to discuss an implementation plan; shortly thereafter Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba issued the order for Japanese warships to begin the three week trip to the Indian Ocean. There, they will provide fuel and drinking water to international vessels participating in the Maritime Interdiction Operation (MIO).

Involving the navies of eleven countries, the MIO is part of the international community’s attempt to interdict the transfer of men, weapons, narcotics and funds to anti-OEF forces in Afghanistan. Under the pro-US Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Japan dispatched martime forces to the US-led effort immediately after 9/11, legalising their role in the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures in October. Renewed annually, the Special Measures Law allowed for Japanese vessels to play a supply and logistical role to the vessels involved in the MIO. When the US-led war in Iraq began in 2003, Japan’s efforts were tainted by that conflict.

In an unexpected election fought on domestic isssues this summer, the governing Liberal Democrat Party (LDP), was swept from the upper house by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Although the LDP retains the more powerful lower house, its loss of the upper house means that it can no longer expect to pass legislation without a fight. Until this month, Fukuda has been treading carefully, trying to restore the credibility of the LDP with the voters. As one of the original architects of the legislation under Koizumi, Fukuda’s commitment to renewing the legislation has never wavered. Indeed, Fukuda’s soft-spoken calmness belies his resolve on the issue.

The strength of Fukuda’s support for the bill is surprising, given that he is known for his pan-Asian views. Japanese politicians have traditionally looked to the US as Japan’s main security and economic partner, but over the last two decades a clique of pan-Asianists has evolved in Tokyo, favouring stronger links with China and South Korea. Fukuda was Chief Cabinet Secretary under Koizumi, one of Japan’s most pro-American prime ministers and it was during this period that pan-Asianists realised that their vision was not universally shared with Japan’s neighbours. North Korean missile tests and abductions revealed Japanese vulnerability in the face of mainland agression and while China offered little help, the US immediately lent military support and co-operation through the ballistic missile defence system. Chinese nationalism and anti-Japanese sentiment peaked in 2005, and relations have improved steadily since. Despite this, Japanese policy-makers now regard the US security alliance as all-important.

Despite this, there is still very little sense of long-term strategic vision in Tokyo, which is lamentable given Koizumi’s supposed impact on Japanese politics. The ease with which the opposition seized upon the MIO issue to bludgeon the government is a strong sign of public unease over the direction that Koizumi had pushed policy. Abe’s emphasis on a resurgent Japan, with all its overtones of revived nationalism finished him off just as neatly as all the scandals that his cabinet suffered in its brief year in office. Unfortunately, Abe’s defeat did not herald a new policy direction, but rather a stalemate as its architect Ozawa was unable to capitalise on his gains in the Upper House. He also underestimated Fukuda’s willpower and position within the LDP. And finally, he underestimated Fukuda’s ability to capitalise on the improved regional situation.

Fukuda has been able to improve relations with both China and South Korea. His promise not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, the controversial Tokyo shrine commemorating Japan’s war dead, was partly responsible for this. He was welcome in Beijing for a recent summit which brought not only warmer diplomatic ties, but also the promise of a solution to the long-running gas fields dispute in the East China Sea. He is also set to visit Lee Myung-bak, the new President of South Korea on 25 February, and there is much talk of ‘shuttle diplomacy’ between the two capitals, a notable difference from President Roh’s talk of a ‘diplomatic war’ with Tokyo. Fukuda could shore up his domestic position further by restarting talks on a Free Trade Agreement with South Korea, which faltered under Roh. The G8 Summit takes place this summer in Hokkaido, Japan, and should give Fukuda even more opportunities to be seen as a world statesman. Should his popularity rise, it is highly likely that he will dissolve the Japanese Diet and call a general election. With a strong public mandate, the LDP could then set about pushing through a permanent law, giving a blanket authorisation to future missions abroad in support of peacekeeping missions and in support of Washington’s efforts against terrorism.

Naturally, Koizumi’s decision to back the US after 11 September was the act of a strong ally, but it was also an opportunity to revise Japan’s post-war status quo. Although the Japanese refuelling effort may seem unexciting to outside observers, it represents the thin end of the wedge to domestic opponents to a long-term shift away from Japan’s pacifist foreign policy and is extremely contentious. For the Japanese Ministry of Defence (MoD), the advantages in taking part in the MIO are clear. As well as gaining experience abroad, the Japanese MoD also gains first-hand intelligence and experience through its liaison officer at the US Navy 5th Fleet Headquarters. Ties with the US improve and the mission is not threatened. Because Japan provides over 40 per cent of the fuel to non-US Navy vessels, its role is pivotal. It is unlikely that Pakistan would be able to carry out its MIO operations without Japanese fuel. President Karzai of Afghanistan thanked Japan in a 2004 speech at the UN for its involvement.

Symbolically, there is much riding on Japan’s involvement in the MIO, both domestically and internationally. Making forecasts in this field is always risky, but Fukuda looks like he might just pull it off. He has the determination: he engineered the first Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law as Koizumi’s Chief Cabinet Secretary in 2001 and sees its benefits. He also has the personality: unlike Abe, Fukuda is not as divisive a figure within Japanese policy circles, and is known for his ability to compromise. He has already disarmed Ozawa once with this tactic.

Perhaps he will do it again.

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