Japan should lead in building a peaceful world / Enhance powers of defense, diplomacy, morality

It was in April 1945 that relevant nations gathered in San Francisco to begin creating the United Nations, which was eventually established in October that year. World War II was not yet over when the creation of an international order had begun for the time after the restoration of peace.

The world is once again in the midst of a war that is not only cruel but also fraught with danger in the menace of nuclear weapons. It is crucial to end the fighting as soon as possible and begin the work of rebuilding peace so that wars of unreasonable invasion will never again occur.

Japan should be at the vanguard of that work. New Year’s Day marks the start of Japan’s presidency of the U.N. Security Council. Japan should be aware that actions appropriate to that position are required.

Russia’s war to invade Ukraine has made several points clear. The world is one, for example.

A dire event in a distant region threatens our daily lives through soaring prices of electricity, food and other commodities. Peace is everyone’s wish.

Prevent dictators from rampaging

The danger of dictatorship is another lesson to keep in mind. It became clear to everyone how grave a tragedy is brought upon the world if a delusion-driven dictator runs amok.

With the person in power surrounded by a fawning entourage, there is no way the person’s actions can be prevented or stopped once in progress. It is not only the country being invaded that is the victim. The people of the invading nation also suffer, and this eventually leads to the downfall of the state.

In a free, democratic society, even if politicians make decisions that are wrong, those around them will stop unreasonable behavior. If they dare to force something and fail, they will be ousted by the opposition or by the people through elections.

A free, democratic society is what keeps the peace. It’s time to reaffirm the preciousness of freedom and peace.

These democratic forces are becoming the minority worldwide. According to the research body of U.K. magazine The Economist, the combined population of 74 democracies, consisting of what it calls “full” and “flawed” ones, is 45.7% of the population of the 167 countries and regions surveyed. This is not even half.

The COVID-19 pandemic is said to have allowed authoritarian rule to prevail and contributed to the deterioration of democracy.

Democracy does have its weaknesses. Decision-making takes time as the diverse will of the people is expressed through free elections. It is also prone to populism.

Even so, when misgovernment occurs, corrections follow. Resilience is the strength of democracy. The temptation of authoritarian politics must not be allowed to take over. Rather, with the failure of China’s zero-COVID policy, the fragility of strong-arm politics is becoming clearer.

There is a discourse that fears a divided world as it sees the war in Ukraine as a conflict of political systems, namely “authoritarian” versus “democratic,” or the ideological struggle of “Western European Christianity” against “anti-Western European civilization,” but we cannot agree with either of them.

Up until Russia launched its aggression, nations with different political systems and ideologies were coexisting. It is the act of destroying this state of affairs using violence that is the problem.

The starting point for creating a new world order is to ensure that dictators never again run amok. The first step in this process is to prevent them from holding on to delusions of victory.

Necessary to attain readiness

If other countries become aware that a careless move will result in a stinging counterattack and harm to themselves, they are less likely to launch a reckless attack. The key is to strengthen defense capabilities to be prepared for any emergency.

Japan has the greatest need to increase such readiness. This is because Japan’s security is now exposed to an unprecedentedly severe environment.

Russia has been enhancing pressure through acts such as flying bombers around the Japanese archipelago. North Korea has repeatedly tested missiles apparently targeting Japan and even the U.S. mainland.

China has publicly stated its intention to use force against Taiwan and is continuing its actions in violation of Japan’s sovereignty, such as intrusions into the territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands. These three countries have been consolidating their dictatorships.

Japan has long enjoyed friendly relations with China, an important neighbor politically and economically. China’s unilateral actions in recent years, however, are aberrant. Japan must enhance its guard.

In terms of military technology, the threats have also considerably heightened. The current defense system, which is focused on “interception,” is no longer sufficient to deal with these threats. This is because the security environment surrounding Japan has changed drastically.

It is unsurprising that the government has decided on a new security policy, including the possession of “counterattack capabilities,” that represents a major transformation of defense policy. Preparations must be hastened to ensure that the Japan-U.S. alliance functions reliably by establishing the necessary posture in terms of equipment, facilities and chain of command.

Obviously, on its own, military strength cannot keep the peace. Another important measure to prevent the breakdown of peace is diplomacy. Shaping international public opinion to unite in building peace is also an important role that diplomacy plays.

The United Nations is the place for the international community’s intentions to take shape. In reality, however, the draft resolutions condemning and sanctioning Russian aggression and North Korean missile tests were rejected at the U.N. Security Council due to opposition or abstentions by Russia and China, permanent members of the council, exposing the paralysis in the functioning of the United Nations.

Global opinion not powerless

It is worth noting, though, that even if not legally binding, emergency special sessions of the U.N. General Assembly have adopted resolutions condemning Russia and other measures by an overwhelming majority of votes.

Growing international public opinion has helped to avert, albeit partially, the worst-case scenarios, such as a blockade of grain exports or an attack on a nuclear power plant, and remedial measures have been taken. International opinion is not powerless.

It should not be underestimated, however, that dozens of countries have always opposed, abstained or taken other actions to side with positions that are pro-Russia or pro-China. Many are developing countries mainly in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America.

Behind this situation is said to be these countries’ complicated feelings toward European nations based on a history of colonialism, and the closeness they feel to the former Soviet Union and China, which supported self-determination movements.

Liaison to developing nations

These countries, mainly in the southern hemisphere and known as the “Global South,” are expected to have great international influence on the political and economic fronts in the future, so the United States and Europe, and China and Russia are already vying to approach them.

It is important to make these regions places of cooperation for their stabilization and the improvement of the people’s livelihoods, rather than a struggle for mastery among major powers. It is there that Japan has an opportunity to make significant contributions.

Japan has long cooperated in the development of these regions through official development assistance and by hosting TICAD, the Tokyo International Conference on African Development. Private citizens have also continued to engage in support activities in sectors closely related to the people’s livelihoods, such as medical care and welfare.

It is especially significant that Japan, together with the United Nations, will serve as a liaison for dialogue between relevant countries and these regions, through public-private partnerships and support and exchanges that accurately respond to local needs.

For this to happen, however, what is needed first of all is national power.

Japan is the world’s third largest economy in terms of gross domestic product, but in terms of per-capita GDP, it has dropped from second place about 20 years ago to 27th place, due to low growth and low wages. If foreigners are discouraged from working in Japan, it will be difficult to be proud of being a “major power.”

Companies and households have ample savings. The leading priority is to reinvigorate the economy by actively diverting these funds toward the development of cutting-edge technologies and new products.

A moral foundation is also essential to be convincing in the international community. Unless Japan, beginning domestically, behaves in accordance with international norms common to all humankind, such as freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, its arguments will lack persuasiveness.

The current situation is far from satisfactory, however, since Japan has received criticism from outside the country over discriminatory treatment of foreign nationals in immigration facilities. Domestic politics and diplomacy are one and the same.

In addition, substantial national power and fair behavior cannot be achieved if domestic politics are unstable. Other nations will just take advantage of Japan’s weakness if the Japanese public’s distrust of its government grows over its ineptitude in dealing with a string of ministerial scandals.

Political trust leads to national power

This year, there are only the unified local elections in April and no plans for full-scale national elections. This can be considered an opportunity for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to manage the political situation in a stable manner. Even in local elections, however, confusion in national politics can invite turmoil for local election candidates, becoming a driver for fluctuations in the political situation.

Based on the bitter experience of political turmoil since last summer, the Cabinet must strengthen cooperation with the ruling coalition and steadily achieve results on various difficult issues, one by one, to regain trust.

In May, a summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations will be held in Hiroshima. Depending on the political situation, the dissolution of the House of Representatives and subsequent general election might take place. This year will literally be critical for the Kishida administration.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 1, 2023)