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Koizumi BMD Legacy

File photo of Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) May 05, 2006
Time is finally running out for Junichiro Koizumi, prime minister of Japan, but the ballistic missile defense alliance he has fashioned with the United States will live on after him. Koizumi is required to step down in September as leader of Japan's venerable ruling Liberal Democratic Party and as prime minister, after five years in the top job.

He will bequeath to his eventual successor an economy that is still arguably in domestic deflation, and certainly not as booming and de-regulated as Koizumi would have liked, but still in far better shape than it was when he took power after a decade of recession.

But Koizumi's most dramatic and probably most lasting achievements have been in the fields of ballistic missile defense and grand strategy. He has made greater, more controversial and more far-reaching changes than any Japanese prime minister for more than half a century.

Koizumi has not only re-invigorated Japan's tradition alliance with the United States, he has transformed its nature. Japan is now America's most important global ally in the development of global missile defense.

No other American ally in the world can compare to the financial and industrial resources Japan is now bringing to the development of BMD. Japanese corporations led by Mitsubishi industries are expected to be building Patriot PAC-3 missiles under contract within the next few years.

Japan's corporations have expressed to Boeing and other high-tech U.S. corporations their eagerness to explore the technologies involved in the development of airborne lasers or ABLs.

For the Bush administration and for U.S. industry, this new partnership with Japan is a financial godsend. In a time of soaring U.S. budget and international trade deficits, a weakening dollar and a shrinking U.S. industrial base, U.S. corporations need the contracts and hard currency that Japan can pay. Japanese technological resources offer the prospects of accelerating progress on the ambitious but controversial ABL project.

Historically, Japanese industrial technology has been at its outstanding best when it has been steadily and incrementally upgrading ambitious technologies initially invented but insufficiently developed elsewhere.

Bush administration policymakers who have bet so heavily on cutting-edge, pioneering high-tech programs have repeatedly underestimated the time and costs that developing the would take. Japanese corporations are the ideal partners with which to attack those problems.

But Japan also does not have anything like the Research and Development resources of the United States high-tech sector to advance these technologies on its own. Yet developing effective BMD systems is arguably even more of a pressing national necessity of Japan, with its 120 million people crammed into islands comparable in size to those of Britain, which has half Japan's population.

North Korea and an increasingly hostile, potentially unpredictable China are close neighbors to Japan. They are not a continent away, as they are for the United States. Koizumi has therefore concluded that Japan needs effective BMD systems to ensure its survival.

Koizumi's BMD partnership with the United States has also already had dramatic geopolitical consequences as he clearly anticipated. While Tokyo's relations with Washington have warmed up, its ties with Beijing have chilled.

Koizumi has also stepped up ties with Taiwan. That is an especially sore spot for China. Japan seized control of Taiwan in 1895 and ruled it -- benevolently -- as a colony for half a century.

But China still insists on the reintegration of Taiwan with the Mainland. And Taiwan, like Japan, is an enthusiastic partner with the United States in developing ballistic missile defenses. Like Japan, it has invested heavily in buying batteries of Patriot PAC-3s.

Koizumi's successor, who ever he or she may be, may well seek to ease the tensions with China that have escalated during Koizumi's time in office. But abandoning or slowing down on BMD joint development programs with the United States looks far more unlikely.

The joint development programs offer a potential bonanza of access to cutting edge technology to Japan's major industries. Their corporate influence is likely to support continued close cooperation for many years to come.

Also, BMD has repeatedly proven popular with the Japanese public that has stood by Koizumi even when he pursued more controversial programs like challenging entrenched economic special interests or supporting the United States in Iraq with aid programs there. The promise of BMD programs is appealing to the Japanese public and post-Koizumi governments that might otherwise be tempted to cut back on them risk being punished in the voting booths if they do so.

Koizumi throughout his career has reveled in presenting himself as an "un-Japanese Japanese leader." He has been outspoken, stylish, maverick and independent. But he has arguably understood his public far better than the so-called "Gray Men" of the LDP's Old Guard who opposed his many innovations. Nowhere has this been more true than on the issue of BMD.

Source: United Press International

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