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The Geopolitics Of Japan's BMD

US President George W. Bush with new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Nov 24, 2006
It came as no surprise. The leaders of Japan and the United States announced in Hanoi over the weekend that they were going to accelerate their already strong cooperation on ballistic missile defense development.

New Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President George W. Bush pledged their commitment to further accelerating the speed of the program after holding bilateral talks last Saturday while attending the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported.

"We agreed to strengthen and accelerate cooperation in ballistic missile defense and we will instruct our foreign and defense ministers to study this matter," Abe said after the meeting. "Strengthening our alliance is good not only for Japan and its neighbors but also for the entire world," he said.

Nevertheless, the meeting was an epochal one. It formally confirmed that the historic transformation in U.S.-Japanese relations and their far-reaching strategic cooperation on ballistic missile defense pushed through by Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, will not be quietly slowed down, strapped of funds, or bureaucratically sidelined. The great U.S.-Japanese strategic alliance on developing BMD is here to stay.

In major part, of course, this is because Koizumi won his last great political battle as prime minister after winning so many earlier ones. He got the successor he wanted. Abe had enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top in the past couple of years under Koizumi's patronage. And, in striking contrast to the uphill battle Koizumi had winning the leadership of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party five years ago from the cautious old septuagenarian and octogenarian "gray men" who ran Japan into the ground through the 1990s, Abe coasted to the successor smoothly as the outgoing leader's heir apparent. Not only had Koizumi transformed Japan, he had also succeeded in transforming the LDP.

Saturday's meeting between Bush and Abe was the first major political fruit of that success. It confirmed that Japan will remain the United States' most important, powerful and loyal ally in Northeast Asia for the foreseeable future.

Abe has already made clear he wants to try and defuse the major tensions with neighboring China that developed during Koizumi's historic five years in office. But Japan's commitment to making ballistic missile defense its top priority will put clear limits on how far that rapprochement can go.

For Japan is committed to BMD development with the United States for far more profound reasons than that two men -- Koizumi and Abe -- favor it: Koizumi succeeded in creating a commitment to BMD among his nation's main strategic policymakers and in the boardrooms of its largest corporations.

With one of the lowest birthrates of any major industrial and democratic nation, and the highest standard of living of any major nation in Asia, Japan faces the necessity of using its wealth and technological capabilities to develop strategic defenses that do not require large numbers of its increasingly scarce young men to prepare for potentially high-risk military operations.

Also, Japan is densely populated. Therefore the consequences of any weapon of mass destruction, or significant numbers of them, hitting its cities are of particular concern to it defense planners. Add to that the fact that Japan is geographically closer to the unpredictable threat of a rogue nation with nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities in North Korea, except for South Korea. When all these factors are considered, the public demand for, and consensus behind, the building of effective BMD defenses for Japan becomes clear.

It is also the case, as we have noted often before in these columns, that the advanced technologies the United States is willing to sell to Japan and help Japan co-produce to develop these systems are in areas where the United States remains the world leader and where Japan, despite major investments over the past 15 years, continues to lag significantly behind.

Further, the huge contracts looming from the new Japanese market are coming at the most providential time for the main BMD contracting corporations in the United States like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon.

As we noted last week in BMD Focus, the incoming Democrats who have won control of both houses of the U.S. Congress are not going to try and destroy or gut President George W. Bush's BMD program for the domestic United States. But Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the next chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has made very clear he wants a bang for his buck. U.S. government expenditures on BMD are therefore going to scrutinized by the new masters of Congress far more vigorously then they ever were during the nearly six year tenure of "spend big, live happy" procurement under outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The historic BMD development alliance between the United States and Japan therefore has survived the change of a prime minister in Tokyo and the transfer of control of both houses of Congress in Washington. Neither of these epochal events made the slightest ripple on the pond of U.S.-Japanese cooperation on BMD. If anything, both of them will only strengthen it.

Source: United Press International

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