Japan is finally ready to do some heavy military lifting as our ally. Given China’s continuous belligerence, and North Korea’s rabidity, it is very good news indeed not only for the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand, but also to others targeted by Bejing.
As a bonus, the Japanese are also quite adversarial toward Russia. Prime minister Fumio Kishida warned that “Ukraine today may be Asia tomorrow … Unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force are not acceptable.”
The feeling is mutual. Reportedly, Vladimir Putin toyed with attacking Japan right before his foray into Ukraine. Thus, all parties wishing America ill are also on Japan’s enemy list.
Further, Moscow continues to occupy the Kurile Islands (“Northern Territories”), since 1945, and there is still no official peace treaty between the Russian Federation and the Empire of Japan.
Incidentally, Tokyo will be wise to tie its claims to the fate of America’s Wrangel Island, seized from the U.S. by Moscow in 1924. (Parenthetically, perhaps the Lithuanians can also ask for Königsberg/Kaliningrad region back for historical reasons).
But it is mostly China and North Korea’s hostile actions in the region that prompted Japan officially to terminate its pacifistic streak in place since 1945. Japan has changed its constitution and embarked upon a massive re-armament program. It has also tightened its relations with its neighbors and allies facing similar threats, mostly from China.
Washington’s role, now as ever, is to ascertain the Japanese remain our partners. This is going to require a lot of strategic tact.
Keeping Japan on our side must not be taken for granted. Japan was an Allied power during the First World War. The Japanese fought on our side, mostly in China.
When Russia descended into the chaos of its revolution from February 1917, the Allies called on Japan to transfer troops to reinforce the collapsing eastern front to prevent Germany’s victory.
The Japanese dispatched an expeditionary force which freed Russia’s Far East from the Bolsheviks. It also supported the White Russian (and other pro-Allied) detachments. The Japanese joined the American troops against the Reds.
Tokyo’s objective was to set up an anti-Communist Russian state in Siberia. Would a free White Russian state in Siberia, perhaps a protectorate along the lines of occupied West Germany (Federal Republic of Germany) after 1945, have resulted? Can you imagine the Soviet Union without the wealth of Siberia?
In any event, misguided hands in our foreign policy establishment, forced Japan to abandon the project. Thus, we foolishly channeled the Japanese energy into our sphere of interest in China.
Next, despite dire warnings from the United Kingdom, the United States forced the Empire of Japan to conclude an unequal naval treaty in 1922.
Japan was indispensable for the balance of power system that would favor the West. Japan should be permitted a powerful fleet so long as we understood her as our ally. Apparently, we did not.
America ignored the British. It repeatedly humiliated the Japanese. The Japanese responded with an unmitigated fury.
Instead of fighting the Bolsheviks, they turned against the Chinese. Next, the Japanese sought out, first, the Third Reich, and, then, the Soviet Union as allies. Tokyo concluded a military pact with Berlin and a non-aggression treaty with Moscow.
Once again, instead of fighting the Communists, Japan unleashed its fury in a completely wrong direction. By 1941, Japan had fully turned against the West. It hit Pearl Harbor.
As Victor Davis Hanson shows in his brilliant The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict was Fought and Won, the Japanese practically did not collaborate with the Germans during the conflict and our endeavor against their Empire was completely separate from our struggle against the Third Reich.
The war against Japan was eminently avoidable; the Japanese foolishly miscalculated their chances against the US. Tragically, they had to be chastised with two nuclear weapons to bring them back into our fold, like before the First World War.
Fortunately, at least some in Washington have learned our lesson. We routinely welcome the Japanese at joint maneuvers. We countenance Japan’s re-armament.
We include her in our defense system, for instance the U.S. Marines-established access and denial zone from Kyushu through Okinawa toward Taiwan.
The U.S. and Japan are working to elucidate “a new joint defense posture.” Same goes for Australia and the UK. Japan is thus a de facto member of the AUCUS alliance.
Whatever comes next, it is always good to have the Japanese on our side.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington D.C.; expert on East-Central Europe's Three Seas region; author, among others, of "Intermarium: The Land Between The Baltic and Black Seas." Read Marek Jan Chodakiewicz's Reports — More Here.
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