Saturday, October 31, 2009

Security's Disappointments

The conservative tabloid Tokyo Zakzak (online 10/28/09) said loudly what has been the subject of gossip and speculation: the Obama visit to Japan might be canceled because Washington is so angry with the new Hatoyama government.

The article quotes a "former US government official" as saying that the current relationship between Japan and the United States "is worse than the relationship between the United States and South Korea during the Roh Moo-hyon [No Mu-hyo'n] administration that was said to be the worst." The writer then worries that Japan will be again "passed over" and rendered irrelevant by its unwillingness to maintain the U.S.-Alliance.

How silly!

The President's visit to Japan will not be canceled and the "relationship" will not get any worse than it always has been. There are other issues of cooperation and amity. Have we already forgotten that it was the LDP that delayed the Futenma move nearly 15 years, crushed the U.S. auto industry, stalled at the Six-Party Talks, and destabilized East Asia with less than empathetic remarks on history?

The tension caused by differing aspirations for Japan's security strategy should not have been a surprise. They have always existed. It was never enough that the U.S. and Japan shared a common goal of a peaceful Asia. How Japan would contribute to this peace is a continuing subject of debate, misunderstanding, and exasperation.

Yet, this simple "goal," as a senior U.S. State Department official told the Washington Post, encouraged the United States to "grow comfortable" believing Japan as a constant in U.S. relations in Asia. The situation allowed for troubling inconsistencies and unholy alliances between Japan and the U.S.

Now, although the goal has not changed, the means to achieve Japan's security is being reevaluated. This too should not have been a surprise. The DPJ Manifesto, the DPJ visitors to Washington (often ignored), and Japanese public opinion all indicated a general lack of interest in international affairs, a skepticism for hosting U.S. bases in Japan, and a reluctance to engage anywhere militarily.

The LDP simply made assumptions about what the Japanese people wanted. And as you can see they have paid dearly for this. Public support for the Alliance does not imply a similar support for increased militarization of Japan.

The Hatoyama Administration sees other means to achieve regional security. Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, and the Senkakus are all trouble spots. Democracy remains weak or nonexistent throughout most of Asia. And memories of Japan's 20th century aggression remain bitter and deep. Their approach is to emphasize de-nuclearization, non-proliferation, human rights, democratic principles, and reconciliation with Imperial Japan's victims. The goal of a safer East Asia is to be achieved through a commitment to never appearing as a military threat to any other people or country.

Thus, the new DPJ administration was likely shocked and disappointed by the vehemence of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' objections to the desire to rethink and reevaluate one component of the Alliance. Hatoyama thought he was bringing something new to the Alliance and showing the sincerity of a democracy to review past decisions.

More important, Prime Minister Hatoyama and Foreign Minister Okada believed that Japan's greater commitment to global nuclear nonproliferation would strengthen the Alliance. After all the Obama Administration was championing nuclear disarmament. Differences in "details" would not trump the pursuit of shared goals. They had not in the past.

Maybe this coming week Foreign Minister Okada will visit Washington to see how to ensure the upcoming Obama-Hatoyama summit a success. Unfortunately, I suspect, he is coming to appeal to the Obama Administration with the belief that the American tradition of civilian control over the military will have the White House compel the Pentagon to be more reasonable. He will seek "understanding" to give his new government more time to examine the backroom deals of the LDP, to present its plan for Afghanistan, and to develop Japan's vision of a Northeast Asian Nuclear Free Zone.

And the Obama Administration, I suspect, believes the Japanese Foreign Minister will simply accede to American demands.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Obama's Eye

I think I'll. . .
My mother was a big fan of Josef Albers and The Bauhaus. I think she would have been pleased that the Obama's selected three Albers's color square paintings to include in their White House. As I look over the collection I see it is heavy on American mid-century artists. The era was experimental for its time and began to stretch medium and message beyond the familiar.

It is similar to the collection I inherited, only my Albers are silkscreens not paintings. My Nevelson, which I bought, is, I think nicer than theirs. I also own a lot more art by women.

The art critics have not been particularly impressed by the Obama collection. They have been polite. It is not adventuresome and women are under-represented. It is a safe selection of mostly older American artists. One painting, however, caught the ire of purists as a cheap copy of a Matisse. And Conservatives jumped on Ed Ruscha's "I think I'll" (see above) as but another example of Obama waffling. Personally, I am not sure how the Degas fit in, other than to be an inspiration to their girls.

Whatever the merits or so of the White House art, I am sure that all the critics would be delighted to view the collection up close and personal. But I am equally sure they would like to see Christo wrap the residence as well.

For more photos and reviews see: Artnet; New York Times; Washington Post

Developing Expectations

Among the many expectations that the world community holds for the new Japanese government is an increased commitment to development assistance and human security. Foreign aid from Tokyo has dropped dramatically over the past decade with Japan no longer the second largest donor country. ODA (overseas development assistance) in recent years has mainly been directed to international financial institutions.

Although not formally stated in its Manifesto or Diet presentation, the Hatoyama The new Administration is aware of that many perceive Japan's commitment to development sliding. Part of its effort to be a "trusted member" of the international community and to be a "bridge" serving the world, Hatoyama's government is a likely increase in ODA.

They will have plenty of data to help convince their colleagues that Japan needs to do more.

On October 22nd, the Washington-based Center for Global Development created by the Peterson Institute for International Economics and The Brookings Institution, released its annual Commitment to Development Index. It "ranks 22 of the world's richest countries on their dedication to policies that benefit the five billion people living in poorer nations. Moving beyond simple comparisons of foreign aid, the CDI ranks countries on seven themes: quantity and quality of foreign aid, openness to developing-country exports, policies that influence investment, migration policies, stewardship of the global environment, security policies and support for creation and dissemination of new technologies."

Sweden came in first for the 2009 index. Japan was ranked next to last, just before South Korea.

See also the OECD's Development Co-operation Directorate statistics.
As well as the World Bank's World Development Indicators.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Michael J Green's Blog

This post was going to analyze the dearth of analysis and reporting on Secretary Robert Gates' visit to Tokyo last week. In the process of researching this piece, I stumbled across Michael J Green's Blog! This is much more fun.

This was a surprise as I did not think he even read blogs, let alone respected anything said on them. He is, after all, the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an associate professor at Georgetown University, Vice Chair of the Japan-US Friendship Commission and involved in any and everything Japan in Washington. He is part of the Team Armitage Franchise and shared a consulting business with the current Assistant Secretary of State for Asia, Kurt Campbell.

I am mystified as to why he thinks he needs a blog. Although long out of office and wedded to the policies of the Bush Administration, journalists and government officials still call him. Thus, his is the anti-blog blog. It is on Foreign Policy Magazine's website under the Shadow Government blog.

In his latest of only three posts, he criticizes "Japan experts" who counseled patience with the Hatoyama Administration and who now "blog" that Gates provoked an unnecessary crisis with Japan. Blog? Those bloggers, how dare they! What makes them think they are relevant?

One problem, with his blog, besides its tedium and inability to use survey data properly, is its transparent use of Green's intern to write the posts. The most amusing indication of this is the declaration in his latest post that the failing alliance was being splashed on the October 22 front pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times. Huh?

Only the Washington Post published anything in print that day.

In fact, the print editions and editorial pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post have been strikingly quiet. Reporting has been brief and limited to the Washington Post, the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Japanese press. Only the Post ran a front page story and only the Journal had an op ed. Even the wire service reports have been sparse and rarely found in print editions. There is no crisis to report.

What discussion there has been has been on the Internet, on the blogs. Some quite interesting, especially on the NBR Japan Forum. Old Japan hands dismiss the "newness" of the Japanese reaction and wonder at the sheer lack of understanding by those in Washington to Japan's sensibilities toward contracts, American troops, and the peace constitution. The so-called "golden age" of U.S.-Japan relations was a fabricated illusion woven from dramatically different value sets that seemed to have a common goal. It was unsustainable.

Here is the front page of the October 22nd New York Times. I also have a hard copy sitting besides me. I subscribe. No where is there any mention of Japan on the front page, and no where in the edition is there any mention of Japan.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Green's intern is not made to read the print Times every day like most professionals in Washington. Otherwise he would know that the Times would NEVER put a Reuters article (which is what his blog links to) on its front page. More important, if the intern had looked more carefully at the Reuters article on the Times website, it gave no page number for the print edition. If it had appeared in the Times, a page number would have been noted. Even in blogs you got to sweat the details to be taken seriously.

My advice: Mr. Green should shoot for less hyperbole, more humor, and more of himself in his blog. He may want to take lessons from Our Man in Abiko.

In the meantime, Mike welcome to my world!

P.S. Why is the photo leading into Green's blogpost about U.S.-Japanese relations showing US Secretary of Defense Gates with South Korea's Minister of National Defense Tae Young Kim at the 41st Republic of Korea – United States Security Consultative Meeting (SCM)? (the above photo is a more appropriate image) The flags or the Korean script should have been a give away. Or maybe there is a message here?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Met and the Sword

Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156–1868
October 21, 2009–January 10, 2010
The Tisch Galleries, 2nd floor

Last week, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art opened the first ever comprehensive and documented exhibition devoted to the arts of Japan's medieval warriors, the Samurai. Many of the artifacts are so fragile they will be displayed only for a short time and others will be rotated in their place.

By all accounts, the show is stunning. Art critics see the exhibition as presentations of Japanese multi-media art: different materials and artisans creating meticulous war-fighting ensembles. The New York Times made it the front story of this weekend's Art's section. The reviewer, the well-known Roberta Smith, was struck, as is every student of Japan, by the "the defining opposition of centuries of Japanese aesthetics: utter, even hermetic simplicity versus off-the-charts ostentation."

She observes that, "The show’s armor and helmets are among the world’s most lavish works of multimedia art, and — in the opposite corner, as it were — its plain and simple sword blades, presented au naturel, offer subtleties of silhouette and tone that could challenge the most ardent admirer of Minimalism."

And she concludes that "it is a chance to grasp in irreducible visual terms the complex extremes of Japan’s traditional aesthetic values and, to some extent, its moral ones too." Well, maybe.

The viewer should not forget that the objects displayed are there because they were not used. Their owners did not die encased in their beauty. Instead the armor and swords were carefully preserved and protected, almost worshiped. They were not used to practice warfare and death.

This exhibition freezes Japan's warrior ethic in a stylized-medieval time. Like so many Japanese history classes, the presentation ends with Meiji. It ends when armor is no longer practical or a symbol of rank. It ends when only the sword matters.

Yes, the picture I posted above is unfair. It hangs nearly life-size in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It shows the last moments of POW Sergeant Leonard G. Siffleet who is about to be beheaded by Yasuno Chikao with his family's samurai sword. I remember that it was the samurai sword that first caught my eye when I found myself before the photo.

And now I cannot help but wonder if any of the swords displayed at the Met were once used in a similar manner.

The Met exhibition is mostly funded by the conservative newspaper group, the Yomiuri Shimbun and the Japanese government. The Yomiuri has been busy the past few years re-examining Japan's war history in order to assign responsibility to a few in the wartime Cabinet. It was a misguided few who corrupted the beauty in Japan's warrior tradition.

On the afternoon of November 8th, The Met will hold an afternoon of lectures describing the art and museumology of the exhibition. Any student of Japan and of warfare should find it interesting.

The Met, for you Christmas shoppers, has taken full advantage of the elements of the exhibition's beauty and there are many potential gifts for sale. The exhibition catalog and the pins and pendants are especially nice.

Later: There are apparently a number of exhibitions in the U.S. this year featuring Japanese swords and armor. Those of you on the West Coast may want to visit the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture in Hanford, California, September 1-January 30, 2010.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on International Child Abduction has been postponed. It had been scheduled for the 29th. I am still trying to find out why, but I have a strong suspicion that it will be delayed until after President Obama goes to Japan.

It is unlikely that the Japanese welcomed the hearing as the Embassy and MOFA are yet to get clear guidance as to how to pursue the issue. Thus, they are in their usual delay and deny mode. Japan's new Justice Minister Chiba appears to have indicated a that she will push to have Japan sign the Hague Convention and to change child custody laws. But with so much else going on, this issue might be getting lost in the fray.

It is equally unlikely that the U.S. State Department welcomed the hearing. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, by the way, was not scheduled to testify. It was to be someone from the Bureau of Consular Affairs who works on children's issues. The hearing would have highlighted but another intractable, unpleasant issue the U.S. has with Japan. A summit with lots of expectations and no deliverables, it not desirable.

At his "town meeting" with the left-behind parents and grandparents, Campbell made a point of saying that there seems to be some progress on the subject with Japan. And he preferred to wait and see what will happen. However, he assured the families that if nothing materialized in the next few months, the U.S. would rethink its strategy. One mother's sobs were audible.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Just How Bad Was It?

Just how bad was Secretary of Defense Robert Gate's visit to Japan October 20-21? Pretty bad if you read the Japanese press and the Washington Post.

The U.S. has been waiting 14 years to move the Futenma Air base to a less crowded area. The belief is that corruption and hostility first allowed dense population growth around the air strip. And the same elements have delayed a solution. Mr. Gates' less than diplomatic demands on the new Hatoyama government reflect this frustration.

Unfortunately, it also reflects a belief by the Obama Administration that a DPJ government is: 1) so inexperienced that it must be lectured to like a child (and as a mother, I can assure you that that does not work) and 2) not going to be around long enough to matter, so it should get out of the way of the real business of statecraft.

The Obama Administration portrays the Futenma Agreement as a doomsday machine; if one component is tinkered with the whole system blows. This negotiating strategy may have seemed sensible back in 1990s when no political change was possible, but it sure doesn't play well today in a Japan that is seeking both on the left and the right to show some independence from the U.S.

Anyway, the best summary of Secretary Gates' talks in Tokyo can be found at Our Man in Abiko. He deftly translated the diplo-speak into real English; he was even kind enough to use American, not British English.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


QUESTION: Hi. Charlie Reed, Stars and Stripes....One more question, too. Is the Hague Treaty part of the talks that are going to happen – the Hague treaty on international child abduction?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Yes, and we had deliberations about those today. Yes, we did.

QUESTION: Can you give me any indication of the progress? The new government has said that it seems to be an issue that they would support and that treaty seems like something that would move forward with it. Is that what you are hearing as well?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: I would say we were pleased with the initial discussions we had today.

Back in September, when Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell was in Japan to meet Japan's new government, the child abduction issue was merely a nuisance. His answer above was hedging at its best. Although the issue was the subject of the first question by Senator James Webb (D-VA) during Campbell's confirmation hearing, the Assistant Secretary had avoided following up on his promise to meet with abductee families.

It is unclear if he was familiar with the March House Resolution 125 or August House bill 3240, which mention Japan prominently. These congressional bills call on countries to sign the Hague and request the State Department to monitor compliance. In May, four ambassadors (U.S., the United Kingdom, France, and Canada) held a press conference after a symposium on Japan's child abduction problem.

There is an active and increasingly organized movement of left-behind parents and grandparents advocating for Japan to sign the Hague Convention and for the State Department to seek some solution for at least some sort of visitation. One of the movement's leaders literally sat behind Campbell at his confirmation hearing and talked with both Campbell and his wife. They have three little girls.

Child custody, however, was a soft issue that only exposed the fragile ties between the two countries. It was up there with the history issues, medical devices, dolphins, and whales. Minor interest groups concerns that complicate the Alliance. They should not be dignified by high level political attention is the conventional wisdom.

But on September 29th that all changed. One American father tried to kidnap his children back and found himself in jail. For the first time, the Japanese press reported on the Hague Convention and growing discontent of left-behind parents. To be sure, it is hard to be sympathetic to the arrested father. He understands Japanese and understands their legal system; he had a mistress; he lured his wife back to the middle of Tennessee to purposely get a U.S. divorce. He used all the resources available to a rich, white, male bully. Attributes, he knew, were useless in a Japanese divorce court.

This messy divorce story is more complex than one paragraph, but the fallout has highlighted a raft of human rights and emotional issues in Japan at a politically uncomfortable time. These include Japan's approach to child custody, childrens' rights, detention, and international law. In all, Japan appears out of sync with the practices and values of other modern industrialized countries. On October 16th, the Ambassadors of Australia, Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States issued a joint statement asking Japan again to sign the Hague.

In the past, it was easy for Japanese to dismiss these complaints as Western assaults on Japanese customs and values. At worse, Japanese expressed resentment at the aggressive Western men who pressed these issues. Yet, Japanese practice is incongruent with many UN-sponsored treaties and conventions. The Hatoyama government now wants to champion the UN and show that it is responsible advocate of international human rights.

All this and time conspire against Dr. Campbell's plans to paper over these many inconvenience political and emotive differences between the U.S. and Japan. In mid-November, he has to ensure that the Obama-Hatoyama summit is a success. With the Alliance under review, the dollar sinking, North Korea hostile, Iran uncooperative, and cows still mad, Campbell has little positive to work with. He only has left the "soft" issues.

Thus, on Wednesday, October 21st, he will finally hold a "town hall" meeting with a number of left-behind American parents. On October 29th, he will be called to testify on the child abduction issue to a hearing before Congressman Bill Delahunt of the House Committee on International Organizations Human Rights and Oversight. All the countries where the Hague does not apply or is not enforced will be reviewed, but the hearing will likely highlight Japan. After all, Japan is the country with the second highest number of child abductions of American children, 101 in 2008. Mexico is first.

The back story to the arrest of the American father will be a spotlight on Japan's legal system, especially its incarceration and interrogation procedures. The pre-sentencing detention of the American father, and other Americans who tried to see their abducted children has not been pretty. This is not an unknown problem. Only now, it is a very public, nasty one.

In October 2008, the UN Human Rights Committee examined Japan’s detention system under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee reiterated concerns raised in 2007 by the Committee Against Torture that the daiyo kangoku (a system of pre-trial detention) did not comply with international standards. Concern was expressed that Japan's system, which allowed for the detention of suspects for 23 days with limited access to a lawyer increased the risk of abusive interrogation methods to obtain confessions. These are the same concerns voiced by the U.S. State Department's annual Human Rights report and Amnesty International's annual report.

Dr. Campbell is an Alliance Manager. To him, those issues of human security, whether they be legal protections or historical injustices, have little place in maintaining a military security alliance. Unfortunately, a shared enemy does not mean there are shared values. And with the Hatoyama Administration and its desire for a more independent foreign policy it is unclear if the U.S. and Japan still share an enemy.

Yet, it may be Japan's new interest in modern values that will save the Summit planning and the Alliance. If the U.S. and Japan can begin to cooperate on contemporary legal practices and empathize over their children and the weaker members of their societies, a stronger, deeper foundation can be built for an alliance that now only depends on a "cornerstone." And maybe, this will be the last time that Dr. Campbell judges something insignificant.

That's karma.

The Bat Mitzvah

photo courtesy Rosina DiBello