By Stephen Bryen
Japan had a missile shot over its territory today (August 29 in Japan) which finally broke up over or near Hokkaido.
The government issued a warning to the people of northern Japan. Otherwise it did nothing.
Nada. Zero. Zilch. Niente.
It is hard to figure. No air defense missiles were launched, even though Japan has Patriot and it has THAAD. Still nothing.
It is not unfair to ask why? A missile heading toward your home territory is a big threat. And the government is paralyzed with fear and warns its people to take shelter. That’s all.
Suppose the missile had a nuclear warhead and the northern part of Japan was destroyed? Was the Japanese government so sure the missile fired by the crazy North Korean dictator was a minor threat and therefore did nothing, or did the Japanese government think its missile defenses were useless?
Certain I don’t know the answer to these questions. I can’t even venture a guess as to how national defense emergency decisions are made in Japan, other than to say it looks like such decisions are not made. The Japanese government is not necessarily committed to the survival of the Japanese people.
That is how it looks. And worse. North Korea, on the cheap has humiliated Japan. There is no escaping that verdict. Japan’s leaders have come up short, really short and can’t blame the debacle solely on Kim Jong-un. Because while Kim launched the missile, the Japanese sat on their hands.
This brings us to the current dilemma. Best summarized, it is as follows: if the United States or anyone else tries to take out Kim’s nuclear and missile facilities he will unleash his million plus man army on South Korea causing massive devastation. Whether it is a bluff or real, this threat is a major security concern. Korea has already voted for “peace,” that is to avoid any confrontation with North Korea, preferring to allow Kim Jong-un to continue his nuclear and missile expansion. Instead South Korea hopes for future reunification, just doesn’t really want to pay the cost. And all the time putting the likes of senior Samsung leaders in jail means the chance of getting money out of the Korean Chaebol grows daily less likely (unless the government steals the money, which could happen). So South Korea will oppose anyone else taking action.
Some say we can live with a nuclear North Korea. Can we? –the answer is “ye”s so long as it is understood that the long term cost is the loss of influence over Korea and Japan. Such an outcome would please China and maybe Russia. But Russia will soon realize that a really powerful and expanding China will lead to conflict in future, and the Russians not the United States could well pay the price. Putin does not mind cuddling up to China’s leaders, since between the two of them they have some power that the U.S. must respect. Without the cuddling, Putin is almost without credible allies. So he has little choice, even though the end game is contrary to Russian interests.
Which leaves Japan in a deep hole, one that from a Japanese political and strategic point of view could prove fatal. At its root Japan is in a trap, partly of its own making. Living on defense welfare (which the US paid for, and the cost made us less competitive globally) for more than 70 years, Japan is a weak country. That’s why its leaders are afraid of Kim Jong-un.