HONOLULU, January 26, 2015 — The evolving conflict between ISIS and Western nations presents unique challenges to the international system that Cold War security alliances are ill-suited to combat. Japan’s apparent loss of a hostage to ISIS forces and lack of legal and military resources to combat international terrorists underlines the need for changes to the largely static defense postures of America’s post-WWII allies.
Immediately following the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in WWII, Western policymakers were faced with the challenges of providing a secure international system to contain the nationalistic energies of their former enemies, and of offering an economic-military alternative to the emerging Soviet system. Recalling the lessons of the Treaty of Versailles, the U.S. wished to avoid a repeat conflict by ensuring their former enemies were dependent on America.
Much like Western Germany, post-war Japan was steered as a client state into a global nuclear-security umbrella that placed the bulk of defense responsibility on U.S. forces. As Lord Ismay famously observed that the role of NATO was to “keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down,” the U.S.-Japanese security relationship was likewise structured to absorb and diffuse any pretext for Japan to develop an offensive military capability in exchange for preferential economic rewards.
While this client security system worked well for the bipolar international system of the Cold War, the absence of a single hegemonic power in 2015 combined with U.S. fiscal deterioration means every independent state must be ready and able to assert force as a means for protecting citizens, territorial claims and political interests.
The escalating Global War On Terror (GWOT) has created a series of shifting diplomatic and economic priorities which makes consistency of U.S. military force on behalf of allied partners unpredictable. While this may appear to the untrained observer as policy schizophrenia or even incompetence by the Obama Administration, the truth is the U.S. is engaged in a daily juggling act to rotate the hot potato demands of fighting terror, maintaining regional security, countering Russian and Chinese advances and appeasing domestic interests.
As demonstrated by the political rift between Israel, the Obama Administration and Congress over easing sanctions and normalizing relations with Iran, U.S.-client state interests do not follow the same rationale or mold as the Cold War era. The U.S. is no longer a superpower, but a major power in a multipolar system, and Cold War alumni allies which have not yet “gotten the memo” — specifically Israel, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines — that America is now in an ambiguous defense posture must prepare for a world on their own.
“Kiri sute gomen” counter-terrorism policy for the JSDF
It’s a well known fact that Japan’s post-WWII constitution prohibits offensive military deployments abroad. However, nonstate actors such as pirates, terrorists and rogue protostate forces like ISIS operate in direct contradiction to the cookie-cutter laws and traditions of nations and states. These viral threats to the international system thrive by exploiting moral, political, legal and economic restrictions that encumber Westphalian states by living in the cracks and gray areas of our world order.
Knowing Japan’s reluctance to engage in offensive military action, ISIS captured Japanese hostages to present the U.S. ally with a false choice of capitulation to demands or international shame from losing citizens. The Japanese should take a counter-terrorism policy inspiration from their ancient feudal tradition of kiri sute gomen (“execute and be excused”) and flex the right to attack threats to their national security or diplomatic honor with sudden, instant application of military force.
We know from the historical doctrine of the Caroline Incident that anticipatory self defense is a valid justification for force when necessity of defense is “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice or means, and no moment for deliberation.” As ISIS forces thrive by using ruthless, graphic brutality amidst the restrictions of Western law and the democratic process, Japan and other threatened states may have no recourse but to act with force in response to threats.
This does not mean that Japan has to depart from its constitutional model of self-defense; it is only an assertion of policy that Japan will, when threatened, not hesitate to act to defend her citizens. The war against ISIS is a conflict that cannot be avoided by neutrality, pacifism or surrender. These terrorists are emboldened by weakness and encouraged by inaction and actively seek to spread conflict the world over. The only solution for states plagued by ISIS is to attack suddenly, overwhelmingly and with equal ruthlessness of action to preserve the international order.
Japan’s construction of Hygua-class and Izumo-class helicopter destroyers should be immediately leveraged as a temporary stop-gap for the lack of rapid reaction, defense projection forces. Both of these classes can theoretically be used in retaliatory roles around the world both by mounting surface-to-surface missile trucks and MLRS trucks on the deck for naval fire support, and by serving as staging platforms for helicopter assault teams.
Japan should not hesitate to demonstrate to the world that peace is backed by the katana of moral resilience. China and Russia should be expected in the future to take increasing interests in asymmetric warfare and to play bandit enemies of the West against traditional U.S. allies to further embarrass and frustrate Washington. The only solution for Japan and others is to step up and lead in the absence of U.S. global military superiority.