“Japan is no stranger to this military conflict,” former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a March 25 interview with The Sankei Shimbun. The leader of the largest faction of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was discussing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Japan’s geopolitical situation shares commonalities with that of Ukraine, he explained. He went further by emphasizing the importance of collective security as a lesson that Japan should draw from this situation.
“If Ukraine was a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO),” he said, “Russia would not have invaded. Because no country is directly allied with Ukraine, none will fight alongside it.
Ukraine firmly resisted the Russian invasion. As a direct result of Russia’s actions, European countries, including Germany, have dramatically increased their commitment to defense spending. Highlighting these developments, Abe said, “It is fundamental that we protect our nation through our own efforts.”
Abe acknowledged that the LDP’s pledge in recent lower house elections to increase defense spending by at least 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) is inevitable. He stressed, “No country fights alongside a nation that does not defend itself.” He also called on Japan to have its own first-strike capability to attack enemy military sites.
In response to North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on March 24, Abe proposed a debate on the nuclear deterrent needed to deter Pyongyang from aiming nuclear weapons at Japan.
Excerpts from the interview continue below.
Russia’s actions in Ukraine are responsible for the suspension of talks with Japan.
I had an interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in October 2019 during my term as Prime Minister, when we both attended Japan’s Imperial Enthronement Ceremony called Sokuirei-Seiden-no-Gi proclaim the ascension of Emperor Naruhito. Zelenskyy seemed a little nervous at first, but once we started talking, we quickly felt comfortable with each other.
As I listened to his speech online at the National Diet of Japan on March 23, his demeanor seemed toned down compared to speeches he had given in other countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin believes in force and will not hesitate to use it. As was the case during the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union in the post-war period, Putin could not allow NATO to extend its sphere of influence to Ukraine.
I thought Putin was not an ideologue but a realist. I was surprised that he sent Russian troops beyond the two eastern regions self-proclaimed “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Lugansk (DPR and LPR). Pro-Russian groups effectively control the DPR and the LPR.
On March 21, Russia announced the suspension of negotiations for a peace treaty with Japan. The Russian invasion of Ukraine had already made it difficult for Japan to continue the talks. The failure of the negotiations is Russia’s fault, not Japan’s.
Japan has no choice but to align itself with other G7 countries on sanctions against Russia to avoid similar military crises. In my view, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has shown leadership on this issue.
Russia is our neighboring country and a military superpower. Our government will continue its efforts to resolve the problem of the Northern Territories and conclude a peace treaty, a long-standing wish of the former residents of the islands and their families.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is not a distant issue disconnected from Japan. Think of the situations surrounding Ukraine and Taiwan. Russia has exerted a strong political and economic influence on Ukraine. Moscow has clearly expressed its desire to ensure the safety of Russian residents in Ukraine.
Ukraine and Taiwan are similar in that the two countries have no officially allied nations. And those who oppose it, Russia and China respectively, are both permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
On the other hand, mainland China regards Taiwan as part of itself and does not hide its ambition to unify the two countries in the future. Additionally, there are many mainland Chinese residents in Taiwan.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping might see things differently. Ukraine is a member of the United Nations, recognized as a nation by the international community. However, China insists that its Taiwan problem is a domestic problem. Moreover, only a little more than a dozen countries recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country. Xi must closely monitor the situation in Ukraine.
Nuclear sharing should not be taboo.
There are lessons Japan can learn from invading Ukraine.
- The UN Security Council cannot function properly if one of its permanent members is involved in a war.
- No other countries will fight for Japan except those in our direct alliance.
When our new security laws declaring Japan’s right to collective self-defense in cooperation with its allies were passed under my administration in 2016, critics suspected it would drag us into a war. However, in the current case of Ukraine, the truth turned out to be the opposite.
If Ukraine were a member of NATO, it would not have been invaded by Russia. The current system of alliances has inherent security mechanisms. Recently, European nations like Germany have strengthened their own self-defense capabilities. Moreover, it is fundamental to protect one’s own country by one’s own efforts.
I mentioned the possibility of nuclear sharing in which a nuclear nation shares its nuclear weapons with its allies to increase deterrence. It’s because I think we need to discuss the reality of geopolitics without being hampered by current taboos.
Historically, Ukraine had returned nuclear weapons inherited from the former Soviet era to Russia under the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. In exchange, the security of the Ukrainian homeland was provided by the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia. If Ukraine had retained some of its tactical nuclear weapons, the country might not have experienced what is happening today.
Japan is within the broad nuclear deterrence framework based on the Japan-US alliance, which provides effective deterrence against our neighboring countries that possess nuclear weapons. However, it is essential to examine how we can ensure the certainty of this function.
Increase the cost of an attack against Japan.
North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on March 24. The General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim Jong Un, may be thinking of what happened to former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi agreed to give up Libya’s nuclear development program in response to US and UK demands, which led to the destruction of his country. Kim Jong Un might think that if Libya had refused the request, it might have met a different fate.
Therefore, we need to discuss realistic deterrent capabilities to prevent North Korea from using nuclear force against Japan.
Deterrence comes in two forms. One is deterrence by interdiction, for example, an anti-ballistic missile system that can physically prevent the aggressor from reaching its target.
The other is deterrence through the ability to retaliate and punish, which would make the aggressor reluctant to attack. In short, we must possess strike power to attack an enemy in his military bases. As for Japan, we must share the deterrent capability of the United States to punish and retaliate. Japan’s self-defense capability is insufficient without this shared deterrence.
Naturally, the LDP pledged in the recent lower house election to increase defense spending by at least 2% of gross domestic product (GDP). No country fights alongside a nation that does not defend itself.
I am glad to see that discussions on the constitutional review are taking place in the constitutional review commissions of both houses of the Diet. The situation in Ukraine provides an excellent opportunity for an in-depth debate on Article 9, one of the four constitutional amendments proposed by the LDP. (Article nine renounces war and the threat or use of force to settle disputes.)
These amendments also address national responsiveness to emergencies, remapping Upper House constituencies, and improving education.
To provide aid to Ukraine from supplies originally intended for use by the Japan Self-Defense Forces, the Japanese government has revised the Three Principles Operational Guidelines on the Transfer of Defense Equipment. I think we also need to consider reviewing the policies regarding arms exports.
(Read the interview articles in Japanese at this link .)
Author: Mayumi Ogawa