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  • Japan and Poland share common challenges as border democracy countries

Japan and Poland share common challenges as border democracy countries

By Andrzej Talaga
March 25, 2017

‘Seeking Japan –Europe Joint Strategy towards Peace and Prosperity of the World with ever Increasing Uncertainty’ was the subject of a seminar organized by The Japan Forum of International Relations and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the participation of representatives of think tanks from seven EU countries and Japanese political scientists and politicians. The result of this debate was the meeting at the headquarters of the Warsaw Enterprise Institute in Warsaw attended by the Japanese ambassador to Poland, Shigeo Matsutomi, the Polish think tanks and government institutions, including the National Security Bureau (BBN) and the Ministry of Development.

Discussants emphasized the concern about the security policies of the new US administration, the need to increase defense spending and greater independence of our states in ensuring regional security. Ambassador Matsutomi was also asked how Japan should respond to the assertive policies of China and the possibility of the development of the armed forces of Japan, including a possible nuclear component. The base for the discussion in Warsaw Enterprise Institute was a seminar in Tokyo and my study tour to Japan.


After a referendum in the UK and the US presidential election joint strategy of Japan and Europe has become particularly relevant. Without a doubt, we live in a world of transition between the two world orders, old shaped by American power and the new, the form of which is admittedly still unknown, but most likely without a multipolar dominant superpower.

Japan and Europe have to face similar challenges and find similar answers to them, so there is room for cooperation and exchange of ideas on how to shape the new order for the benefit of our countries and regions.


Poland and Japan are very different - given geographical location, culture, population size, the size of the economy, geopolitical importance for the United States, etc., but there are some fundamental strategic challenges we share. Briefly it can be summarized in the following points: • Uncertainty in US policy under D. Trump. To quote him: "We have to be unpredictable." It is true that unpredictability can be an effective tool of American foreign and security policy, but it can also become dangerous for America's allies.
• The crisis of the EU, which may even lead to the collapse of such a political union and a common market in Europe.
• Increased political and military assertiveness of revisionist powers: Russia in Europe and China in Asia.
• Decreasing the possibility of the United States to maintain the current world order built on American economic, political and military supremacy.
• shape of a new international order as a " big boys club ", which is more about building and maintaining the political and military balance than on common values and institutions. Such an order would act in the interests of powers, leaving the smaller countries within their spheres of influence.

These challenges are critical to the security of Japan and Europe, including Poland and other central Europe countries. We all have to face them.

Currently, the United States is the axis of democracy just between the western and eastern line range. Central Europe, including Poland are the frontier of democracy in Europe, as Japan in the Pacific region.

Both Russia in our part and China (also North Korea and Russia) from the Japanese side are the dictatorships that pose a threat to their neighbours. These countries have consistently increased defence spending and have territorial claims against other countries, to mention only the Crimea, or Senkaku islands on the East China Sea and the small islands of the South China Sea.

In the event of a real threat both Japan and Central Europe could be the target of tactical missiles and air strikes, including nuclear, and even an invasion of land forces. Areas most exposed to the potential Russian attack in Europe are the Baltic states, north-eastern Poland and the Swedish island of Gotland. In the case of Chinese aggression, - Japanese Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa. A military attack is a common threat for Central Europe and Japan, but not for Western and Southern Europe.


Being a border country does not necessarily mean exposure to attack as long as the countries of the free markets and democracy remain united, at least to some extent. The combined potential of the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan, Korea, is incomparable to any other country or bloc of countries.

Unfortunately, this unity seems to be in danger. American protectionism, the new great political idea in Washington, DC, can lead to serious tensions not only between the US and China, but also the USA and Japan, Korea, Germany, and in consequence, with the entire EU.

TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) will not be introduced, TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is dead, NAFTA will be redefined. The economic unity of democracy may soon disappear, and economic conflicts will lead to political disputes and possibly trade wars. This scenario is obviously not sure, but very likely. USA as the leading state of any free trade agreement cannot be replaced by anyone else, TPP without the United States will be ineffective. This idea was one of the options under consideration in Japan soon after the election of D. Trump for president, but was eventually rejected, as is evident from the statements of the Japanese Prime Minister S. Abe.


Another risk is the intention of the Washington administration to reduce the US military presence abroad. This is indeed not a concept of President Trump, but the result of long-standing audit of the US military capabilities, but it was Trump who will have to make its conclusions into effect.

The Armed Forces of the United States are too "stretched" in their commitment, they must therefore be regrouped in order to increase their efficiency. There will be consolidation rather than distraction. The number of bases and troops stationed overseas will be reduced. A good example of this process is a branch of the Marine Corps in Okinawa, one of the four key US bases in the Pacific. Half of its headcount will be moved to Guam and Hawaii.

That will happen in other cases, because of the new strategic concept called offshore balancing, which means helping allies and political clients of Washington from the United States or from the territory administered by the United States (as Guam). In the future, US forces will be moved from overseas bases to America. The military presence is replaced by a rotary. Currently, one in ten American soldiers is stationed abroad while during the Cold War it was one third. The number of soldiers serving abroad will continue to shrink.


It seems, however, that Washington will respect the obligations as an ally, so under the Washington Treaty, creating NATO and the defence bilateral treaty with Japan. At the same time the US will expect from their allies to strengthen their own defence capabilities, and even take on the role of leaders in ensuring the regional security.

With the US outlook, such leaders are: Japan in East Asia, Australia in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean, Germany in Europe, the United Kingdom in the eastern Atlantic. Japan could take on the role of the organizer of multilateral response to assertive actions of China in the East China Sea and South China Sea. Poland, in turn, has the ambition to become the leader in Central Europe, but due to lack of relevant capabilities it is an unrealistic dream, at least for now.

After reducing the US presence in Asia and Europe, US allies will have to pay more for their defence, and regional security. Donald Trump was in fact absolutely right when he complained about the level of defence spending. Indeed, it is hard to believe that such economic powers as Japan and Germany spend for this purpose hardly about 1 percent of GDP, while in Russia it is 5.3 percent and in China - 1.9 percent. You could say that 1.9 percent is not that much (Polish defence budget in 2017 is 2 per cent. of GDP), but in the case of China in terms of the sum we talk about $ 140 billion yearly, compared to $ 40 billion in Japan and $ 9 billion in Poland.

Most likely, the US cannot afford to continue funding our security at the current level neither in Europe nor in Asia. For this reason, we will have to raise defence spending and develop our own defence capabilities, to support the US power projection and to effectively wage war without US aid for two - three months.


In Europe, there are no constitutional restrictions for the development of the armed forces. In Japan, the situation is much more sensitive because of article 9 of the Constitution. You will need hard work to show Japanese society the new security environment in which it operates. This step is necessary, however, for Japan to become a regional leader in East Asia, who will be able to mobilize other regional players to unite efforts to counter China's assertiveness.

After the defeat in World War II, Japan had a ban on building its own armed forces, and Japanese society is characterized by a high level of pacifism and is not mentally capable of waging war or in the defence of the country or abroad. It does not look so that the public would support the amendment to Article 9 of the Constitution.

One of my favorite experience during the study tour to Japan was a visit to Military Academy in Yokosuka, located just next to US Pacific Fleet base. Every applicant there is asked a question: “what is you motivation?”, “why do you want to join Armed Forces?. The answer is always the same – “because I want to help people”. They say nothing about defending their country. Nothing about fighting.

Young Japanese people joining the Self-Defence Forces want to primarily provide aid to victims of natural disasters and man-made disasters. A good example is the damage to the nuclear power plant in Fukushima in 2011. Only military college and then troops redirect their mentality toward fighting spirit. As a result of these restrictions the Japanese Self-Defence Forces do not have combat experience, they are not able to defend the territory of the country and surrounding waters without the assistance of the United States.


In conclusion, increasing defence budgets and building up effective defence is the best answer to current and future challenges and the expectations of the new US president. Such a move would be an effective method of deterring the enemy while also encouraging the President Trump to confirm US treaty obligations and fulfil them in the event of an enemy attack on Europe or Japan. Finally it will strengthen our own security, although it will be time consuming and costly.

If we want to maintain the US military presence in Europe and Japan on the basis of treaty obligations, and we are counting on help in the event of war, we have to go this way. There is no alternative.

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