Japanese Perspectives on the Ukraine War

Joint maritime training in 2019 with forces from Japan, Philippines and the United States. Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Greg Johnson, US Navy

Since February 2022, Japan has imposed a series of economic sanctions on Russia, in coordination with allies in the G7, including the freezing of Russian assets and the expulsion of Russian diplomats stationed in Japan.

As the first major war involving European great powers in this century, Japanese security analysts agree that the Ukraine War will influence the international order in the post-WWII period and generate earth-shattering changes to world history.

Many analysts understand the Russian invasion as the destruction of a liberal international order that has enjoyed strong support in Japan. Addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue on 10 June 2022, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated: “With the very foundations of the international order being shaken by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the international community now stands at a historic crossroads” adding that no country or region in the world can shrug this off as “someone else’s problem”. In short, Japan cannot be a bystander in this situation.

Japan’s policymakers

In April 2022, Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) submitted a proposal to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, urging the Japanese government to acquire counterstrike capabilities when the government revises its National Security Strategy later this year. The LDP proposal also called for a sharp increase in defense spending over the next five years. Japan is the only G7 member that is not a member of NATO. Nevertheless, the LDP proposal aims at a future defense spending level of 2% of Japan’s GDP, which is the target for defense spending among NATO member states.

The opposition considers such a high level of defense spending unrealistic, since Japan is already a nation heavily burdened with debt. Moreover, Japanese diplomats tend to take a highly cautious stance to Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. This is related to the history of territorial disputes between Japan and Russia over the Northern Territories, as well as the dispute over the Senkaku Islands with China. Japanese politicians are also concerned about the Taiwan-China issue and North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities, as security threats impacting all of East Asia, including Japan.

The business community

Japanese multinational corporations have suffered immense economic loss due to the war in Ukraine. Many corporations have had to change their manufacturing processes. Toyota, for instance, was forced to change from a “just-in-time” system (not keeping a stock) to a “buffer-stock” system, in response to supply chain vulnerabilities. Toyota is also attempting to move foreign manufacturing facilities back to Japan, to take greater internal control of the supply chain.

A sharp fall in the Japanese Yen, which is partly due to the war in Ukraine, will decrease the value of Japanese labor, as Japanese manual workers replace cheap foreign workers from other parts of Asia who have previously worked as subcontractors for Japanese companies. In short, the war in Ukraine will likely result in the collapse of a system of international division of labor that has benefitted Japanese corporations for many years. This creates a serious economic and security dilemma for Japan.

Security analysts

Japanese security analysts have argued that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is the first major breach of international law committed by a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.  While dissenting voices point to the famous “not one inch eastward” assurance about NATO’s eastward expansion, allegedly made by US Secretary of State James Baker in a meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on 9 February 1990, others maintain that this was simply a personal and informal comment by Baker, rather than an official statement. In line with this view, historians argue that Russia has now violated the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances signed in December 1994 at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe summit in Budapest, which guaranteed the independence and sovereignty of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.

In March 2022, fourteen senior and retired university professors released a joint statement calling for negotiations on a ceasefire agreement between Ukraine and Russia. The professors argued that such a ceasefire agreement should be mediated by Japan, China and India. Japan’s participation would be as a country that has a constitutional prohibition of war, whereas China and India are the major countries that have maintained stable relations with Russia. The professors warned that, if the war continues, many lives in both the Ukraine and Russia will be lost, and Ukraine-Russia relations will become irreparable. The academics also complained about the coverage of the war in Ukraine by Japanese media, pointing out that most commentators and analysts who are invited to share their views with Japanese news outlets are specialists in military affairs rather than Russian or Ukrainian history. Such military strategy specialists are simply asked to share their views on how Ukrainian troops can push Russian troops back across the Russian border. The statement was countered with harsh criticism by several less senior academics who disagreed with the proposal that Japan should act as a peace broker. The critics argued that, if Japan accepts the Russian excuse for attacking Ukraine and the current use of unilateral force by Russia, Japan will be incapable of responding to similar acts of aggression in the future.

Japanese public opinion

According to a NIKKEI/Tokyo TV survey conducted just after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, 61% of the Japanese public favored imposing tough sanctions on Russia, in step with American and European partners. This is twice the level of support that was seen among the Japanese public in March 2014, following Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. In May 2022, after sanctions were imposed and several Russian diplomats expelled, the approval rating for Prime Minister Kishida’s Cabinet rose to 61%, which was the highest rating since he took office in October 2021.

According to a Yomiuri Shimbun poll in early April 2020, 64% of the Japanese public supported strengthening Japan’s defense capabilities, while 55% backed the LDP proposal aiming at a future defense spending level of 2% of Japan’s GDP, matching the agreed target for NATO member states. By contrast, Tokyo recently breached the longstanding soft cap of 1% of GDP.

Conclusion

The Japanese government, academia, and general public share a highly critical view of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, based on legal and humanitarian standpoints. There is also a strong public support for economic sanctions against Russia by the international community, as well as the LDP proposal that calls for the Japanese government to acquire counterstrike capabilities and future defense spending of 2% of Japan’s GDP. Meanwhile, it is clear that the Japanese economy and major industries will be seriously damaged by the war in Ukraine. There is thus a huge gap between Japan’s political and public support for the continued defense of Ukraine against Russia, and Japan’s status as an economic power. This suggests how strongly Japanese politics and diplomacy is influenced by G7 and US policy.

3 comments

  1. “As the first major war involving European great powers in this century, Japanese security analysts agree that the Ukraine War will influence the international order in the post-WWII period and generate earth-shattering changes to world history.”

    Earth-shattering changes to world history is a good way to describe this war.
    Indeed, Japan has been forced – like everyone else who’s not asleep at the wheel – to see that mafia land’s colossal aggression against an innocent country laid open the big question of one’s own vulnerability. There is the issue of the Kuril Islands, which has been a sore spot for decades. Not only that. Both North Korea and China, are not exactly the friendliest of next-door neighbors. Since the end of WWII, Japan has, like Germany, let the United States be its guardian and savior. The war in Ukraine has changed that all together. Although Biden has helped Ukraine tremendously to defend itself, this help is still not sufficient and comes late and piecemeal. The war and Biden’s hesitancy has awakened the Japanese people to the fact that it must do much more to assure its own safety, and this is the only right conclusion to take. The US is there to help, for sure, but it’s much better if Japan increases its own defense capabilities.

    Liked by 3 people

    • So delighted are Russians with putler’s genocide, that they want to make him “Pravitel” :

      Kremlin allies urge title change from President Putin to ‘our ruler’
      https://mol.im/a/11000857

      These bloodthirsty scum can’t get enough of genocidal dictators. The allied occupation of Japan changed the Japs from imperial savages to peace-loving normal people; a tremendous achievement, which proves that Gen Patton was right: the allies should have pushed on in 1945 and taken Moscow. Patten’s quote about them was correct :

      “The difficulty in understanding the Russian is that we do not take cognizance of the fact that he is not a European, but an Asian, and therefore thinks deviously. We can no more understand a Russian than Chinese or a Japanese, and from what I have seen of them, I have no particular desire to understand them, except to ascertain how much lead or iron it takes to kill them. In addition to his other characteristics, the Russian have no regard for human life and is an all out son of bitch, barbarian, and chronic drunk..”

      And a quote from disqus commenter Anthony Clifton:

      “Russia (more adequately referred to as Muscovy) is a criminal enterprise masquerading as a nation.
      Muscovy didn’t change her ways since it was a part of the Mongol empire in the thirteenth century. In many ways, Muscovy IS the Mongol horde, after mixing with Mongols for 250 years, and adopting Mongol institutions and civics, or lack thereof.
      Muscovite modus operandi is stealing and plunder, from other nations or from her own people, most of which have been conquered at some point. It is a genetic and political continuity of the Mongol empire.”

      Liked by 2 people

      • How true! Both commentators speak the truth.
        It wasn’t only Patton who wanted to eliminate the Soviet empire, but also Churchill. He even ordered a plan for it to be made, called Operation Unthinkable. Too bad Roosevelt AND Eisenhower were such blind fools. The world would be a much better place if Patton and Churchill had been allowed to go through with this. And, maybe it would have, if Patton hadn’t been killed. Some think that it was Stalin who had Patton assassinated. I think so too!

        Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply to scradge1 Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.