September 12, 2007

Abe Resigns

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unexpectedly resigned today, apparently tired of political battles over diplomacy and economics. The move stunned the political establishment in Tokyo, which had prepared for an Abe defense of a counterterrorism policy that had encountered some resistance:

Embattled Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday he would resign in hope of making it easier to extend a naval mission in support of U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan, sending shockwaves through Japan.

The hawkish Abe, who took office a year ago promising to boost Japan's global security profile, has suffered low support rates and dwindling clout after his ruling camp suffered an election drubbing in July, but the announcement came as a bolt out of the blue.

"I determined today that I should resign," a weary-looking Abe told a news conference. "We should seek a continued mission to fight terrorism under a new prime minister."

This comes at a delicate moment for the US and Pacific Rim security. Abe has played a strong role in bringing North Korea to account for its nuclear program, and US and UN inspectors just arrived in Pyongyang to start shutting down Kim Jong-Il's nuclear plants. Instability in Japan could encourage intransigence from Kim and perhaps quell the enthusiasm for the denuclearization effort in Beijing -- if either or both believe a more malleable PM will take Abe's place.

Abe wanted to continue the Japanese Navy's support mission for NATO in Afghanistan, a position with only tepid support. His resignation will delay the decision, although it's likely Japan will continue his policies in the interim. Most of his problems came from domestic issues, such as a failure to contain scandals among his ministers and a dispute over pensions that threaten the fragile Japanese economy.

All of these problems will await the next PM. Abe's relatively short period of governance will not have left much resolved, and perhaps left an impression of despair on reaching resolutions at all. The US will have to hope that our enemies don't get the notion that they can stall now and hope for a better deal with the new government in Tokyo down the road.


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Comments (9)

Posted by docjim505 | September 12, 2007 5:44 AM

Japan is having a watershed period, I think. They've had routine changes of government over the past few years; it seems to be rare that a PM has survived in office for more than 18 months. Japan, after becoming an economic powerhouse in the '70s and '80s (remember when they were supposed to take over the world... by buying all of it?), has had economic trouble since the '90s. Add to it the change in the world since the decline of the Soviet Union, the rise of China, and the troubles with North Korea... From what little I've read, Japanese are uncertain about how to deal with the world of the 21st century. What role should they play? Can they continue to rely on America to protect them from foreign threats (or will American liberals, faced with a "quagmire" in Asia, throw Japan under the bus as they did South Vietnam and want to do with Iraq)? Should they build up their armed forces, or continue to rely on a defense-only strategy? What about domestically? Abe got into a lot of trouble over financial issues with the Japanese government pension plan; should Japan "privatize" many of their government services?

I have more questions about Japan than I have answers; it is a fascinating country, and I hope that other commenters here can educate me.

Posted by e | September 12, 2007 6:12 AM

Basically the opposition leader, Ozawa, whose party just gained control of the upper house in the last election, would not compromise with Abe on the anti-terror legislation; legislation which includes within it the continued naval support in the Indian Ocean. No compromise, no legislation--because of the nature of parliamentary system in Japan the Upper House majority can block legislation by simply refusing to consider it. Ozawa's party has a very vocal far-left wing. In part he is playing to it. As well, forcing Abe's resignation is a feather in his cap, which he believes will help his party (equivalent ideologically to the U.S. Democrats) in the next election for the more important lower house. Elections that may in fact be called early if enough turmoil can be created. I think you go to far with your "tepid support." Likely, a bill will be passed since Ozawa has stated he most likely will compromise with a new LDP prime minister. It is not that their isn't support for the bill, in the lower house fully two-thirds support, but rather the leadership of the slim majority in the upper house under Ozawa is filibustering. An up or down vote and the bill would likely pass in the upper house too. And in fact, many think Ozawa has over-played his hand. This political maneuvering for politics sake will come back to haunt him and his party. Abe resigned because Ozawa had him by the balls over important legislation. He had Abe by the balls because for Abe there are more important things than his power, his position. With a new P.M., Ozawa will most likely end the filibustering.

As for the larger issues you allude to, I don't think it will have much of an effect. First, Koizumi and Abe have institutionalized most of the dramatic changes that have occurred on their watch with regards to the U.S./Japan strategic alliance. Second, Ozawa and the Democrats, ironically enough which includes Ozawa himself, have a fairly moderate and even hawkish wing, more or less on the same page with the LDP, and part of their rise has been at the expense of the Socialists and Communists who have absolutely no power anymore. Japan is becoming a two-party state. The LDP and the Democrats. Chalk Abe's need to resign up to growing pains. He's young. Good chance he'll be back.

Posted by Cybrludite | September 12, 2007 6:30 AM

Japan certainly seems to be "cowboying up" militarily. Here's some pics of their new "destroyer".

Posted by Bennett | September 12, 2007 7:43 AM

Things are shaky in Japan's government? Nothing's getting accomplished? The various factions are refusing to come together?

Well it's obvious then, democracy is clearly not the answer. They need to put the Emperor back in and return to the glory days of Imperial Japan.

Our hope that the Japanese could learn how to govern themselves effectively has failed. We need to accept this defeat and move on.

Posted by Ron C | September 12, 2007 7:51 AM

'...their new "destroyer".' really quite a hot not-so-little warship.

'e' - thanks for the political insights! I agree - I can hardly see how Abe would not 'be back' at some point.

Hopefully Japan continues to grow as an ally and an economic powerhouse emblematic of free democracies.

Posted by docjim505 | September 12, 2007 7:54 AM


Thanks for posting that link. Looks like the Japanese are getting set to build a fleet of baby flattops. Now, if they commission some called Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Zuikaku, I think everybody in the Pacific needs to start worrying a little!

Posted by Cybrludite | September 12, 2007 8:06 AM

I'd have to check, but I think at least some of those names got recycled a while back for their more conventional type destoyers. And unlike 1941, we've now got spy-sats to keep track of where the Nihon Kaigun is hanging out. However, I'm sure that this development isn't being too warmly recieved throughout the rest of Asia.

Posted by e | September 12, 2007 8:24 AM

" However, I'm sure that this development isn't being too warmly recieved throughout the rest of Asia."

Asia's a big place. China, North Korea, South Korea, for the most part yes. Though even here you'd be surprised. Depending on the party or the relationship to the regime in the case of China and N.K. Taiwan, Singapore, India, Australia, etc...a lot of support actually. India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. have already gone a long ways in formalizing their naval relationships, alliance. The U.S., Taiwan and Japan have also formalized their relationships and responsibilities to one another. One of the more important Bush successes. Though, of course, off the radar screen of the MSM. Singapore is on board. As are other countries. Even a place like Vietnam would surprise you. Asia has bigger worries than keeping alive the memory of Japan 1931-1945.

Posted by Ray Rodney | September 12, 2007 9:13 AM

The impact of the change in Japan leadership will have a greater effect externally as opposed to internally. Japan's democracy is one unlike that of the west, especially the U.S. A change in Japan will not interfere or interupt its political process. Asia's reaction should be studied carefully. Japan does influence all of that region. Could it possibly be that he is stepping down because Japan's status in the economic world order has changed? The new leader of Japan is stepping into an already thriving economy there. Complex as this may appear, the U.S. is indeed a Japanese market.

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