Thursday, June 21, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Crowdsourcing terror in Indonesia

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Crowdsourcing terror in Indonesia: Crowdsourcing terror in Indonesia In the wake of high-profile terrorist activities in Indonesia, social media’s role in violent extre...

Crowdsourcing terror in Indonesia

Crowdsourcing terror in Indonesia

In the wake of high-profile terrorist activities in Indonesia, social media’s role in violent extremism is once again under scrutiny. The 36-hour standoff on 8 May 2018 between inmates linked to the so-called Islamic State (IS) and prison officers at Mako Brimob (the detention centre of the Indonesian National Police Mobile Brigade on the outskirts of Jakarta) provides some clues on how extremists use social media, especially to ‘crowdsource’.

The term ‘crowdsourced terrorism’, whereby IS outsources the conduct of attacks to its followers and attempts to attract them to Syria, first emerged in 2014. Relevant cases include the knife attack in Leytonstone subway station in east London and the shooting in San Bernardino in the United States in December 2015. These events signalled what former US secretary of homeland security Jeh Johnson called an ‘entirely new phase in the global terrorist threat’.

Crowdsourcing refers to the open call for ideas, innovations and solutions from a large number of people. The driving force behind participation in crowdsourcing is the passion of a person or group of people who seek to contribute to a particular cause. Social media takes crowdsourcing to greater heights by allowing it to reach more people within a shorter amount of time. It also facilitates collaboration between individuals who are geographically distant.

The Brimob inmates broadcasted the standoff with prison officers through social media platforms. One inmate live-streamed a call for viewers to participate in jihad via Instagram, while showing a compatriot who had apparently died during the riot. Other videos showed the inmates posing with weapons seized from the police guards and pledging allegiance to IS. The IS-affiliated Amaq News Agency also picked up the story, and claimed responsibility while providing updates from the prison.

Viewers appear to have heeded the social media posts. On 10 May, a counterterror unit arrested four men who were suspected to have come from Tasikmalaya (five hours from Mako Brimob) to join the siege. Another man stabbed a Brimob officer in front of the detention centre soon after the end of the siege. The police also arrested two women for allegedly trying to stab police with scissors. These individuals claim that they were simply responding to calls on a Telegram channel to bring food to support the inmates.

The Mako Brimob siege shows the willingness of extremist sympathisers to provide manpower and material support, provided that they are aware of how they can do so. Social media enables extremist supporters to gain information on the location of and updates on a given incident through posts, geolocation technology and search functions.

While conventional crowdsourcing employs public social media platforms, private platforms such as Telegram support the development of close social networks that are united by their investment in a specific cause. Behavioural studies on crowdsourcing show that intrinsic motivations (such as a desire to expand friendship networks and a love of the cause) are more influential than outward motivations (such as financial rewards) in encouraging voluntary participation.

Until the Mako Brimob incident, few extremist sympathisers in Indonesia had responded to crowdsourcing in ways other than ideological agreement. Although some had translated ideological agreement to action, heeding the call to travel to Syria, very few instances of locally-conducted terrorist acts could be directly linked to social media posts. The Mako Brimob siege, however, shows that under certain conditions militants can use social media to crowdsource personnel and material resources on national soil. Crowdsourcing over social media most likely succeeded in the Mako Brimob incident because of the inmates’ unexpected triumph in holding the prison officers hostage and taking control over the building.

Proposed solutions to prevent extremists from exploiting social media are struggling to keep up with current events. Encryption has become a point of legal contention between technology companies and security services in several countries, including Indonesia. Intelligence agencies in the United States are demanding that technology companies build backdoors to their encrypted apps that would allow authorities to monitor online communication and obtain chat transcripts. Apple famously rejected the FBI’s request for access to the chat histories of the San Bernardino attackers in 2016.

Indonesia’s communications ministry blocked access to Telegram in July 2017 on the grounds that it was hosting extremist materials and facilitating the planning and coordination of terrorist attacks. After the terrorist attacks in Surabaya in May 2018, the ministry reported that it had removed as many as 3195 terrorist-related pieces of content from social media platforms.

Technology companies have pledged to work harder to remove terrorist-related content from their platforms. Telegram agreed to block extremist-related content and to create a team of Indonesian culture and language specialists to evaluate online material more accurately. Google has promised to step up monitoring of terrorist content on its video-sharing site YouTube.

But the efficacy of such moves is uncertain. The spontaneity of user-generated content means that its removal by social media platforms tends to be too slow. Technology companies typically rely on user reporting to identify extremist content, which is then relayed to human reviewers who decide whether the content violates the platform’s policies. This process means that social media platforms can take anywhere between a few hours to weeks to take down problematic content, which may have been reposted on other platforms by then. Although some companies have begun using artificial intelligence to identify and take down extremist content, the technology is far from perfect.

The battle against extremism must be taken beyond social media platforms. Reforms must start from within national legal, penal and law enforcement systems, and involve tackling issues such as corruption, overcrowding in prison facilities and inmate access to mobile phones.

Jennifer Yang Hui is an Associate Research Fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: New millennial party rebrands Indonesia’s predator...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: New millennial party rebrands Indonesia’s predator...: New millennial party rebrands Indonesia’s predatory politics The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), a new participant in Indonesia’s ...

New millennial party rebrands Indonesia’s predatory politics

New millennial party rebrands Indonesia’s predatory politics

The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), a new participant in Indonesia’s electoral landscape set to contest the 2019 national election, is grabbing the attention of Indonesian political watchers. Labelled the ‘millennials’ party’, PSI sees itself as the most promising political vehicle for young people in Indonesia. Its cadres are youths purportedly dissociated from old interest groups.

PSI is one of many parties over time that have claimed ‘reformist’ status in Indonesia. But is this new party really very different from those that currently dominate the Indonesian political scene?

Support for PSI is bolstered by some scholars who see PSI as a distinctly new political vehicle that is detached from the old guards of Indonesian politics. This interpretation of PSI relies on actor-based explanations for new political possibilities in Indonesia, as advocated primarily by William Liddle. Such possibilities emerge when an individual in the political arena ‘consciously creates, possesses and deploys political resources’.

Liddle is an academic mentor of Saiful Mujani, whose organisation Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting has deep ties to PSI. Unsurprisingly, researchers from this organisation build on the positive interpretation of PSI and praise the methods used by the party to recruit young activists and professionals. They see PSI’s youth-based approach as a promising way to challenge political cartelism and confront the oligarchy in Indonesia.

Such interpretations of PSI disregard the political and economic structures that influence the behaviour of political actors in Indonesia. Broader constraints, particularly the culture of predatory politics nurtured under Suharto’s New Order regime and reproduced in the current democratic setting, are overlooked.

Scholars of Indonesian politics who emphasise actor-based explanations for political phenomena perceived President Joko Widodo’s (Jokowi) victory in 2014 to be a promising moment that would bring Indonesia into a new and better era of democracy. But soon enough the old guards were named as part of Jokowi’s cabinet. The Jokowi administration has also introduced tougher measures to suppress freedom of expression and freedom of thought in Indonesia.

Jokowi’s experience confirms that relying on ‘autonomous actors’ without addressing the predatory nature of Indonesian politics is inadequate to bring change to the country’s political landscape. For this reason, it is likely that PSI and its cadres will operate in much the same way as the older parties. Such tendencies are indeed already evident.

Recent research shows that all Indonesian political parties are ideologically alike. Their political and economic orientation tends to be centre-right.

No clear economic orientation has been put forward by PSI. But given their support for most of Jokowi’s programs, PSI seems to want economic growth and is pro-market — much like Indonesia’s other parties. The party’s show of support for ex-Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) also suggests a centre-right leaning economic focus. Ahok was known for favouring the interests of the middle class, evidenced by his massive eviction policies and his Jakarta Bay reclamation plan.

PSI’s political vision is one that claims to promote liberal ideas. But anti-LGBT statements from a PSI cadre in Depok contradict this image. PSI’s show of support for the new mass organisation law that restricts freedom of expression and for the tougher anti-terrorism law that extends state power over citizens also shatter such claims.

Attempts by the party to ride on the popularity of the Nahdlatul Ulama-affiliated Ansor Youth Movement (GP Ansor) to take advantage of its limited support among youths demonstrate PSI’s opportunism. GP Ansor and its militia wing Banser are known for their use of violence — they participated in the mass killings of 1965. Praise and support for such groups is not a far stretch from the embrace of vigilantism that has been a part of Indonesian politics for some time.

The presence of Sunny Tanuwidjaja and Jeffrie Geovanie on the party’s board of advisors — both closely linked to oligarchic alliances — also seems to suggest that PSI is just like the clientelist parties of old. Geovanie has a reputation for being a party-hopping politician but is currently playing a central role in PSI’s activities. He not only funds the party but also ‘lends’ office space. PSI claims that it relies on donations to fund its operations and has promised to publish a financial report. But such a report has never been published.

Many of PSI’s activities seem impossible to conduct through crowdfunding alone. These activities include the establishment of new offices in all provinces, the organisation of national meetings in luxurious venues, and the advertisement of the party and its cadres in several types of media. The Indonesian political arena is dominated by clientelism and predation, and candidates need large sums of money to compete and win a seat in parliament.

PSI is already indistinguishable from the older Indonesian political parties. PSI’s main targets are millennials, but its politics seem to serve only the interests of the middle class. Meanwhile, lower class millennials prefer to engage with various vigilante groups that more directly address their subsistent needs. PSI targets this segment of the youth too, but in a way that maintains conservatism and vigilantism through the support of groups like GP Ansor. Hopes that PSI will provide a truly democratic alternative for young Indonesians seem wildly naive.

Abdil Mughis Mudhoffir is a PhD candidate in politics at the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: The East Java Gubernatorial Race: Dead Heat But No...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: The East Java Gubernatorial Race: Dead Heat But No...: The East Java Gubernatorial Race: Dead Heat But Non-Controversial – Analysis While the East Java gubernatorial election remains one o...

The East Java Gubernatorial Race: Dead Heat But Non-Controversial – Analysis

The East Java Gubernatorial Race: Dead Heat But Non-Controversial – Analysis

While the East Java gubernatorial election remains one of the most significant regional-level leadership races in Indonesia this year, campaigns had been orderly and free of controversy. Only a few hot-button issues that have plagued other races are present within the region.

The East Java gubernatorial election can be considered one of the most pivotal races in the 2018 simultaneous local election cycle. The province is the second largest in the country, with a population of 42 million and contributing 14.8 percent to total GDP.

East Java is thus significant both economically and politically, and an important factor amongst candidates positioning themselves for the 2019 Indonesian general election less than a year away. So who are the leading contenders in this race?

The Aspirants

Two candidates are competing to replace Soekarwo, the incumbent governor who has served two consecutive five-year terms. The first one is Saifullah Yusuf, the province’s deputy governor. His running mate is Puti Guntur Soekarno, a granddaughter of Indonesia’s founding president Soekarno.

They are backed by a coalition of parties, including the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) of former president Megawati Soekarnoputri, the National Awakening Party (PKB) affiliated with Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) of Prabowo Subianto and the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

The second one is Khofifah Indar Parawansa, the former minister of Social Affairs under President Joko Widodo. Her running mate is Emil Dardak, the 34-year old former regent of Trenggalek, a rural region in the southern part of the province. The pair is supported by a coalition consisting of the once-ruling Golkar Party, the Democrat Party (PD) of former president Yudhoyono, and the National Mandate Party (PAN) among others.

Popular support for the Saifullah/Puti pair is largely based on personal and familial ties. Saifullah is the grandson of Hasyim Asy’ari, founder of NU, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation. Hence, he seeks support largely from NU clerics and Muslims who affiliated themselves with NU, whose membership is approximately two-thirds of the East Java population. Madam Puti and the PDI-P are banking on her family lineage stemming from the Soekarno name to win electoral support in the province.

Meanwhile, the Khofifah/Emil pair generally tends towards emphasising a combination of professional image and Islamic credentials. Madam Khofifah uses her positions as a long-time Head of Muslimat ̶ NU’s women’s wing ̶ to seek support from female Muslim voters. Emil, on his part, touts his business background and experience as Trenggalek regent from 2014 to 2018, during which period he won national recognition as one of the best local executives in Indonesia.

National & Regional Trends

One important insight we gathered from our research in East Java is that national-level political patterns and constellations may not have a direct effect on regional-level elections, given the nature of local politics and rivalries between political parties within similar coalitions.

In East Java, while the Saifullah Yusuf/Puti Guntur Soekarno is officially supported by Gerindra, representatives of the party we spoke to made it clear the party only supports Saifullah as its nominee as East Java governor. It does not support Madam Puti’s appointment to be his running mate, given that she comes from PDI-P.

As such the party does not spend much time and resources in their gubernatorial campaigns, preferring to focus on next year’s presidential election instead. Hence, even though both Gerindra and PDI-P are formally in the same gubernatorial coalition, communication between the two rivals are few and far between.

A similar phenomenon can also be seen in the Khofifah Indah Parawansa/Emil Dardak campaign. The Democrat Party seems not to devote much resources to the campaign, in contrast to the Golkar Party, the pair’s chief sponsor. It seems that the former only supports them because it wants to retain its status as the second largest faction in the East Java legislature. Much of the Democrats’ resources are devoted to the 2019 regional legislative election, not to the gubernatorial election itself.

Identity and Business-Politics Relations

Unlike other local races, identity politics do not play a big role in the East Java gubernatorial election. Since both Saifullah and Khofifah are senior cadres of NU, no ethno-religious issues are expressed during the campaign as NU generally promotes a moderate and tolerant interpretation of Islam.

The influence of conservative Muslim organisations like the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) is relatively minimal in this election. Muslim-based parties like PKS, PAN, and the Crescent and Star Party (PBB) tend to focus their attention on the national legislative and presidential elections rather than the gubernatorial race.

Regarding the relationship between business and politics, our research has shown that business groups are pragmatic and prefer a candidate who supports investment-friendly policies in East Java province, something that Soekarwo – the outgoing governor – had provided during his decade-long tenure as the province’s chief executive. However, neither candidates have provided significant outreach to business groups or demonstrate their commitment towards investment-friendly policies.

It can thus be seen that most business groups are adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ approach and are watching closely for signs from several business conglomerates like property developers Ciputra and Pakuwon Jati Groups, and regional manufacturers like Maspion Group, for cues on which candidate they would support in this election.

Non-controversial Race

The East Java gubernatorial race is considered to be one of the most significant electoral races among this year’s regional executive elections due to its population size and political impact. However, the campaign itself is free from controversy, and in fact, very orderly as most parties and interest groups are devoting their resources toward the 2019 general election.

There are minor contentions such as accusations from the Khofifah/Emir campaign that local civil servants are implicitly backing the Saifullah/Puti campaign, even though they were supposed to be neutral in the race. However, these are a far cry from the controversies that had surrounded the Jakarta gubernatorial elections in 2017.

A recent survey by the large-circulating Kompas daily showed the Khofifah/Emir pair slightly ahead of Saifullah/Puti, with a margin of 48 to 45 percent. The closeness of the margin indicates that the two candidates are in a dead heat, as none of the candidates can distinguish themselves as a clear alternative to their opponent.

*Alexander R Arifianto PhD
is a Research Fellow and Jonathan Chen is an Associate Research Fellow with the Indonesia Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. This is part of a series on Indonesia’s simultaneous regional elections.


Monday, June 18, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Japan’s Remilitarization: Implications For Regiona...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Japan’s Remilitarization: Implications For Regiona...: Japan’s Remilitarization: Implications For Regional Security – Analysis This research paper is divided into five main parts. The firs...

Japan’s Remilitarization: Implications For Regional Security – Analysis

Japan’s Remilitarization: Implications For Regional Security – Analysis

This research paper is divided into five main parts. The first part concerns with defining the variables and problematises the term of ‘remilitarization’ to understand the changes in the security policy of Japan. The second part explains the main assumptions of the theoretical framework employed to answer the main research problem. The third part explains the dynamic of the change in Japan’s policy by underlining the main historical precursors. The fourth part provides the answer to the research question on the causes of the shift from the ‘self-defence to the proactive defence’ policy of Japan. The fifth part elaborates the implication of the Japanese changing defence policy for the regional politics followed by the conclusion.


Before analysing the dynamics of changes in Japan’s security policy spearheaded by the Abe administration, it is important to understand the scope and basic idea of the article nine of the Japanese constitution. The main focus of article nine is based on the renouncing war and use of force by Japan. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that it prohibits the use of force when it comes to the Japan’s self-defence forces. So the question arises what has changed now that seems to deepen the division in Japan over the article nine?

The answer is associated with the interpretation of the article nine which discourages the role of military forces in case of an attack. From the official perspective, the right of collective defence is being expanded so as to allow the Japan’s military forces to not only defend the country but its significant allies as well. In simple words, one school of thought views the interpretation of article nine as the opportunity to not only address the shortcomings of their security policy, rather it is seen as the mean to expand the conceptual contours of Japan’s national power in terms of adapting to an array of changes in the international arena.

On the other hand, the opposition including the public view is reading the ‘change’ endorsed by Abe’s government as the mean of drifting away from the long-held and celebrated notion of post-war Pacific Japan. The reinterpretation of article nine is seen as an attack on the Pacific traditions since it would allow the forces of Japan to participate in war or conflict if one of the allies of Japan is threatened. Therefore, the public of Japan and critics of Abe’s government see it as a threat, which could exploit the escalations with neighboring states; particularly China, which in turn could disrupt the security architecture of the region. Some of the advocates of a pacifist Japan are deeming it as a mean to stoke security concerns of the regional states, as it has the propensity to directly jeopardize the interests of Japan as well.

Speaking of article nine and its implications on the defence policy of Japan, it is important to understand the basic idea of the agreement between Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the ally of the government Komeito signed on 1st July 2014. Some of the observers read this development as the limitation faced by Abe to amend the constitution of Japan, given the requirement of majority consensus for any change in the Japan’s constitution. The interpretation of agreement backed by the Abe administration on article nine may allow Japan to exercise the right to use force in case of a threat or use of force by any state. Consequently, the right of collective defence could be invoked under the provisions of Japan’s constitution.

1 Definitions of the main variable and Theoretical Framework

1.1 What is meant by Japanese Re-militarization?

The use of prefix before the militarization of Japan in the title of the research topic surely has befuddling effect attached to it, since it reflects the traces of proclivity. Therefore, it is necessary to define and elaborate the rationale behind the use of a biased term ‘remilitarization’. The main idea is to problematise the term of militarization being used by the various observers in analyzing the approval of a bill in Japan that may reinterpret the article nine in Japan’s constitution.

Assuming the premise of the analysts is correct, it is necessary to make a distinction between a militarized Japan and a remilitarized Japan, given the past behavior and experience of the imperialist Japan that encouraged ‘use of force’ to increase the area of influence and state power at the international level. It is, therefore, important to highlight that it is factually wrong to dub the recent wave of changes in the security policy of Japan as mere militarization.

Second, a survey of the Japan’s revisions in security policy after the end of Second World War clearly reveals the gradual upgrading in terms of weapons acquisition aimed at enhancing the military capability of Japan.

Third, the aim is to question the notion related to the military posture, as it will help to investigate the underlying bias of arguments being stated by the observers particularly those who view Japan on the road to remilitarization as the “imperial Japan” before the Second World War did.

2 Theoretical Framework

The problem under investigation has a multifaceted nature; one of the most significant variables entails a gigantic claim associated with Japan’s security policy, as it views the revisions brought about by the government of premier Abe as aggressive: which would remilitarize Japan’s forces in the distant future if not in the coming three to four years. That being said, the main argument of the research study will focus on the seemingly two opposite schools of thought, it comprises those who have been observing the revisions in the security policy of Japan for the past couple of years.

Given the nature of the problem under investigation, the main assumptions espoused by Gideon Rose helps to understand the research problem. Among many other reasons, one of the compelling reasons for the choice of neo-classical realism is linked to the number of variables addressed by the advocates of the theory.

First, the intersection of internal and external variables in the policy of Japan is relevant to the research problem addressed in this study. Likewise, this research involves the understanding of not only the external pressures in impacting the security policy of Japan but the role of public opinion in addition to other domestic variables in shaping the security policy of Japan. The very integrating nature of neoclassical realism is what makes it different than the neorealist and classical realism. Since it incorporates variables at two distinct levels by providing an explanation of the policy choices, and how the process of grand strategy is formulated at the national level.

Simply put, the theory of neo-classical realism is the combination of structural variables and domestic variables from a pluralistic perspective. Conceptually, the idea of a grand strategy is also important to understand here. Since it explains the role of non-military means in terms of politics and how the ideology of nation serves to increase the power of a state. It basically highlights a level where variables of systemic and domestic level interact with the state level dynamics. It involves the role of public opinion as well, as the choice of policies and how the leadership reads a particular situation in terms of making the decision of going to war and peace. In other words, the interaction of these variables at two different variables defines the policy choices in Japan.

For instance, Abe’s administration in Japan has altered the interpretation of a particular article in Japan’s constitution which cannot be viewed independently of the domestic and international dynamics. To put simply, the interplay of the unit level and international variables do influence the policies and perception of a national leadership in Japan.

After determining the national goals perceived by the leadership of Japan, the choice of the means required for the attainment of the goals is important. The behavior of Japan towards the changing dynamics of international politics along with domestic factors facilitates in pursuing the desired goals.

In the Japanese context, the international environment can be taken as the changing polarity of the international structure in addition to the domestic constraint in form of opposition of the public opinion to any security revision that could lead Japan to more of an aggressive state.

Abe’s grand strategy can be analyzed by examining the nature of threats being posed to the national security of Japan. This assumption is inspired from the arguments of the classical realism in form of identifying the strategic environment. Likewise, the national interests of Japan can be assessed by overviewing the order of national priorities.

Hence, the material capability of Japan in the international system and the threats are also taken into consideration. Similarly, the historical relations of Japan with its neighbors and the ‘difference of ideology’ is another variable. But the problem that could disturb the process of conveying the information to the leadership of the state and how it is perceived by him/her is another factor that plays a significant role, it means that the process of threat perception directly depend on the information being fed to the decision makers, as it influences the outcomes of any political change.

3 Historical Roots

First, the use of term ‘remilitarization’ has its roots in the imperialistic past of Japan. Although the Meiji period is associated with reformation and an epoch of change for Japan; particularly, in the economic and political sphere, however, the two Japanese victories over China and Korea (1894-1895) are worth mentioning in order to understand the contemporary changes in the security doctrine of Japan. This can be deemed as one of the various causes of tense relations with China. In other words, Sino-Japanese enmity has historical roots as emphasized by the theorist of the realist school of thought.

Military modernization is the second significant factor that promoted a sense of aggression among the Japanese forces. This can be dived into three main phases: the first phase (1853 to 1870) was dominated by the introduction of organizational changes which was narrowed or institutionalized in the second phase (1870-1878), it attained a structure which gave it a proper form particularly to the army and naval forces, rather it is safe to claim that most of the processes and mechanism were given a shape in this phase. The third phase (1878-1890) focused on building the link between the military with social and political sectors of the society1.

Since the overlapping of military, political and social aspects contribute in gaining legitimacy at the societal level. The precursor behind the modernization was accentuated as a result of the threat from the Western world. Moreover, the dreaded access to Japan was through the sea, the attention, therefore, was given to the development of navy. Given the progress of the development, one can easily say that the structures, which promoted the militaristic forces, continue to dominate Japan regardless of the Meiji reformation.

In simple words, the promotion of militancy is connected with these medieval structures and low purchasing power of the Japanese people, since it diverted Japan towards seeking more markets. Hence the need for outer markets was achieved in form of breaching the sovereignty of adjoining states.

Third, Japan’s interaction with Korea in terms of significance is another factor, which contributed in shaping their relations in the East Asian region. This succinctly explains Japan’s relentless efforts to hold on to Korea, as giving it up to become a colony of other imperial powers meant a source of direct threat for Japan2.

In other words, the threat perception of Japan depended on the geographical proximity of Korea with the national security of Japan. One of the dimensions of Korea-Japan relations involves China factor. It can be traced back to 1881 when Japan attempted to increase her political, economic clout in Korea in form of developing the military forces of Japan. Despite falling into the Chinese area of influence, various strategies were employed to bring Japanese inclined group into power. Hence, the military became the common tool of achieving the desired goals.

Fourth, modernization coalesced with industrialization increased the pressure on Japan to adopt expansionist policies in order to broaden the area of influence, as it was associated with gaining international recognition as a ‘powerful state’. Therefore, expansionism was the common mean to achieve a significant place in the international arena.

Fifth, coming to the public support of imperialist Japan, one may view it as an attempt to resist the “oppression” of China. Interestingly, in the past, Japanese viewed expansionist policies as a noble pursuit, which helped the rulers to gain legitimacy for the expansionist policies; for example, securing the territory of Korea in form of bringing it into their area of influence was one of the underlying policies. Additionally, the war of Japan with China is often cited as the most defining development, which led to the display of immense power for increasing the Japanese influence in Korea. This also brought the Western powers close to China, since both of them perceived a threat from Japan. Hence, the Western powers witnessed competition in business and the rivalry over Korea between Japan and China, among many reasons.

In short, conventional wisdom associates the expansionist policies of Japan in 1984 onwards with the samurai ambition to deal with the imperialism of “whites”. This strategy was based on the principle of expansionism. Since most of the efforts and policies pursued by the government of Japan displayed a collective aim of acquiring the territories that had strategic meaning for Japan. Therefore, use of force was the commonly adopted mean to secure and conquer those adjoining territories which had an affiliation with Japan.

The main purpose was to increase the area of influence and build Japanese empire, as it played a role in building one strong empire to counter the influence of those western powers that had heterogeneous colonies under their control. Even in early twentieth century, the social foundation of Japan continued to be dominated by the influence of two main classes: bourgeoisie and military despite the adoption of the capitalist economic system3. Consequently, it brought more profit and influence for the two classes of Japan followed by the recognition at the international forum.

4 Understanding the Shift from Self Defence to Proactive Defence

Before determining the nature of militaristic turn in Japan’s defence policy, it is pertinent to understand the official perspective of Abe’s government and his supporters. The term “sekkyokuteki heiwashugi” literally “proactive pacifism” is translated as “proactive contributor to peace”4. It is based on the principle of international cooperation, which lays stress on playing a responsible role in maintaining international security.

The distinct feature of this policy emphasizes on playing an active role rather than a passive role in the global security. This idea is essentially derived from the document of Japan’s national security strategy.

It concerns with an extension of a national interest of a state with the security of its territory, progress as well as the need to coordinate internationally with global actors. In simple words, the role of international community is correlated with the national interests of the Japanese state. Coming to the main signifiers of Japan’s strategy paper, it highlights three pillars about the policy. The first one deals with enhancing the defence capability of Japan. The second is focused on deepening the alliance between Japan and US. And the third one deals with collaboration and cooperation with other states.

4.1 What prompted the shift in Japanese policy?

According to the official stance, the latest revision was a change in order to respond to increasing Chinese threat5. To back the premise of the argument, the case of Japanese hostages is cited to justify the inability of the military to save them from the Islamic state. The approval of the new bill is viewed in terms of broadening the scope of article nine to defend its ally (The United States as it has been stressed in the strategy paper of Japan).

In response, critics of this bill dread the involvement of Japan when it comes to the rivalry of the United States with China in the Middle East. So the question arises here: Can the so-called principle of collective defence turn into an act of aggression? The critics of Abe government outrightly reject the claims, as Japanese security is guaranteed by the USA.

Taking into account the humanitarian turn of Japan’s constitution of 1992, one may assess the impact of external pressures and changes asserted by Neo-Classical realism on the constitution of Japan. Since the peace-keeping function of Japan’s forces is reinterpreted as ‘collective self- defence’. This means that it reflects three main observations: first, the role of the army was initially seen as something abhorrent by the public of Japan. Second, the involvement of Japan’s self-defence forces in humanitarian missions helped to increase their credibility in the mind of Japanese in addition to removing the skeptical attitude towards their role. Third, the contours of Japan self-defence forces (JSDF) have been bounded by the constitution of Japan which can be steadily broadened to attain a controversial form in terms of sparking the controversy of remilitarization.

Most of the advocates of Abe’s policy revisions perceive the idea of peace upheld by Japan (right after the Second World War) as complete dissociation with military forces or their use in the combat missions. However, the older interpretation of Japan’s article nine missed the point related to a significant role of military forces in the security and maintenance of peace. But the dynamics of changes taking place in the international system based on the distribution of power and military muscle makes it imperative for Japan to maintain peace and order with the help of Japanese forces. Second, the development of flexing military muscle is the natural consequence exercised by those states that have attained a particular position in terms of economic gains.

4.2 Is Japan’s remilitarization a defensive or an offensive posture?

The answer to this question is difficult due to the implied connotation attached with these interchangeable terms. For example, the ‘defence’ for one state can and is mostly seen as the ‘offense’ by another state. Therefore, the answer depends on the perspective of the viewer analyzing the actions of a state.

In case of China or other neighboring states, the revisions in Japan’s defence policy are bound to create a sense of caution if not threat in the backdrop of changes taken to upgrade Japanese defence capabilities. However, if one looks at the whole debate from the point of view of policymakers of Japan, one would realize the presence of various threats and pressure in form of changing regional dynamics and internal pressure on the government of Mr. Abe to maximise security.

All those who associate remilitarization of Japan’s defence policy with an abrupt change fails to take note of the steady policy changes that have been taking place for the past two-three decades to beef up the military capability of Japan. For example, the focus on mutual cooperation granted approval to the United States to establish military bases, both parties agreed to defend each other. However, it does not mean that it allows the Japan to use its forces in case of an attack in United States by invoking the article nine6.

4.3 Opposition of Japanese Public

The role of public opinion can be best understood in form of the protest to the security agreement between Japan and America. The cause of this reaction from the public is grounded in the fears of being embroiled in the battles of America across the world. The second reason is related to holding onto the Japan’s tradition and value of being a ‘pacifist’ state, since people are still haunted by the repercussions of Second World War. In other words, people are not cognizant of the international pressures to upgrade security capability in the wake of the emerging threats.

5 Implications for the Regional Security

5.1 How will re-militarization of Japan shape the regional politics of Asia-Pacific?

From the perspective of the Neo-classical realist, the categorization of any state into the ‘status-quo’ or ‘revisionist’ state is over simplistic, since it is more important to trace the shift from one category to another by surveying the strategic adjustments of Japan. For Dueck, the assessment of a policy is connected with the strategic decision-making7. In simple words, it is important to identify the shifts in military deployment, spending, alliance to examine the change in the position of a state in the international hierarchy in addition to the interplay with the adversary.

For example, after the end of the Second World War, the US government had urged Japan to make the change in light of missile technology cooperation and in connection with the production of the F-35 stealth fighter8. According to one interpretation; Japan is free to sell weapons from multinational to another country, which has the potential to make Japan an interesting alliance partner in terms of improving state to state relations.

In the regional context, Japan feels threatened because China is modernizing at a fast pace, Chinese attention to the upgrading military capability and assertive foreign policy are among the few of defining variables. Similarly, North Korea’s nuclear program is the second factor in making Japanese cautious of the regional dynamics. Although Russia is not a direct part of the East Asian region, however, its past conflict over Kuril is something that plays a role in making and changing the threat perception of Japan. Coming to the institutional influence and response of Japan, it has developed a Security Council in order to respond to the emerging threats and regional dynamics. This response is also stressed by one of the assumptions of Neo-Classical realism. As it helps to view how Japan perceives the threats it is confronted with and the likely options to respond. Undoubtedly, the organizational structure of National Security of Japan is similar to the American model; however, the main function of this council may yield different results, as it is expected to only improve the coordination and cooperation of Japan with its ally and other states9.

When it comes to the viewpoint of critics regarding the defence policy revisions led by Abe, it is easier to label him as a leader who is associated with “revisionist” policies. For them, the policies and role of Japan in the early 20th century are something to be condemned rather than overlooked. Similarly, the regional states; China in particular, and North Korea perceive Japan with a wary attitude. In the backdrop of uncertainty in the region, the revision of any article which would allow Japan to modernize military capability is bound to aggravate instability in the region.

The central issue of Japanese foreign and security policy is the unprecedented rise of China and the resulting shift of power in the Asia Pacific Region. For instance, the formidable Chinese economic growth rate for decades cannot be overlooked. In 2010, it surpassed Japan as the second-largest economy in the world. Parallel to its economic rise, Beijing has been investing ever-larger sums in its military, primarily in its navy and air force, a development which causes great unease in Japan. Since 1989, China’s defense expenditures have been growing at a rate of more than 10 percent per year.

The country’s official defense budget, at ¥13.4 trillion (approximately €102 billion) in 2014, is approximately three times that of Japan’s. Although Japan’s armed forces are technologically superior to China’s, this edge is steadily eroding. A study conducted by the Tokyo Foundation, a foreign policy think tank, concludes that China will attain “overwhelming [military] superiority” over Japan in the near future. Experts believe that China’s defense expenditures could surpass even those of the US around 203010.

In addition to the rise of China, the impact of 2008 financial crisis deteriorated the economy of Japan and its ally America. Despite the announcement of the American administration to fully support Japan in Asia Pacific, some of the policymakers are skeptical of the future, the engagement of United States in the Asia Pacific may slow down seems to be the most important concern of Japanese. One of the factions in Japan dreads the shift in America policy on China. This has become a source of constant trouble for many. In simple words, Japan fears that closer relations of the United States and China will affect their alliance with America. Therefore, it emboldens the Japanese perception of self-help in form of making attempts to become a ‘normal state’.

One of the many causes of negative public opinion is associated with the public perception of Japanese national interests and the role of their forces. For most of them, Japan is supposed to defend itself and play a part in humanitarian missions, anything that goes out of the publicly defined ambit is considered detrimental to the national interest of Japan. The use of Japanese forces to project power in the region is another matter of concern for the people.

To sum up, it would not be irrational to claim that the association of the term remilitarization does seem to present an exaggerated picture of the Japanese revisions because the steady Japanese changes in the past few decades are often ignored by the analysts. This means it is the combination of internal and external factors that have led Abe administration to make recent revisions in Japan’s constitution. North Korea’s missile and nuclear program in addition to rising China continue to threaten the policy-makers of Japan.

That being said, one cannot completely rely on the official stance of the government and all those who support Abe’s revisions. The argument given by public of Japan and pacifist does have validity and shows genuine concern of the people regarding the fate of Japan. Similarly, some of the revisions which allow Japan to acquire more weapons can aggravate the regional security dynamics in terms of increasing the mistrust and regional instability. Therefore, it would be simplistic to side with all the arguments of any school of thoughts in Japan. In order to completely understand all the dimensions of Abe’s reinterpretation of article nine, one will have to examine all the unfolding dynamics over the period of one to two years in order to provide a clear answer to the remilitarization question of Japan.

* Iqra Mobeen Akram works as a researcher at an Islamabad-based think tank