August 2005
By Alan W. Dowd

Rising Sun

In his thoughtful essay in a recent issue of The National Interest, Asia security specialist Alan Dupont highlights what he calls “a sea change underway in Japanese attitudes towards security” and concludes that Japan’s allies in the US and Australia should welcome Tokyo’s willingness to play a greater role in the international and regional security spheres. According to Dupont, “Japan's alliance obligations mandate the maintenance of a military capable of modern warfighting both at home and abroad.”

Dupont notes that Tokyo has embraced dramatic and important security responsibilities in the past few years, including:

-peacekeeping deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan;

-tsunami relief in South Asia and the IndianaOcean;

-close collaboration with Washington on missile defense development;

-open participation in the so-called “trilateral security dialogue” with Australia and the US; and

-stout spending on defense, positioning Japan in third place on the global list of military investment.

Plus, according to Dupont, the Japanese people and their government are edging closer to the kind of constitutional modifications that will open the door to full-blown overseas military operations.

One can hardly blame Japan for taking these steps. As Dupont observes, “Japan inhabits a region where interstate conflict is still a realistic prospect.” Nearby China is building a menacing military machine, complete with new submarines that can slip into the sea lanes around the island nation of Japan and disrupt its trade flows. In fact, Dupont notes that Japan has caught Chinese subs spying and conducting illegal maneuvers in Japan’s “exclusive economic zone.” Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi even joined Washington in lobbying the European Union to reconsider a plan to lift the arms embargo on Beijing.

Likewise, North Korea, with its uncertain nuclear assets and growing missile arsenal, is far too close for comfort. It’s no wonder why Tokyo has such a keen interest in missile defense and a decidedly hawkish stance toward Kim Jong-Il. Indeed, the Japanese foreign ministry has raised the prospect of UN Security Council sanctions nearly as much and as often as the Bush administration.

In the end, having Japan as a strong, democratic partner in the security and defense of the Pacific is good for America. As Dupont concludes, “it is time for Japan to move beyond the ideals of the post-World War II peace constitution and participate more fully in building and sustaining regional order and combating the emerging threats to security.”

Millionaires of the World, Unite!

Every year, the People’s Republic of China honors an exceptional worker with the title “vanguard worker.” As the Washington Post reports, “the title has been given to the likes of blue-collar workers on high-output production lines or country school teacher brining literacy and correct socialist ideology to remote villages.” Indeed, the award once was given to Wang Jinxi, who “earned the title in 1960 by jumping into a vat of cement and furiously agitating his limbs because his work unit had no mixers.” 

But times change, as evidenced by the winner of the 2005 Vanguard Worker Award—NBA Superstar Yao Ming. That’s right, this year’s vanguard of Mao’s peasant revolution is a millionaire who lives in Texas and plays basketball for a decidedly capitalist organization known as the Houston Rockets. 

In addition to his $18-million contract, Yao rakes in $10 million each year in endorsements. Not bad for a peasant worker.

Star Warriors

Troops on duty in Iraq were treated to a premier showing of the sci-fi blockbuster “Revenge of the Sith” on the very same week that their home-front counterparts rushed to theaters for the third and final chapter of the “Star Wars” epic. Thanks to LucasFilms and Twentieth Century Fox, the film played on screens at a theater in Balad, Iraq, to the delight of more than a thousand American troops.

In addition, according to Stars and Stripes, the creators and distributors agreed to provide video copies of the film so that troops deployed all across Iraq and Afghanistan in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom could catch the film.

Officials from the Army and Air Force Exchange Service confirmed to Stars and Stripes that “it is very unusual for a popular and profitable film like this to be distributed by VHS.”

More Boots

If the House Armed Services Committee has its way, there will be more soldiers and Marines in uniform next year—11,000 more, to be exact. The committee agreed in its version of the 2006 Defense Authorization Bill to add 10,000 troops to the Army’s ranks and another thousand to the Marine Corps. “This legislation continues our leadership in growing our ground combat forces in the Army and the Marine Corps to deal with today’s operational demands and realities,” said Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. In addition, the bill:

-earmarks $49.1 billion in new funding to support the war on terror;

-authorizes funding for armor-enhanced Humvees, new night vision equipment and jamming devices to disarm the roadside bombs that have killed or maimed hundreds of Coalition forces in Iraq;

-increases the “death benefit” to $100,000;

-provides a 3.1 % pay raise for US forces; and

-spurs new shipbuilding procurement reforms.

The bill still must win approval from both Houses of Congress and the president before it becomes law. 

As a contributing editor to The American Legion, Dowd writes columns and news briefs on national security, foreign affairs and U.S. politics each month for the magazine's "Rapid Fire" section.