Friday, December 30, 2011

Out of the Box

New Years is coming and in my household that means it's time once again for our annual board game marathon. It will be 24 hours of letting the good times roll with the dice plus a dab of the ruthless backstabbing that almost naturally comes with most competitive games. Inevitably somebody will take out Risk, the classic game in which players move little wooden soldiers around a board resembling the world map in an attempt to dominate the globe through military might. The rules are simple enough and players have basically two options on their turn, either attack or defend. All international conflicts are settled at the point of a gun as the fate of nations are decided by six little chance cubes. Even though it’s all good fun, in the end most of the players lose out, often leaving the gloating winner a target of well deserved ire. Sadly, the rules of this game look like they were ripped from the current US foreign policy playbook. Fortunately options for peaceful resolutions to international conflicts are still on the board for many players across the globe who look to the power of cooperation over bombs to pave the road to peace.

While another, more peaceful, world may still be possible, this week it just got a little less probable when Japanese prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda announced that his country would be scrapping its nearly half-century long ban on arms exports. While the ban has been national policy since the sixties, many Japanese citizens see it as a natural extension of their war renouncing constitution that was forged in the smoldering aftermath of the devastating bombings that eventually brought an end to World War II.

Essentially drafted by the conquering US occupation forces, the Japanese Constitution, is “one of the few if any alien documents that have ever been as thoroughly internalized and vigorously defended,” writes historian John Dower. One of its most cherished components is Article 9, which states that the Japanese people forever renounce war as well as the right to maintain an army, navy, or air force (ostensibly a domestic patrol force,  Japan’s Self Defense Forces, the nation's de facto militaryskirts this proviso). While Tokyo has said that the new weapons export rules still adhere to the spirit of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution, it would seem that the Article 9 spirit is at an all-time low in the land of the rising sun. 

Article 9 had long been the lid that boxed Japan’s SDF forces within the confines of its national borders. Over the last decade Japan’s legislature has been steadily stripping away that lid. Recent laws have paved the way for Japanese boots on the ground in places like Iraq and elsewhere for the first time since Japan's military forces wreaked havoc in the Pacific and Asia over half a century ago.

Green-lighting arms exports is one more nail in the coffin for Japan’s famed “Peace Constitution.” Lifting the ban does more than open the global arms bazaar to Japanese defense industry giants like Mitsubishi or Kawasaki Heavy Industries. It gives Japan a chip in one of the biggest upcoming games in the world, a contest that pits the U.S. against up-and-coming contender for the world crown, China. Easing the arms export ban allows Japanese arms manufacturers to partner in joint weapons production with US, European and other companies from countries on the US allied team. That chip is a key motivation for Japan since in any China war game scenario, it plays a forward position with the ball falling squarely in its court.

As any seasoned Risk player knows, Japan’s slow but steady retreat from its long standing renunciation of war will look like a hostile move and do little to thaw the frigid relations it has fostered over the years with its neighbors in Asia. Like most players in this game of risk, they are likely to lose out in the end. It would be better for Japan and the US to quit now and instead of playing games, work to build bridges of cooperation in the region that can weather any stormy waters that may lie ahead.

Related post: Games People Play


  1. Thank for your sensitive take on Article 9 and the latest. It's unfathomable that the Japanese government would move in this direction after the devastation caused by the Jp. govt throughout the world and in Japan, during a time Fukushima is imploding from self-inflicted nuclear meltdown.

    Wishing you and all in Temple Valley a wonderful Bonenkai (what's left) and New Year's Season!

  2. Thank you for this insightful back story.
    Best wishes for the New Year.

  3. Thanks and a happy new year to you all too!