One of the big news stories that was not widely reported this past week was Japan’s snap election that kept conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his political party in control of Japan’s national government. The most interesting detail of this snap election was that it was called by Abe himself, and that its result could have major implications on the United States’ policy on and approach toward North Korea and its increasing nuclear threat in the near-future. While this story should be on all of our minds, it is of particular interest to me as I prepare to live in and work a three-month research contract in Tokyo in 2018.
You may not be aware that following the defeat of Japan in World War II, the country’s new constitution bars the military from using force to resolve international conflicts except in cases of self-defense. This being “guaranteed” by the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States, which basically makes the United States the protector of Japan (and later, South Korea). In 1967, Japan adopted its Three Non-Nuclear Principles, ruling out the production, possession, or introduction of nuclear weapons, aside from the establishment of a power-grid largely functioning on nuclear power. It is hard to believe that one of the World’s superpowers, and one of the United States’ greatest allies, is not also a nuclear power. But the State has largely been anti-nuclear since the “Little Boy” atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were dropped and they are to be protected by the United States. In recent years, this anti-nuclear sentiment has become stronger.
On March 11, 2011, a tsunami developed off the east coast of Japan following the Tohoku earthquake. The active reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant automatically shut down their sustained fission reactions at the time of the earthquake, exactly what was supposed to happen. However, shortly after the tsunami struck the coast, the emergency generators providing power to control and operate the pumps to cool the reactors shut down, and the nuclear meltdown and disaster began. Radioactive material from three reactors was released across four days, on top of other issues that occurred. This nuclear incident was the worst since Chernobyl in 1986 and was rated at the same level of destruction.
You can imagine the post-traumatic stress that was caused by the nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima, and now consider that some people who lived through the atomic bombs, and the consequences following, are still living. The stress for these people continues and furthered the anti-nuclear sentiment. Now, consider that there are 24 nuclear sites in Japan, all along the coast of a country created by the Pacific Ring of tectonic plates. There will be another earthquake, and there will be another tsunami. It is no surprise that these citizens of Japan feel strongly about this matter, even if there are better safeguards in place following Fukushima.
Now, flash forward back to the recent snap election that kept Shinzo Abe in power. In the Spring, his approval rating was at an all-time low of 30% (close to what Trump’s is at currently), mostly due to scandals that he was accused of involvement in. These were your typical big government scandals of favoring friends and donors for approval of projects. When I asked Professor Akito-san from the University of Tokyo about how he felt about the Prime Minister in March, he was very clear that he did not like him and that he felt he was too aligned with the way Trump had been governing, centering around populist views and nationalistic rhetoric. He felt that Shinzo Abe, known for the yet to be successful “Abeconomics,” was not the best and well-suited person to handle the ongoing crisis with the imminent nuclearizing of North Korea. And he also simply felt that he was too friendly with a man across the ocean whose rhetoric he does not appreciate… Donald Trump.
So, we have two conservative leaders who support the use of massive force to demilitarize North Korea. One of those leaders just gained a whole lot more power by winning a snap election that he called and by showing his political party that he still has the power he needs to continue pushing the Liberal Democratic Party’s agenda (it is actually a conservative and right-leaning party, despite the name). That same leader just proved that there is more support for the nuclearizing of Japan than originally thought. And that same leader also is pushing an anti-terror and national security agenda that could make another nuclear power in the World, while we fight North Korea and Iran for doing the same thing. On the other side of the ocean, the other leader continues to spout off non-sense on Twitter, belittle former veterans and widowed wives of active military personnel, and continue to put our country’s national security at risk through 140 characters or less.
We recently heard German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggest that Germany and others can no longer depend on the United States by saying, “We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands. The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days.” Those past few days had been spent alongside of Donald Trump. The changing views in Japan and South Korea toward self-militarization show that they too seem to no longer trust that they can count on the United States, even with it written within the articles of treaties.
Daniel Kahneman, awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 for his work in Prospect Theory which he later wrote in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” describes the theories of bias around risky decision-making. He discusses that when there is a risk of loss, it generally creates an unconscious cognitive bias that leads us to snap decision-making. He describes how making decisions in situations of uncertainty always has a bias involved and that often with the risk of loss comes poor decision-making. It is clear that we all risk losing something in this fight, and that the lack of confidence in the United States, caused directly by Donald Trump, could cause others to make snap decisions based from uncertainty, fear, and bias. We need better policy to deal with North Korea, and we need to more often consider the politics of other Nation’s when it comes to our own election choices and national policies. The World’s superpowers continue to become more and more nationalistic and those policies have thus far led to further destabilization in our World. We must reassess our opinions as the circumstances change and not allow our biases and fears overtake rational decision-making.