Argument

Godzilla Ain't Got Nothin' on China

21st-century East Asia is a dangerous neighborhood. Japan can no longer afford to be unprepared.

Picture the iconic movie poster from the 1954 Japanese film Godzilla: the massive lizard firing lightning beams from its mouth, crushing a military fighter aircraft in its right hand as two other planes attack in desperation. I remember seeing the film for the first time in 1960 as a first-grader, and watching dozens of similar movies and spinoffs during my childhood.

Thinking back now, those films all have something in common. Japan's Self-Defense Forces, the only military permitted to Japan after its World War II defeat, only fought monsters. They never confronted realistic adversaries such as the Soviet Union or China. Perhaps that's because they didn't need to: From the post-World War II era until recently, Japan faced no real external security threats. The ideology of "utopian pacifism" -- the belief that if there are no armed forces, there would be no war -- dominated Japanese political and cultural life. In those days, Japan benefitted from a very positive external environment: The United States kept the peace in Asia, while China was barely able to project power beyond its borders.

Unfortunately, with China's rise and America's relative decline, the world we live in is now different. Wisely, Japan's leaders are addressing the reality they now face. On July 1, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that his government will be reinterpreting Article 9 of its constitution -- which outlaws war as a means of settling disputes -- and moving towards what his Cabinet described as "the development of seamless security legislation to ensure Japan's survival and protect its people." The decision makes the case that since the end of the Cold War, various global threats -- proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; international terrorism; and impedance to free access to the sea, outer space, and cyberspace, among others -- could directly influence Japan's security. And Tokyo needs to be ready.  

Critics and fearmongers have bemoaned that this decision demonstrates a dangerous rightward shift towards a remilitarized Japan. And they assert that most Japanese oppose the reinterpretation. It's true that simple "yes or no" opinion polls show that more than 50 percent of the public opposes the reinterpretation. And to be fair, it's a big change. The silent majority of Japanese have been taught for decades that the right to militarize was clearly unconstitutional. When I was director for Japan-U.S. security treaty affairs at the Japanese Foreign Ministry in the late 1990s, post-World War II pacifism was so dominant that constitutional reinterpretation was almost unimaginable. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, as relations with China remained positive, many Japanese felt the same way.  

Now, my former colleagues at the Foreign Ministry generally favor reinterpretation. And polls that feature multiple-choice questions -- instead of just "yes or no" -- show a public much more willing to accept a more vigorous interpretation of self-defense. For example, recent polls by the conservative news outlets Yomiuri Shimbun and Sankei Shimbun both found that roughly two-thirds of the population supports at least some collective self-defense.

The majority of Japanese are not challenging Abe. They recognize the importance of Japan transitioning from utopian pacifism to a more pragmatic, no-nonsense national security orientation. More importantly, they recognize that things could be growing unsafe for Japan. Indeed, a dangerous and unpredictable North Korea probably possesses the ability to launch nuclear weapons at Japan; in late June, it fired short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan. Moreover, for the first time since 1945, Japan faces a territorial threat to its south: Chinese Coast Guard vessels periodically invade Japan's territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands, which Japan administers and China claims. The present situation is not temporary: It will probably continue for decades.

Unsurprisingly, China is critical of any notion that Abe could reinterpret the constitution to allow a more forceful military posture. China's official news agency Xinhua stated that "Abe is manipulating a dangerous coup to overturn the country's post-war pacifism and democratic ideals." However, on the contrary, it is Beijing that is harrying Vietnamese and Philippine vessels in the South China Sea. And since late 2008, Chinese Coast Guard and military vessels have been harassing Japan's private coast guard, and military ships in the East China Sea. Reactions from many other nations in the region, including the Philippines and Australia, among others, have been supportive of Japan's recent decision. Those countries believe in the need for a stronger Japan to counter an increasingly aggressive China. And Japan will work closely with its ally the United States to maintain the status quo in the region.  

The goal is not provocation, just self-defense in a different form.   

The majority of Japanese are far from stupid; they support the reinterpretation with conditions. They insist Japan's that peaceful orientation remain unchanged. They hope that Japan will never again wage war, nor become a military power. And they prefer for Japan to limit its use of force.  

However, the silent majority are also aware that the geopolitical reality in East Asia is transforming with increasing rapidity, and they want Japan to contribute even more proactively to the peace and stability of the international community. The Japanese Self-Defense Forces can no longer just fight monsters. They may one day have real enemies to fight.

KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images

Midfield General

Human Rights Hypocrisy

If chants and protests in Brazil left egg on FIFA’s face, Russia and Qatar are cooking up an omelet.

RIO DE JANEIRO — With the world still reeling in disbelief from Brazil's shockingly one-sided loss to Germany, it can be hard to put the bigger issues surrounding the World Cup into perspective. Yet as Brazil joins dozens of other teams now training their sights on Russia 2018, there are some very serious questions to be answered -- not just by the coaches and players, but by FIFA itself.

Before each World Cup quarterfinal, the captain of each team read out a statement condemning discrimination in all its forms. Their declarations were part of an initiative that has been running since 2002, and its aim, as stated by FIFA's Secretary-General Jérôme Valcke, is "to use the platform of football's flagship events to send a clear signal to the millions of people around the globe that follow the event to join the fight against all forms of discrimination." Furthermore, continued Valcke, "because of its impact, particularly through the influence of players on the younger generations, football can play an important role in this quest."

Valcke's comments represent important steps toward a more inclusive sport and society, yet they also place FIFA's actions elsewhere into an uncomfortably sharp focus.

For starters, consider what has been happening inside Brazil's stadiums. During several matches, there have been blatantly racist activities and homophobic chants by fans. These hardly reflect FIFA's supposed values, and yet the organization took no action during the tournament.

Jeffrey Webb, the president of CONCACAF and a member of FIFA's executive committee, criticized his organization's approach to racially offensive supporters at World Cup grounds. "There is no reason why someone should be entering the stadium clearly displaying their intent," said Webb. "We at FIFA and the local organizing committee should be doing a much better job."

This is only the latest reason to question how firm a line FIFA is truly taking towards discrimination in football. FIFA's primary stated objective is "to improve the game of football constantly and promote it globally in the light of its unifying, educational, cultural and humanitarian values, particularly through youth and development programs." Yet it has awarded the next two World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar, two countries whose human rights records have been brought under withering scrutiny in recent months.

FIFA might respond that it is precisely the job of football to go where diplomacy perhaps cannot: to build bridges, to engage, to bring otherwise hostile groups together. The problem is that this argument only works if FIFA uses the considerable political leverage provided by its multi-billion dollar income, and all too often it does not.

FIFA might further respond that it cannot overstep the sovereignty of host nations, but this has not stopped it from demanding changes in legislation in order to achieve its commercial goals. In any event, sovereignty would not need to be threatened if FIFA were to make the award of the World Cup conditional upon the existence of specific laws safeguarding the rights and dignity of citizens. In such a way, FIFA would be holding potential hosts to the highest ethical standards, as espoused in its very own constitutional documents.

But FIFA's own officials often fall short of those same standards. Sepp Blatter's remarks about gay people travelling to Qatar to the World Cup had a worrying flippancy, as they displayed a reflexive inability to grasp the gravity of the issue. More broadly, FIFA has been criticized for its consistent failure to support gay players.

Though football tournaments may be a useful tool to help a country's social progress, FIFA seems to discourage such development as often as encouraging it. This is a shame, since when FIFA does want to show its teeth, it is unafraid to do so. Witness, for example, its ban of Franz Beckenbauer from all football-related activity for failing to comply with its inquiry into World Cup 2022 bribery allegations.

The consistent picture, though, is of an organization that too often ducks the hardest questions, ensuring that footballers and other protagonists make the right noises but ultimately shirking the details that will make the difference. And that, contrary to FIFA's mission, is a disservice to football and the world as a whole.

Yuri Cortez / AFP / Getty Images