chapter  2
18 Pages

Balancing threats foreign and domestic: the case of Japanese public opinion and the 2007 Upper House election

WithPAUL MIDFORD

Introduction How does the Japanese public evaluate and balance between foreign and domestic threats to its values and well-being? Is the Japanese public becoming more sensitive, even hyper-sensitive, to military threats since the end of the Cold War, as some argue, and do Japanese believe military means are effective in responding to these threats? How does the public balance external threats such as a North Korea that conducted its first nuclear test in 2006 and continues regularly to test missiles over Japanese airspace, or a China that has a defense budget growing at more than 10 percent on average over the past two decades, with domestic threats such as the rapid aging of society (kōreika shakai in Japanese), looming deficits in pension and eldercare systems, deep public indebtedness, growing economic inequality and insecurity? This chapter shows that Abe Shinzō’s first premiership in 2006-2007 offers a crucial case test of the proposition that in the post-Cold War era, the Japanese public views external military threats as a priority that requires a militarily strong response. Prime Minister Abe entered office as the most hawkish prime minister in decades. His hawkish outlook and policies coincided with a dramatic expansion in external threats, most notably North Korea’s first nuclear weapons test and a major missile test. This combination of Abe’s hawkishness and manifest external threats should have made the Abe premiership the “perfect storm” that brought military security to the fore of Japanese politics in the July 2007 Upper House election, and produced a dramatic shift toward militarily unrestrained and muscular policies.1 Although this perfect storm appeared well underway at the beginning of the Abe cabinet, this chapter shows that the storm clouds quickly parted and the public unambiguously rejected an external-security first national agenda. In its place, they insisted that the government focus on domestic threats, especially those stemming from the emerging kōreika shakai. In other words, social security trumped military security for the Japanese public. This chapter thus focuses not only on an exceptionally hawkish administration, but also tests how the Japanese public makes trade-offs between military security and economic security, especially those related to the aging society issues. In other words, this study assesses how the public prioritizes external and

short-term threats versus long-term domestic economic threats. When the public looks at external threats, does it respond to their possibility or rather to their probability?