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Politics & Security

Ruling Liberal Democratic Party Backsliding from Abe’s Strategy

“In the face of crises you may encounter in the future, it will not be enough to merely look right and left and choose the middle path,” warned Shinzo Abe.

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Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in an interview with the Sankei Shimbun at the Diet on March 25, 2022 (photo by Yasuhiro Yajima.)

In the September special edition of the monthly magazine Hanada, commemorating the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, I found interesting comments by Edward Luttwak, a United States historian and highly respected global authority on strategic research. Dr Luttwak had frequently exchanged views with Mr Abe, and stated to the effect: 

I regularly advise leaders and top executives from around the world, and I am really honored to do that. But I really thought that Japanese leader Shinzo Abe was someone who deserved to be ranked even higher than those world leaders. What made him stand out was that he had depth.

This writer felt dizzy at the gap between Dr Luttwak’s remarks and Japanese media reports that are merely superficial and scouring to uncover his shortcomings. Dr Luttwak also made comments in The Sankei Shimbun on the morning of July 15, paraphrased from the Japanese as follows:

Abe had no experience exploring strategies as an academic discipline, but he did understand strategy almost instinctively, as if he was born a strategic thinker.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe

‘Really a Born Strategist’

In fact, I had heard a very similar story once before. It was from a senior official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who was present at a meeting during the Abe administration where the prime minister was studying the theory of strategy with Dr Luttwak. 

In reply to a question about how Dr Luttwak viewed Mr Abe, the official quoted the US historian as saying to the effect that he had lectured on a wide range of topics, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “both of whom Mr Abe knew like a book.” 

Dr Luttwak apparently told the official there was no need to go to the trouble of teaching Mr Abe, saying that the national leader may not have studied strategy academically, but he was “really a born strategist.” 

The official said he asked Dr Luttwak whether anyone else came to mind as a “born strategist.” After thinking for a while, Luttwak responded, “The other is Winston Churchill, prime minister of Britain.” 

Then- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announces the new era of Reiwa on April 1, 2019. (Prime Minister’s Office)

Bearing Churchill’s Words in Mind

The senior official said he was surprised ー but concurrently convinced ー at Dr Luttwak’s comparison of Abe to Churchill, who became the British prime minister in the midst of the crisis of World War II and led his country to victory.

Mr Abe sometimes referenced the words of Churchill. Especially impressive in my memory was an address the prime minister delivered at the graduation ceremony of Japan’s National Defense Academy in March 2007. It was during the first Abe Cabinet. 

Before the academy’s graduates who were to become cadres of the Self-Defense Forces, he asked them to be “ranking SDF members capable of deeply contemplating and acting resolutely,” citing a part of Churchill’s The Gathering Storm (The Second World War Volume One (Cassell & Co, Ltd, London, 1948) that reads:

We shall see how the counsels of prudence and restraint may become the prime agents of mortal danger; how the middle course adopted from desires for safety and a quiet life may be found to lead direct to the bull’s-eye of disaster.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on the LDP’s Upper House election victory.

Regressing to ‘Splitting the Difference’

On top of the quote, Mr Abe appealed strongly to the graduates, declaring: “In the face of crises you may encounter in the future, it will not be enough to merely look right and left and choose the middle path as a clear-cut solution. You will need to analyze each situation precisely to make accurate decisions based on what you believe.”

Nevertheless, soon after Mr Abe was assassinated, arguments emerged within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in favor of a “split-the-difference approach.” 

Yoichi Miyazawa, acting chairperson of the LDP’s Policy Research Council and regarded as an influential member of the intraparty grouping seeking budget austerity, warned about the expansion of the nation’s defense funding to 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) when he appeared on a BS TV Tokyo program on July 24. 

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“If it is truly necessary to increase defense spending that much, then we must also discuss whether some of the social welfare budget should be lowered a little,” Mr Miyazawa said.

By taking social welfare spending hostage and utterly disregarding Mr Abe’s proposal for introducing new government defense bonds, what he seemed to want to say was that it’s impossible to increase defense spending that much. Isn’t this line of argument exactly the “middle course” warned of by Winston Churchill and Shinzo Abe that “may be found to lead direct to the bull’s-eye of disaster?” 

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(Read the column in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Rui Abiru

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