As ISIS is asking for a ransom for Japan’s citizens how would you say Tokyo will react? And how should Japan react in your opinion? Read few comments.
Joshua Walker, Director, Global Programs, APCO Worldwide, Non-Resident Transatlantic Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States
This situation puts Japan in a very awkward situation. Japanese remember well what happened in 2004 when a similar situation led to the death of a Japanese national when PM Koizumi refused to withdrawal all troops from Iraq. Given Japan’s more limited global role in comparison to the US, UK or even France this action (demanding $200 million which is eerily similar to the amount japan has committed to defeating ISIS so far) is very tricky for Abe. If he pays is there any guarantee he gets the hostages back and will people perceive this as being a state sponsor of terror since it is being done so publicly. Abe is between a rock and hard place, therefore careful consultations and a public diplomacy campaign seems more likely than a rescue attempt which japan doesn’t have resources for. I think Japan has to act decisively and show that this incident only reinforces that in a world in which terrorist don’t distinguish between state/non state or even non-combatant state issues, Japan is a global player that will be faced with tough choices. As Abe heads back to Tokyo he doesn’t have any good options, but it’s precisely in these moments that leadership is needed.
Thomas Berger, Associate Professor of International Relations, Boston University
It is still too early to tell how exactly Japan will react. However, there are a few things we can say based on Japan’s past record and initial comments by Japanese leaders. First, in the past Japan has been quite soft in these situations. In the past, Japan has found ways of giving in to hostage takers demands. At the time of a 1977 hijacking of a Japan Airlines plane, with 156 passengers, Prime Minister Fukuda (a pro-defense conservative, it should be noted) explained, ”the weight of a single Human life greater than the earth.” This attitude towards human life reflects a fundamental shift in how Japan views the proper relationship between the state and its citizens. In the pre-war period, citizens were expected to sacrifice themselves for the state, and the slogan of the Japanese army was “death is lighter than a feather, but duty is heavier than a mountain.” and the Japanese government was willing to sacrifice the lives of millions for the national cause. precisely because of that history, post-war Japan has adopted the opposite view.
The Japanese government is well aware, however, that giving in to hostage takers creates perverse incentives, and so it has tried to make pay offs in a circumspect manner, using local intermediaries and private agents (typically Japanese businessmen with local contacts). This seems to be again the case. Abe in a press conference in Israel, which he is visiting, has stressed that winning the freedom of the hostages is a top priority and vice- Foreign Minister Nakayama has been sent to Jordan to head a local crisis response team that Japan has set up in Amman. Although the Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide has publicly declared that Japan does not give in to terrorists, I imagine Nakayama and his colleagues will be looking for back channels through which to negotiate for the hostages release. Abe also stressed that Japan has a national interest in the stability of the Middle East and will continue to support various non-military ways in which it can contribute to the regions. He stressed in this connection building infrastructure and providing assistance to the refugees created by the civil war in Iraq. He also strongly criticized the hostage takers. In this sense, Abe is being tough – for a Japanese leader – and it suggests that Japan will not allow its aid policies to the region to be altered by the threat of terrorism.
Ahmed Salah Hashim, Associate Professor of Strategic Studies, Deputy Coordinator in the Military Studies Programme, The S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University
ISIS has the unique ability to enlarge its number of enemies. If this were Japan of ten-twenty years ago, they might have paid without question. Now under Abe they might not do so; they are exercising muscular policy these days and therefore to give teeth to that, they might say no. On the other hand, they might succumb to Japanese public opinion and pay and then issue stringent orders to Japanese civilians not to go into regions where crazed people are running around. Japan might even offer nonlethal combat support to the coalition fighting ISIS as revenge if the Japanese civilians are murdered.
Jeffrey Hornung, Associate Professor, Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies
I think Japan will not give in to the terrorist’s demands. PM Abe is a strong leader and certainly does not want to project an image of weakness while other world leaders have stood strong against similar circumstances. Japan is not used to being the target of international terrorist groups, so it does put Abe in an awkward position. But given that he is in the Middle East and just pledged money to governments to help fight ISIS, I think he has no other choice but to stand strong and not negotiate. He will potentially face some domestic backlash for this, but as hard as this decision may be (given that it will most likely cost him two lives), it is the decision he should make, as negotiating with ISIS sends the wrong message to the world.