The reluctant Japanese

Everyone seems quite willing to condemn the Russians for their invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranians for their continuing flagrant disregard of the norms of international behavior. But, when it comes down to specific actions which could add force to mere words, nations tend to look to their own self-interest first. In this instance we are disappointed in the attitude of Japan, which has not been forthcoming in cooperating with the United States in matter of sanctions against the Soviet Union or in bolstering defense spending.

We well understand why Japan is reluctant to embark on any route of economic reprisals. It is a country heavily dependent on the import of raw materials, including oil, to keep its boisterous economy going. Inasmuch as trade is so central to its economic well- being, its policies necessarily are aimed at maintaining good relations with everyone. As one Japanese trade official forthrightly put it: "Our vested interests are fairly big. We shouldn't think of things only in the short period."

But is this not the point? Over the long periodm the interests of Japan and every other nation on the globe will be threatened if violations of international law are not resisted and if countries engaged in aggressive action are given to think they can get away with it at relatively small cost. This is why allied solidarity is so important. This is why some self-sacrifice in the short term is called for.

Rather than saying cautiously it will wait for the other industrialized democracies to do something and then match that effort, Japan has an opportunity to set an example worthy of the mighty economic power it is. One thing it could do, for example, is to curtail credits from its Export-Import Bank to the Soviet Union for major development projects in Siberia. The Russians are seeking new loans for such projects and would be pinched by a credit cutoff.

The Japanese Government could also display its concern about Soviet expansionism by pointedly expanding its defense budget. It is not only Afghanistan which is worrisome. The Soviets are showing their muscle by a larger naval presence in the Sea of Japan and the Pacific and a strengthened military presence on the small disputed islands north of Japan. Even the current spy scandal in Japan, disclosing that the Russians have penetrated the Japanese self-defense forces, should prod greater attention to the nation's security. Little by little, of course, the Japanese have been bolstering their military establishment. They are doing a great deal given the inhibitions of their Constitution. Yet the defense budget for fiscal 1980 represents only a 1. 5 percent increase in real terms over the previous year, and the amount spent on defense as a percentage of gross national product remains low by comparison with the other industrial democracies.

The question arises: is Japan more concerned about protecting its own economic self-interest than fostering an international order in which the interests of all can thrive? When the Diet session reopens this week, Japan's leaders will be on the spot to show that their nation's economic prowess is matched by political maturity and moral courage.

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