At the Start of a New Year, America Prepares To Move on From Being an Embarrassment

After an acrimonious presidential election, the Joe Biden administration is set to take over power in the United States. There have been no real policy announcements as yet, and I realize that criticizing appointees to key positions on their name alone, especially when they have not yet got approval from the Senate, is premature. That said, even the smallest changes in America affect Japan directly and indirectly, and as such, I cannot help but feel anxious about the next U.S. administration.

Anxiety about the Next U.S. Administration

One concern is the polarization of public opinion. Seventy-four million votes were cast for Donald Trump — an incredible number. It indicates that the incoming administration is facing a difficult situation, and must allocate a significant amount of time and effort cooperating with others and unifying the country.

Another concern is that the ruling Democratic Party is divided into left-wing, moderate and conservative factions, and even reconciling differences within the party is not considered a simple task. The left submitted their own list of recommended candidates for positions within the incoming administration. Former Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy, who was considered by many to be appropriate for the role of deputy secretary of defense in the Biden administration, was passed over in favor of former commander of the U.S. Central Command Lloyd Austin, an African American. The left took issue with the fact that a think tank co-founded by Flournoy has received financial support from the arms industry.

Of course, General Austin would be very capable even as a politician, though in announcing Austin’s name as an appointee, Biden made no mention of either the Indo-Pacific or China. It gives the strong impression that Biden is courting domestic appeal by establishing an administration that is overly concerned with respecting diversity, as he pledged to do, rather than choosing whichever person is required to deal with the current military situation. The appointment of a female vice president is a brilliant achievement that inspires much emotion in the American people, though is it not also liable to incite panic if something were to happen to the president?

In the Cold War, America was fearless as a democratic nation and a leader in liberalism. Perhaps looking to regain the role he held at the time, in the March/April 2020 edition of the magazine Foreign Affairs, Biden pledged, “During my first year in office, the United States will organize and host a global Summit for Democracy to renew the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the free world.”

A Union of Democratic Nations Under Threat

What Biden stresses is his determination to return the U.S. to world leader status. “This is not a moment for fear. This is the time to tap the strength and audacity that took us to victory in two world wars and brought down the Iron Curtain,” he states.

What is that power and courage for? To restore the dignity of the United States. Biden has made clear his aim of taking on the “special challenge” of China. It may indeed be a special challenge, as, for its own benefit, China pumps subsidies into its own state-run businesses that steal technology and intellectual property rights from American companies and the United States.

Biden’s stance on China differs to that of the Trump administration, and is considerably weaker. The details of the Summit for Democracy will surely be decided in due course, and there is no doubt that establishing a global organization to confront authoritarian countries will become a major focus in international politics in the future. How difficult this is firstly depends on how democratic countries are defined. President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass and others have asked specifically how the Philippines, Turkey, Poland and Hungary should be classified.

Republican Senator John McCain, who went up against Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, was a fierce critic of China, and in his election campaign called for an international organization separate to the United Nations, a so-called “League of Democracies.” Liberals in America ridiculed McCain’s idea as outdated Cold War thinking, but the reason for it was clear.

Should Japan Continue its Indifference?

McCain argued that NATO countries such as Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, which fought together with the U.S. in Afghanistan, in addition to the Coalition of the Willing, which included Australia, Japan and South Korea, as well as India, Brazil, South Africa and Israel, should remain in a partnership and go on to become the League of Democracies. It cannot be overlooked that the presence of national armed forces willing to shed blood to protect democracy was a key criteria.

The frameworks created primarily by the United States and United Kingdom after World War II to support and secure national security, finance, trade, health and sanitation, the environment and so on, i.e. the United Nations, NATO, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization and the Paris Agreement, have become conspicuously dysfunctional. As the standings of countries have changed over the 75 years since the end of the war, naturally so has the framework for maintaining order. China’s radical growth and America’s relative decline are among the changes that have happened internationally. Will Biden’s administration be able to surmount these large obstacles?

Despite being an ally to the United States, Japan has remained indifferent to changes on the international stage, has made no changes to its constitution, and has also postponed a decision on whether or not it should acquire the capacity to strike enemy bases. At this rate, Japan would probably be too embarrassed to participate in a League of Democracies.

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