On the West’s Legal Battles with Russia and on Pre-emptive Strikes from a Japanese Perspective

[Omi Hatashin, Kyoto, Japan] Milos Rancic’s article about the NATO bombings of Yugoslavia in 1999 and subsequent developments in international affairs have inspired the present author to draft this. It may be too pedantic to begin with the following. There was no UN Security Council resolution authorising the NATO to bomb Belgrade in 1999. To enforce the terms of an international agreement is one thing, and to impose the terms on a party which has rejected them is quite another. The so-called Rambouillet ‘agreement’ has never been agreed by Yugoslavia. The NATO assault on the political independence and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia (was Kosovo legally independent even under the terms of the Rambouillet ‘proposal'”?) constituted a far clearer violation of the UN Charter than, for example, the US bombings of Cambodia in 1973, which the then US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, justified in terms of the enforcement of the terms of the Paris Peace Agreement on Vietnam. Kissinger’s comments on the Rambouillet, ‘It was a terrible diplomatic document that should never have been presented in that form!’ (Daily Telegraph, 28 June 1999) echoed those of Winston Churchill about the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia dated 23 July 1914: ‘the most insolent letter of its kind ever devised’.

Similarly, legal advisers at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office had advised the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw that the UN Security Council Resolution 1441 of 8 November 2002 was quite insufficient to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq in and after 2003. There was no weapon of mass destruction of any kind there in the first place.

The price of these breaches was a norm of international law which the United States and the United Kingdom had authorered towards the end of the Second World War. If the authors do not comply with it, why the others have to follow? Is it coincident that Putin’s Russia invoked ‘humanitarian’ grounds for their military intervention in South Ossetia, a part of Georgia, in 2008 and the right to self-determination of the people of Crimea, a part of Ukraine, in 2014? The West are fighting with Russia a legal battle of which they themselves are the authors, are they not? The West are currently paying the price of their own excesses in the Near East (the Balkans) and the Middle East, are they not? How long can the West sustain the policy of appeasement? And how far does Putin intend to undermine the UN Charter while identifying Russia as a part of the victorious Allies over the Axis powers in 1945? In fact, Russia can choose to make the challenges to international law (international boundaries) such as being posed by the so-called Islamic ‘State’ (in the Levant) and by Boko Haram, either more or less disturbing. Ultimately, Russia should find it in its own interest to preserve the UN Charter, and rescue it from the challenges created by the NATO in Belgrade, by the USA and the UK in Iraq, by Russia in its neighbours and by the outlaw entities in the Middle East and Africa. Or is Putin committed to undermining the international order? How far is he ready to be a terrorist in his own right?

Following a series of breaches of the EU-sponsored cease-fire in Ukraine’s eastern provinces after the signing in February 2015, Putin has announced that he had prepared to deploy nuclear weapons in defence of Russia’s annexation of Crimea as of March 2014. Such ex posto-facto ‘confirmation’ needs to be cautiously assessed. Nothing is surprising nor new about his nuclear blackmailing. Earlier, he killed one of his former colleagues at KGB, Alexander Litvienko, by polonium-210, a radioactive substance, in a Japanese sushi bar in London. Obviously, the radioactive substance was selected to be polonium after Poland, and the shop was chosen to be a sushi bar after Japan. But which target and which method of delivery was Putin contemplating in early 2014? The West should not surrender to such intimidations. The game is very much psychological. Putin is brutally exploiting the existing radioactive scare among those who have suffered most from the Chernobyl disasters, namely, the Ukrainians, and do not forget the Germans, who had been living under the constant fear of a nuclear war breaking out on their own soil during the Cold War.

Yes, the nuclear arsenals of the USA and of Russia may be more than sufficient to kill the entire population of this planet. The INF treaty abolished only eight percent of the US-Soviet nuclear arsenals. Perhaps more disturbingly, unlike Gorbachev, Putin has no longer any interest in preserving the international credibility of the Soviet ideology which was once thought to be universal. Even so, has Russia been determined to adopt a pre-emptive nuclear strike doctrine? That has been the post-Pearl Harbor strategy of the USA, which was originally designed to protect democracy. The Russians have been far more experienced than the Americans in sustaining pre-emptive strikes, and are likely to develop a more cautious strategy of creating buffer zones on land between Russia and their potential foes. In fact, Putin’s strategy may be seen to be aiming at creating new such buffer zones after the collapse of the Soviet empire.

As regards the Pearl Harbor trauma, which led the USA to adopt the pre-emptive nuclear strike doctrine, an almost untold truth came to light in the early 1990s: ABC 20/20, 22 November 1991, FDR’s Secret Plan to Bomb Japan before Pearl Harbor; Alan Armstrong, Preemptive Strike – The Secret Plan that Would Have Prevented the Attack on Pearl Harbor. On 23 July 1941, President Roosevelt approved a plan signed by Robert P. Patterson (Acting Secretary of War) and Frank Knox (Secretary of the Navy), i.e., J.B. No. 355 (Berial 691), which was discreetly labelled, ‘Aircraft Requirements of the Chinese Government’, aiming at the ‘destruction of Japanese factories to cripple production of munitions and essential articles for maintenance of economic structure in Japan’. The day before, Lauchlin Currie cabled to Claire Chennault that the President ‘directed that sixty-six bombers be made available’ for the second group of Flying Tigers operating from the bases in China to bomb Japan. The first targets included Nagasaki, Osaka and Tokyo. Claire Chennault was aiming at 1 November 1941 to start bombing Japan. Their first strike might well have succeeded in taking the Japanese by surprise, but the whole adventure seems to be too risky for the Americans for the following reasons. The Lockheed Hudsons were likely to have fallen prey to the superior Zero fighters, as Caddis Smith, US Foreign Policy Professor at Yale, opined in the ABC interview. Above all, the US involvement in the Chinese war against Japan, i.e. the breach of their own neutrality laws, would have been revealed, and the American public reaction to it would have been utterly different from that to the Japanese air raids of Pearl Harbor. This scenario of the US pre-emptive strikes against Japan from China tends to suggest that the Japanese Navy, by launching a pre-emptive strike on Pearl Harbor, lost the first psychological phase of the war. Their defeat in the battles on, over, and under, the Pacific Ocean came after. Admiral Nagano, the Chief of the Japanese Naval Staff at the relevant time, was believing that if they had to fight, they needed to do so before oil ran out. But depending on the timing of the American air strikes from China, Japan had a fair chance of repelling them. The lesson is that a party which has lost its patience first, loses.

Of course, it must be remembered at the same time that Prime Minister Tojo was, while preparing for a war against the USA, also preparing for the withdrawal of the Japanese forces out of French Indochina and China (presumably excluding Manchuria). He did not believe that the choice was his, but thought that it depended explicitly on the outcome of the Foreign Ministry’s negotiations with Washington, implicitly on the Navy’s confirmation of their inability to fight the US Navy, and ultimately on the Emperor’s assent or dissent. By the same token, neither the Foreign Minister nor the Navy leaders nor the Emperor believed that the choice was theirs. Japan’s failure was rooted in its bureaucratic ineptitude; each organ was passing the buck to another. (Omi Hatashin, ‘Japanese Organisational Decision Making in 1941’ (2012) Int. J. Management and Decision Making, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 69-84)

To illustrate the point further, the recent discovery of Japanese intelligence materials (NHK Special, 6 August 2011, ‘The Atomic Bombings: secret information that was not acted upon’) reveal that they had detected, in June 1945, a US special task force in Tinian, namely, the 509th Composite Group, although without knowing their specific task of launching nuclear attacks, and had alarmed the Imperial High Command that Hiroshima was in imminent peril an hour before the first atomic blast. The same alarm was sounded, again, in the Imperial High Command good five hours before the second atomic blast over Nagasaki’s suburb, and a squadron of Japanese Kawanishi N1K2-J interceptors, Allied codename ‘Georges’, which were able to fight at the same altitude as B-29s, happened to be ready to take off at the Nagasaki airbase. Following Hiroshima, the pilots were determined to protect the civilians at any cost. On both occasions, the Imperial High Command gave no order for obscure reasons. They had other priorities.

The Emperor’s surrender followed the two atomic bombings and the Soviet invasion which happened in between the two events. There has been a lot of debates about what exactly caused Japan to surrender. It is fair to say that a rare combination of factors unique to Japan at that time contributed to it. A lesson seems to be that one should not overestimate the effects of nuclear attacks in real politics. The Emperor did not surrender after the earlier devastation of Tokyo by incendiary bombings, and so, it must be surprising if the elimination of very remote cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had procured his surrender. A matter of particular importance, in this respect, was the Emperor’s distrust of his own senior advisers, who, Hirohito believed, had failed to warn him of the risk to his own life. What happened was that a junior chamberlain, Okabe, rather than the Chief Aide-de-Camp or any other properly qualified senior dignitary, had informed the Emperor of a possibility of nuclear attack on Tokyo, and asked him to take a shelter not in a usual bunker but in a specially fortified bunker for the Imperial High Command meetings. By this time, presumably a night between the two atomic attacks, the Emperor had been trying to suppress his suspicion about the reliability of advice and information which he had been receiving, and his fragile trust in the abilities and integrity of his ministers had already been on the verge of immediate collapse. In addition, the Soviet Union dishonoured its neutrality, which Hirohito’s advisers had led him to rely on, and stirred the Emperor’s fear of communist revolution. The Emperor took the initiative and decided to surrender in order to survive. On the other hand, the Emperor still retained the absolute authority in the eyes of his subjects, who complied with his order. A fragile system built on the paradox of a ‘living god’ happened to have functioned well for the first and last time. It was rather a coincident. Atomic bombings at a different time and under different circumstances might not have produced the same result. Also, the people who were humiliated did not include the Emperor. His interests for survival colluded with those of MacArthur whose remit beyond the receipt of the surrender of Japanese arms remained uncertain. MacArthur and Hirohito appointed themselves as a guardian and his ward, respectively, for mutual survival, outmanoeuvring President Truman and the (Allied) Far Eastern (Control) Commission.

The only recognizable structure remaining is a ruined Roman Catholic Cathedral in background on a destroyed hill, in Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. (NARA)
The only recognizable structure remaining is a ruined Roman Catholic Cathedral in background on a destroyed hill, in Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. This is Uragami Cathedral. This is the ground zero. Wooden Mary and one of the bells survived the fireball. In 1865, fifteen christians of this village emerged from their hiding to be reunited with their European brothers and began a new period of sacrifice to end government persecutions by 1873. In 1937, Japanese bombers were flown from Nagasaki to assault Nanking. In 1945, the second atomic bomb hit a wrong target due to bad weather. The hill of great sacrifice is today the place of prayer for nuclear-free peace on earth. (NARA)

Coming back to Putin, so far, he has been quite astute in rebuilding Russia as a semi-superpower. There has been the collusion of interests between Putin and disturbing agents including Assad’s son in the complex international environment of rising nationalism and religious extremism. But how long can the dictatorial leadership of Vladimir Putin last? It depends on the political structure of his regime, which seems to be far from right. There has been some continuity between the Soviet Union and Putin’s Russia, which is not quite unlike Japan’s continuity before and after 1945 which John Dower’s Embracing Defeat has shown. Where should the line of the Western defence lie in the renewed half-Cold War? The question must be approached very carefully. Scare-mongering is the worst thing to do for the West under the circumstances.

        Image: The scene aboard the battleship Missouri as the Japanese surrender documents were signed in Tokyo Bay, on September 2, 1945. Here, General Yoshijiro Umezu signs the Instrument of Surrender on behalf of the Armed Forces of Japan, Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu (behind him, in top hat) had earlier signed on behalf of the government. Both men were later tried and convicted of war crimes. Umezu died while in prison, Shigemitsu was paroled in 1950, and served in the Japanese government until his death in 1957. (AP Photo)

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