WASHINGTON, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- Shinzo Abe's smooth accession as prime minister of Japan will give an enormous boost to the U.S. missile defense program.
That is because Abe, the handpicked successor of outgoing Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, has made very clear he intends not only to stick with his predecessor's groundbreaking programs on ballistic missile defense cooperation with the United States but even to accelerate them.
Abe's personality and background, as well as his policies, echoes Koizumi's so strongly it is almost as though he was the former leader's political son rather than merely his successor.
Like Koizumi, he comes from an eminent political background and was tipped as a rising star while still in his 20s. Abe is the son of a foreign minister and grandson of a former prime minister. Kooizumi guided him through a meteoric rise in the past two years.
Also like Koizumi, Abe is a striking contrast to the succession of anonymous old "gray men" who led Japan into the depths of its long and dispiriting recession through the 1990s. He is smart, forceful and confident and he likes to speak his mind. At age 52, he is significantly younger than the flamboyant Koizumi was when he became prime minister five years ago. Abe in fact is the yougest Japanese prime minister in modern times.
Nothing demonstrates the quiet but sweeping political revolution Koizumi effected in his ruling Liberal Democratic Party than the ease with which he got Abe smoothly anointed as LDP leader and prime minister. Koizumi only got to the top in 2001 by challenging the LDP Old Guard and his primary victory in that campaign was seen as a stunning upset. But Abe, committed to maintaining and furthering Koizumi's pro-American and strong defense policies, succeeded him with a minimum of controversy.
As we have repeatedly noted in these columns, Koizumi proved remarkably successful in locking the major industrial corporations or zaibatsu, of Japanese industry into far reaching co-development programs with the cutting edge high-tech giants of the U.S. military-industrial sector to co-produce anti-ballistic missile systems. Even had Abe, or any other possible successor, wanted to abandon those programs, he could not have done so without causing major financial damage to huge corporations such as Mitsubishi, and thereby endangering Japan's real but still gradual recovery from its long recession.
However, Abe has already made very clear he is determined to do more than that, He is eager to accelerate the pace of ballistic missile defense development with the United States.
This is very good news for the Bush administration and for the U.S. high-tech defense giants, especially Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor on the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptor. It could not come at a better time for them. If U.S. Democrats succeed in retaking either of the houses of Congress, but especially the House of Representatives, in the midterm congressional elections next month, then the uncritical flood of defense dollars in appropriations bills to fund the entire range of ballistic missile defense programs may falter.
Abe, however, inherits a bulging treasury and a much more robust domestic economy from Koizumi. And the anticipated fruits of sharing in America's high-tech programs have boosted the confidence of the heads of Japanese industry. That means the flood of Japanese high-tech orders, especially for co-production of the Patriot, will continue as Koizumi and President George W. Bush anticipated.
As we have opreviously noted in BMD Focus, Japan is now America's most important global ally in the development of global missile defense. No other American ally in the world can compare to the financial and industrial resources Japan is now bringing to the development of BMD. Japanese corporations led by Mitsubishi industries are expected to be building Patriot PAC-3 missiles under contract within the next few years. Japan's corporations have expressed to Boeing and other high-tech U.S. corporations their eagerness to explore the technologies involved in the development of airborne lasers or ABLs. And Japanese industrial technology has been at its outstanding best when it has been steadily and incrementally upgrading ambitious technologies initially invented but insufficiently developed elsewhere.
Abe is unlikely to follow Koizumi's policies unconditionally in all areas of defense and foreign policy, For example, he has already strongly signaled that he would like to improve relations with China that all but collapsed during Koizumi's years in office. But Abe has already clear that any diplomatic outreach toward Beijing -- or anywhere else -- will not come at the expense of crash co-development of a broad range of BMD systems.
Ironically, Koizumi's success in ensuring the succession of his own chosen heir may help keep the American BMD programs moving even if Bush fails to prevent the election of a Democratic president in 2008. For all the skepticism that Democrats have expressed about the viability of BMD, it is very unlikely any Democrat in the White House would dare to scrap or prune back highly lucrative co-development programs with Japan. Therefore even in the way he left office and handed over the reins of power, Koizumi proved to be a dream partner for Bush in ensuring the survival and success of the defense programs the American president cherished the most.
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