(Nikkei: February 6, 2015 – p. 2)
The hostage taking of Japanese nationals by the Islamic State has confronted us with the reality that Japan has become the target of brutal terrorism. Organizations adhering to extremism have formed links with each other, and the chain reaction of terrorist acts has spread beyond national borders.
The international community must unite to contain the proliferation of terrorism. It is also important for Japan to play a role in the realization of peace and stability in the Middle East, which is currently the center of terrorism. In this connection, it is necessary to take a second look at how to ensure the safety of Japanese overseas.
Japan should not weaken its involvement in the volatile Middle East. Stability in this region is of vital importance to Japan, which relies on the region for a majority of energy resources.
And energy is not the only reason Japan needs to deepen its involvement. The political chaos after the Arab Spring pro-democracy movements has given rise to power vacuums everywhere in the Middle East, which has turned into a hotbed of terrorist groups and radicals.
The network of such organizations is expanding all over the world. It is possible that Japan may become a target. With the Islamic State declaring that it will attack Japanese, there is now an even greater risk.
So, what is to be done? First, the Islamic State and other extremist groups need to be deprived of their financial resources and supply of combatants. Japan needs to cooperate with all countries in the world to strengthen surveillance on these groups. In addition, Japan should make contributions in terms of nonmilitary humanitarian and economic aid.
High unemployment rate among young people and growing discontent with social disparity have contributed to the rise of extremism. Japan should use its technology and human resources to help develop industries and create jobs.
Japanese companies can play a big role in the building of infrastructure, such as roads and water supply systems. The only way to eradicate terrorism is to improve the people’s quality of life through steady assistance. However, increasing involvement in a volatile Middle East will be premised on appropriate risk management.
In addition to domestic measures, such as stricter immigration control and beefing up security measures for nuclear plants and other critical facilities, steps also need to be taken overseas. It is necessary to review the hostage incident thoroughly to learn lessons from it.
A number of issues have already emerged. Thorough measures need to be taken to ensure that Japanese abroad have access to security information. Stronger security measures will be needed for Japanese schools, diplomatic missions, and other easy targets of terrorism.
We hope there will be greater use of cell phones and smartphones to transmit information to Japanese overseas.
The government is considering expanding diplomatic missions abroad and increasing the number of defense attaches, currently sent to some 40 countries, to facilitate the gathering of security information overseas.
The military often possesses critical security information in the Middle East and other regions. The dispatch of Self-Defense Forces officers as defense attaches will facilitate the development of connections with foreign military organizations.
Japan must not only increase the number of operational bases abroad; it is also necessary to steadily build interdependent relations in intelligence cooperation.
We must not forget that there is a limit to what the government can do. Around 1.26 million Japan live abroad (as of October 2013) and a total of more than 10 million Japanese travel to foreign countries as tourists or on business each year.
Cooperation between the government and the private sector is indispensable to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals.
The government is conducting joint anti-terrorism drills with the private sector and holding regular liaison meetings between diplomatic missions and the local Japanese associations as part of its information-sharing efforts. These steps should be accelerated further. (Slightly abridged)