Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Ploughing the deep psyche of countries that are cautious on imposing sanctions on Russia
OGAWA Tadash / Professor, Atomi University

May 17, 2022
Civilian casualties in Ukraine are still on the increase due to indiscriminate assaults by the Russian military invading the country. Their military action is a clear breach of the Geneva Convention and the Hague Convention II (Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land), and there is no excuse whatsoever to justify the deeds. I hope Russia will stop its act of aggression immediately and withdraw from Ukraine.

Sitting in the middle of the information space in Japan, we tend to be left under the impression that the whole world is united in accusing Russia. However, it is not necessarily the case that the international community is acting with such full solidarity.

The UN General Assembly Emergency Special Session adopted a resolution deploring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in violation of the UN Charter and demanding Russia’s immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all its military forces from the territory of Ukraine. A total of 141 countries voted in favor of the resolution, while 35 countries abstained and 12 countries did not vote at all. Among those who abstained, there were major powers such as China and India with great international influence as well as Asian countries with strong ties with Japan such as Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, and Bangladesh.

The United States and Japan may have entertained a hope that India, a member of the Quad (a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States), would cooperate in imposing sanction on Russia. However, engaging India is no easy task. In the past, with its staunch adherence to the traditional doctrine of independent foreign policy, India took a diplomatic path of non-alignment even in the bipolar Cold War era and remained a key player of the Third World. And in recent years, India purchased a missile defense system from Russia instead from the West, while also taking part in the Quad.

In the 1950’s, Indonesia under President Sukarno played a leadership role in exercising the foreign policy of non-alignment along with India. Although Indonesia voted in favor of the UN resolution condemning Russia’s invasion, its point of view is apparently different from that of Japan or the United States. Ahead of the UN resolution, the ministry of foreign affairs of Indonesia issued an announcement, but avoided making a clear statement on who was the aggressor and who was the victim. Further, the announcement left the matter of solving the problem in the hands of UN Security Council of which Russia, the party to the conflict, is a permanent member. It is clear to the eyes of everyone concerned that Russia will exercise its veto and nullify any Security Council resolution that is disadvantageous to Russia. Thus, Indonesia’s proposal lacks effectiveness and raises doubt on its seriousness.

One of the reasons the government of Indonesia is taking a careful stance over condemning Russia may be diplomatic, namely their wish to make the upcoming G20 meeting to be held in Bali this November a success as the host country.

Digging further, and thinking about the diplomacy of India and Indonesia, I have a strong hunch that they have a deep psyche similar to that of Putin’s Russia. In its history, Russia has made great sacrifices in turning their national land into battle grounds with external enemies invading from the west, starting from the Teutonic Order, France under Napoleon, to Nazi Germany. From this emanates Russia's geopolitical impulse to have a neutral buffer zone outside their national border. It cannot suppress its impulse to keep Ukraine as a buffer zone. Similarly, India and Indonesia with experiences of British-Dutch colonization seem to share the sense of vigilance towards Europe and the United States which Russia holds.

Furthermore, a point to be noted is that there is a cool attitude in Asia which views the response of Western countries towards the invasion of Ukraine as a case of “double standard”. I heard an argument in India that “although the public opinion of the West shows concerns towards civil wars in Europe such as in Yugoslavia, they tend to take no action towards regional disputes in Asia and/or Africa. Such indifference of the West towards non-Western regions led to the tragedy of Rwandan genocide.” One Indonesian Islam youth also comes back to my mind. He was being upset by the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1991, saying with anger that “people in the West see abuse of human rights in Islamic countries as problematic, but ignore inhumane acts of Israeli troops in Palestine. It’s not fair.”

Therefore, there is a need to acknowledge the fact that, depending on their own senses of history, there are varied perceptions among Asian countries towards ongoing international affairs. When some Asian countries are seen to be cautious on imposing sanctions on Russia, we should not hastily suspend our judgment with the stereotypical thought that “Asian countries have a poor sense of human rights”. Instead, Japan, a non-Western country, has a vital role to play in explaining with care and reason why the sanctions on Russia are called for.

Tadashi Ogawa is professor at Atomi University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

小川 忠 / 跡見学園女子大学 教授

2022年 5月 17日








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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Ploughing the deep psyche of countries that are cautious on imposing sanctions on Russia