Why is Japan trying to have a better relationship with Iran? Shinzo Abe has become the first Japanese leader to visit Iran in 40 Years. Is it worth it for Japan to risk alienating the U.S., which is a major ally of Japan? Why does Japan think the risk is worth it, and what might be the advantages Japan may get from a closer relationship with Iran considering the consequences it may entail? Can someone explain to me the geopolitics involved in the decision?
The U.S. is likely to become less involved in the Middle East and Asia. Japan will need to secure oil supplies.
- The U.S. established a world order in 1945.
- The U.S. paid for a world-class navy that guaranteed freedom of the seas for its allies.
- The U.S. allowed its allies to export to the United States.
- The U.S. and its allies gave up direct control over their overseas empires.
- The U.S. paid for a world-class military capable of resisting Soviet expansion.
Zeihan points out that this was essentially a deal to allow the U.S. to be the world's leading power to oppose the Soviet Union. But the Soviet empire collapsed during 1989-91. The U.S. is still carrying the costs of this deal. Zeihan predicts that this deal will unravel. Zeihan also points out that:
- Fracking means that North America no longer needs Middle Eastern oil.
- If the U.S. no longer needs Middle Eastern oil, then the U.S. no longer needs to control the Persian Gulf.
- If the U.S. abandons the Persian Gulf and South and Southeast Asia, then the East Asian countries will need to scramble to secure energy supplies.
Zeihan omits the following points. These points reinforce his argument:
The U.S.' allies de facto agreed that any conventional wars versus the Soviet Union would be fought in the allies' territory, and that the allies would suffer most of the casualties.
Prior to the mid-1970s, the United States' foreign trade was roughly balanced. During the mid-1970s, the U.S. started to run large trade deficits, for the following reasons. It is difficult to tell which reasons are causes and which are effects:
- Individuals' foreign earnings became taxable income, subject to a credit for foreign taxes paid. This severely discouraged Americans from going abroad to sell American products.
- The U.S. became a net oil importer, and the price of oil went up.
- The U.S. auto industry lost market share both at home and abroad.
- Both the Federal government and many state governments began to run budget deficits.
To the extent that the U.S. budget deficit is financed by foreigners' trade surpluses with the U.S., and to the extent that the U.S. intends to either not pay off that debt, or inflate away that debt, the U.S.' trade deficits are the means by which the U.S. collects tribute from its allies.
Because the U.S. collects tribute via trade deficits, this tribute comes at the expense of American manufacturing industries and their job-base.
Zeihan notes that the United States has been electing presidents who are less-and-less interested in controlling the Middle East. At some point, Japan will need to secure oil from the Middle East.
The following points are not from Zeihan's speeches:
Iran needs allies and know-how from direct investment.
Iran has enormous unfulfilled economic potential, and Japan could help Iran achieve that potential. There are many similarities between Iran's situation and China's situation when it began its economic boom. China's government reduced its birth-rate in the 1970s; Iran reduced its birthrate in 1990. Changes in birth-rates shape future demographics and economies. The similarities also include having lots of smart people, a long history of civilization, and many industries that could benefit from foreign direct investment. Japan has the scientists, engineers, and capital to make direct investments.
Currently, Iran is overly dependent on its alliances with Syria and Russia, and on Iran's complicated relationship with Pakistan.
Israel cannot use emotional blackmail against Japan.
American and European policies toward the Middle East are strongly influenced by Israel. Since the Iranian Revolution, Iran has been hostile toward Israel, and Israel has returned the favor. Most of the reasons that Israel has been able to influence Americans and Europeans do not apply to East Asian countries.
Abe visiting Iran is not necessarily a sign that Japan is working against the United States. For all we know, the Donald Trump administration asked Abe to negotiate with Iran on their behalf.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Iran on Wednesday marks the first time a leader from Japan has gone to Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution; and, possibly, the start of indirect diplomacy between Iran and the United States under the Trump administration.
Japan has traditionally bought Iranian oil. So if Trump imposes secondary sanctions on countries dealing with Iran, Japan would likely be one of those countries. Japan would thus like for Iran to make some kind of deal. And they are in a position to offer a sweetener. For example, they might guarantee to purchase a certain amount of oil from Iran.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend. ;) US is not likely to become less involved in the Middle East because it is the key to Asia, and the real competitors in economic and later military power are in Asia. If US removes its military presence in the region, it will be game over for Saudi Arabia, Israel and eventually the US itself.
Japan is trying to project a strong peace keeping image that will help it in the following years. Marketing, baby.