The Japanese whaling fleet continues sailing towards the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. They are escorted by an armed patrol ship to suppress marine conservationists defending the Sanctuary’s integrity. So far no government has publicly opposed Japan’s threat of deadly force in support of an illegal enterprise. There has been no media coverage. The mainstream environmental movement remains silent. The world seems intimidated by Japan’s claim to a special status on the high seas backed by force.
Why has Japan chosen to assert its identity around whaling? It is an island nation, dependent on the sea for 40% of its protein. It sees effective protection of whales as the first step towards real regulation of global fisheries, including its own. It perceives this as an existential threat to its food security.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Unregulated exploitation is destroying the oceans’ productivity. Populations of top value fish, such as marlin, tuna and swordfish have dropped by 90% since 1950. The prestigious magazine Science has reported that, if current trends continue, every major fishery will collapse by 2048. A sustainable world fishery depends on international cooperation, adhered to by all nations. This will require substantial cutbacks. Japan, and others, should be developing ecologically sustainable aquaculture to compensate. This would generate far more production, and many more jobs, than destructive fishing practices.
As an exporting nation Japan benefits tremendously from a cooperative world order. It is now subverting that out of shortsighted self-interest. This is not essentially about money: Japan has plenty. Rather it seeks to establish a precedent: that Japan will make its own rules regarding the global commons.
Japan’s armed intrusion into an international conservation zone 6000 miles away sends a message that the world order has changed. Japan seems confident that the American government, financially dependent on its bond purchases, dares not oppose its assault on international law. It assumes, or has assurances, that Australia and New Zealand will not endanger lucrative trade and investment ties to protect the Sanctuary, or their own citizens. Thus Japan can violate the Antarctic Treaty, defy the law of the sea and ravage the oceans at will.
The fact that whaling is abhorrent to millions underlines Japan’s contempt for world opinion as well as its treaty obligations. What it loses in global sympathy it gains in its own sense of superiority. Japan is playing for very high stakes: a de facto acknowledgment that it is a privileged nation, standing above the law.
The US government owes Japan about $1,000,000,000,000 (a trillion). It borrows $12-14 billion more every month. Can a nation so addicted to debt defy its paymaster over a matter of principle? Will the United States effectively oppose Japan’s military takeover of an international conservation zone?
No government will jeopardize a cozy financial arrangement unless its public demands action. Only real pressure from voters can counter Japan’s economic blackmail. Only the organized environmental movement, with its millions of members, can mobilize such pressure. Yet they too remain silent. Why?