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Dec 6, 2016 | 00:00 GMT

75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

Senior Military Analyst Omar Lamrani explores the evolution of Japan as a maritime power since the end of World War II. Then we examine the ongoing trend of Japanese normalization with Stratfor Vice President of Strategic Analysis Rodger Baker. And Senior Analyst Sim Tack looks at the nature of and challenges posed by strategic intelligence failures from Pearl Harbor to today.


Ben Sheen [00:00:04] Welcome to a special edition of the Stratfor Talks podcast, marking the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I'm Ben Sheen. As the sun rose over the Pacific 75 years ago, hundreds of Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft were dispatched from six fleet carriers. Their destination? US naval installations, airfields and warships at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Franklin D. Roosevelt [00:00:28] December 7th, 1941. A date which will live in infamy. The United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

Ben Sheen [00:00:51] US President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the American people the following day.

Franklin D. Roosevelt [00:00:54] The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas, between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Ben Sheen [00:01:22] As the attack on Pearl Harbor unfolded, the Japanese military also moved against US forces in the Philippines, invaded Thailand and landed in the British colony of Malaya.

Franklin D. Roosevelt [00:01:31] Japan has therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area.

Ben Sheen [00:01:40] The Pacific War had begun. The Japanese war strategy hinged on massive initial blows that would surprise Allied fleets and air forces at ports or vulnerable airstrips. This would give Japan the maritime and air power advantage to rapidly seize its objectives and create an extended and heavily defended perimeter to protect both the home islands and Japan's newly acquired overseas resources before the Allies even had a chance to recover. The Japanese High Command had, however, underestimated the Allied will to fight.

Franklin D. Roosevelt [00:02:08] No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people and their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

Ben Sheen [00:02:24] The leaders of Imperial Japan had also underestimated the limits of their own resources and manpower. The sweeping push had hopelessly overextended Japanese forces, and nearly four years later, the war ended with Japan's surrender on September 2nd, 1945. In this special edition of the Stratfor Talks podcast, we'll speak with three analysts about issues and trends related to the Pearl Harbor attack 75 years ago that we still see unfolding today. Stratfor Vice President of Strategic Analysis Roger Baker will discuss the broader trend of Japanese normalization that has received increasing attention in recent decades. Then, we'll look at the nature of strategic intelligence failures ahead of the Pearl Harbor attack, and challenges still facing the intelligence community today, with Stratfor senior analyst Sim Tack. But let's begin with a conversation with Stratfor Senior Military Analyst Omar Lamrani about the evolution of Japan as a maritime power. Hi, Omar, thanks for joining me today.

Omar Lamrani [00:03:25] Thank you for having me.

Ben Sheen [00:03:26] So, a good place for me to jump off into this is looking at the post-war years when Japan effectively agreed to take a back seat when it came to its military and defense posture. There was a common perception, especially post-war, that Japan was effectively new to this military power. Looking at their Navy, that isn't necessarily the case. Can you talk us through some of the steps that Japan went through in terms of building a credible naval force when, effectively, they are still trying to not be perceived as a military power?

Omar Lamrani [00:03:55] Yes, Ben, that's absolutely true. So, after the end of World War II, the United States obviously, at that time, did not have an interest in seeing the revival of the Japanese Navy, which caused them quite a big headache in World War II. So they effectively stopped the Japanese from having a navy until 1954, when the Cold War was in full swing and the United States revisited the issue and, alongside the Japanese, they thought that it was a good time to restart Japan as a major maritime force, at least in the East Asian region, to act as a sort of defense shield and hedge in the growing menace from the Soviet Navy. So in 1954, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force was formed, and from the start, it was really created with the idea of working very closely and matching, rather, complementing, the United States Navy in certain ways. So, the United States Navy was designed as a force projection force and defensive force able to go around the globe and act where it needed to act. The Japanese could contribute in key ways and niche areas. They developed their anti-submarine warfare and mine hunting capabilities especially, and acted as a force to contain Soviet submarine incursions out of the Sea of Okhotsk into the wider Pacific, and also to act as an axillary force to the United States Navy.

Ben Sheen [00:05:18] Let's not forget that the Imperial Japanese Navy was a major naval power going into World War II, so Japan had that experience of developing, training and running a fully operational navy. As Japan developed into a major industrial and technological power, they had this capability to produce very high quality, high technology platforms as well.

Omar Lamrani [00:05:38] Absolutely, and even when we talk about the auxiliary nature of the Japanese force, at least initially, it still went on to develop really capable areas at the height of technological edge. Their capacity for anti-submarine warfare is unparalleled, perhaps, except by the United States. In later and later years, they even developed significant surface warfare vessels, in all areas, that can be explained away as defensive in nature. So, they never developed land attack cruise missiles. They never really adapted ways to attack onto a ground target. They are just now starting to think about developing amphibious capabilities, the ability to land troops on a defended island. But in all other areas, ballistic missile defense, anti-submarine warfare, mine hunting capabilities, anti-surface warfare, they're really strong, and they're amongst the best in the world.

Ben Sheen [00:06:33] It seems that they've got a really, really potent platform to build out on as well, and here is where relationships, with the United States, for example, pay dividends, because the US has a lot of experience when it comes to naval expeditionary warfare, amphibious assaults. We've seen crosstraining, haven't we? Between the Japanese Maritime Defense Force and, for example, the US Marine Corps.

Omar Lamrani [00:06:54] Yes, absolutely. Part of that is the Japanese, in recent years, have been fleshing out some of their capabilities. One aspect of that is to work very closely with the US Marine Corps to develop those amphibious capabilities that they have neglected. So, keep in mind, it's not that the Japanese never had amphibious capabilities. During World War II, they had the landing forces, the Special Landing Forces, and they were very, very good, and they ran amok amongst the Allied defenses in islands across the Pacific, but they were banned from having those, and so, they have been completely neglected over decades, and now they're going back and revisiting them as they look at shifting priority from the north and the Soviet threats towards the south and the rising Chinese force, and reequipping themselves and redirecting themselves towards that threat and that's where the United States comes in, as you explained, and working in conjunction to develop those amphibious forces and other aspects.

Ben Sheen [00:07:46] So to think, perhaps, about some of the factors that might be contributing to Japan's decision making when it comes to expanding its more offensive capability, they are living in an increasingly dangerous neighborhood now, aren't they? With the possibility of North Korea developing a credible nuclear deterrent, with a lot of territorial infighting in the South China Sea, with China developing as a military power, is Tokyo right to be concerned about its own security?

Omar Lamrani [00:08:11] Well, yes. If you look at it from Tokyo's perspective, it's certainly a matter of concern. Previously, they invested heavily, not only in their Maritime Defense Forces, but also on their army, focusing on Hokkaido and the threats from the north, but now everything is changing. It's becoming more diffuse. For instance, you have the twin threats of the North Korean nuclear program, and so they need to invest heavily in ballistic missile defense and looking at ways that they can work with the United States on that, but also obviously on the Chinese. The Chinese are presenting a threat that's very different from the Soviets. The Soviet Pacific fleet was really a threat concerned with air power, as well as submarines, and that's what they had to work to negate. The Chinese are coming up with a more traditional, rounded battleforce that includes a lot of surface warfare vessels, some submarines and even carriers now. The Japanese had to relook at that and figure out that they do need force projection, they do need to think about protecting their supply lines, their critical supply lines that go through the South China Sea and East China Sea. It's not just about locking up the Soviets around the Kuril Islands, it's also about protecting their supply lines. The rise of China, essentially, is pushing them towards being more rounded in their approach, rather than just a purely defensive force around their islands, even if it's a very technologically advanced defensive force. Now they're looking towards force projection,

Omar Lamrani [00:09:31] they're looking towards developing offensive missiles, amphibious capabilities, and becoming a traditional maritime power, essentially.

Ben Sheen [00:09:39] Very much so, and clearly, this is something that we will continue to track closely, both in the coming year and the coming decade. Omar, thank you so much for joining me today to talk about this.

Omar Lamrani [00:09:49] Thank you!

Ben Sheen [00:09:50] Omar Lamrani is a senior military analyst here at Stratfor. And here with me now is Roger Baker to talk about a trend that we're seeing in Japan that has accelerated over the last few years, and that's a move towards what we refer to as normalization. Before we really go into what that is, I would like to look at the transition of Japan, especially in the post-war years, because they went from being a major military, industrial empire to something else. What happened in the post-war years to Japan, Roger?

Roger Baker [00:10:29] Well, if you look at the way in which the United States demanded surrender at the end of World War II, in Japan, it basically ended the Japanese military and any ability of Japan to be able to again push out within the Pacific. At the time, the Japanese accepted this. In the constitution that the US helped to write, it prohibited collective self-defense, and it prohibited the Japanese to use their military effectively as an offensive force.

Ben Sheen [00:11:00] But correct me if I'm wrong, the inherent right to self-defense is something that's enshrined in UN law.

Roger Baker [00:11:06] Yeah, it's in the UN charter, and so it's a very unique position that Japan is in, but over time, people have grown used to that, and in some ways, seen it is as right, particularly in the region, that Japan should have renounced this forever, and therefore, if they've renounced the use of war forever, that should be held on them for all eternity.

Ben Sheen [00:11:27] So how was this actually enforceable, beyond a tacit agreement to not remilitarize, so to speak?

Roger Baker [00:11:33] Well, it's enforceable only by the Japanese of themselves. It's in their constitution, so only so far as the constitution is enforceable. What we've seen in Japan over the years is a constant reinterpretation of the constitution, and that reinterpretation can be both to allow Japan to do things, or to justify their choice in not doing things or not participating.

Ben Sheen [00:11:55] There must have been some events in the latter half of the 20th Century, that affected the way that Japan approached this issue. What do you think are some key points that we saw that might have changed the way that Tokyo thinks about the nature of its defense posture?

Roger Baker [00:12:09] Well, I think the first point really comes fairly soon after World War II, which is the Korean War, where the United States ultimately relies on Japan as a base of operations, as a place for munitions production, things of that sort. That really is what starts to change it. If you think about it, after World War II, the US doesn't disarm Germany, but it does supposedly disarm Japan. Well, that changes pretty quickly. Then, if you come into the more modern era, I would look at, maybe starting in the early 1990s, at the first Gulf War. Japan is accused of not pulling its weight. It's an international coalition, Japan just gives some money. No skin in the game. That's somewhat embarrassing for a country, if you think, at that time, it's not yet recognized that they're about to go into a 20 plus year malaise. They're seen as one of the rising powers in the world at the time, and yet they don't have that participation in international activity. Then, you move forward, you get to the capture of the Japanese embassy in Peru, where Japan recognized they don't have a deployable force to go and deal with that situation.

Ben Sheen [00:13:14] Something that most nations take for granted.

Roger Baker [00:13:15] Yeah, they don't even have a structure for being able to deploy a force, had they had a force to be able to deal with it. And then it starts to hit strong towards the end of the 1990s, when North Korea tested its first Taepodong missile, when the North Korean submarines are doing infiltrations, and the Japanese recognize there's really no way for them to defend and there's no communication mechanism between the Coast Guard and the Navy. There's no communication mechanism between the Navy and the Army that's an efficient mechanism. These are the things that start to change their internal dynamics.

Ben Sheen [00:13:46] So, the term we use specifically is normalization. Just to clarify, what do we mean by that, why don't we simply say remilitarization?

Roger Baker [00:13:53] Well, I think militarization suggests a total society. In other words, a militarized society. Japan had a militarized society going into World War II.

Ben Sheen [00:14:05] And we saw how that ended.

Roger Baker [00:14:06] Certainly, but the United States, for example, is not a militarized society. Japan is not pushing back into that space where all of society is focused around the military and the military capacity, and is mobilized in that way. Instead, what Japan is doing is, in some ways, normalizing, under the UN, to be the same way as other normal countries. It has three tools of foreign interaction. It has politics, it has economics, and it has a security leg.

Ben Sheen [00:14:33] Now, the United States has, for the longest time, been a guaranteer of security for Japan. How do you think changes in US foreign policy will affect Japan's decision to maybe accelerate normalization?

Roger Baker [00:14:44] Well, we've already seen that the United States has been a strong supporter of the acceleration of normalization by Japan, asking it, not only to pull its own weight, but to be the primary security force in Northeast Asia, aside from the United States. That's going to continue in that way. Secondarily is if the United States starts to have a lower presence in the region or not as overt a presence sometimes in the region. Japan still has the same issues to deal with there, so it pushes them in a path where they're much more responsible for their region. We've seen Japan already reach out. Japan is active in the Gulf of Aden. They have an overseas base in Djibouti. This path is going forward. The big question mark in Japan is, are they at a stage where society will back the change in the constitution, so that you formally break from this post-war period to the new period?

Ben Sheen [00:15:39] Well, clearly, this is an important trend that we'll continue to look for, in 2017 and beyond. Roger, thank you so much for joining me today to talk about this.

Roger Baker [00:15:47] Thank you.

Ben Sheen [00:15:48] That was Stratfor's Vice President of Strategic Analysis, Roger Baker. And here with me now is Stratfor Senior Analyst Sim Tack to talk about the nature of strategic warning, and actually using intelligence to forecast and predict potential threats. Sim, when we look at Pearl Harbor, this is clearly something that we have a great interest in, because fundamentally, we're in the business of forecasting, trying to predict what's going to happen fundamentally. One of the things that analysts in general like to look at in regards to Pearl Harbor is the fact that we simply didn't see it coming. What can you talk about in terms of the concept of strategic intelligence and that early warning capability?

Sim Tack [00:16:32] So, in the case of Pearl Harbor, one of the really interesting things about the situation is that, despite the fact that there was no immediate expectation of a military attack on the port of Pearl Harbor, the general tenor in the world at the time was very much one of Japan and the United States are going to war. There had been negotiations ongoing between both countries that were completely failing and falling apart, with several notes being exchanged between people involved in the negotiations, as well as people in the US military, talking about how these negotiations are going nowhere, we are close to a situation of war. But even though that dominated the mindset, there was no immediate translation of that to words actually realizing that there was an impending attack to take place on Pearl Harbor, which caught the Americans off-guard. Of course, caught the fleet sitting inside the port where it was an easy target for the Japanese, and that's one of the essential questions in dealing with intelligence in general, or strategic warning, even in cases today, where, how much can you take from all of the things that everyone sees moving in the world to forecast the world and what are those things that you're just simply not seeing?

Ben Sheen [00:17:48] Well, it seems like there were a couple of things at work here, and one is actually, when you do look at the circumstances and events that lead to armed conflict, there are rules. There are rules of war. Usually when there is a declaration of war, it's always like that's the starting pistol for hostilities to begin. But actually, this was an attack by subterfuge and using the element of surprise. But that's assuming, like you said, the conditions were set for conflict to take place, whereas now, where we live in a world of asymmetric threats, it's difficult to pinpoint where the next conflict zone might emerge from.

Sim Tack [00:18:21] Correct, but I would even draw attention to the way that people are looking to relations between the West and Russia right now. I think it's a very similar case, considering the escalatory talk that we've heard in the last few years, as we've seen Russia resurge, establish its activity in Eastern Ukraine and Syria. Out of NATO, we've seen a lot of activity in Eastern Europe to shore up the potential defense against Russia. While we might not realistically think, hey, World War III is about begin, there is a very real question in intelligence about, is Russia about to invade Eastern Europe? Even if the answer is a resounding no, it's a question you very much need to understand and need to consider.

Ben Sheen [00:19:08] So thinking about those signs that we can actually look for that might indicate something emerging, what specifically do you think it was about Pearl Harbor that meant that some of these signs were missed? The Japanese must have had to have mobilized a significant amount of material to conduct the attack, and that was overseen, and then to play it forward, does that potentially still exist in the modern world, to simply not see threats before the emerge?

Sim Tack [00:19:31] Well, you mentioned a really important thing there, where the US indeed did observe some changes in Japanese military behavior, some of it related to how they were collecting intelligence on Pearl Harbor and other locations in the US. Shortly before the attack, actually, the reporting by Japanese spies in these areas, which was being intercepted by US communications officers, it changed the format of reporting to become much more detailed. Suddenly, Pearl Harbor was divided into five different sectors instead of just one Pearl Harbor sector. Now, of course, the assumption by the Americans was, 'Oh, they are trying to shorten the messages that they are sending,' because sending shorter messages limits your chance of being discovered or located as you're sending radio broadcasts out. So that was simply misinterpreted instead of seeing it as a preparation of more granular intelligence to start that war. In addition to that, there were convoys originating from Japan, heading south at sea, which were then interpreted as a potential threat to Indochina and other areas. Of course, the Japanese were very smart about all of this, and they weren't simply going to send out a lot of ships and carriers and say, 'Hey, we're heading for Pearl Harbor.' The deception attempts, or the masquerade attempts, by the Japanese were very successful here. But most importantly, the American side ignored the diplomatic intelligence they were receiving. On a tactical, military level, there were certain broad assumptions that caused them to simply not consider

Sim Tack [00:21:05] the potential of a Japanese attack, which relates to the assessment of capabilities of Japanese aircraft. The way they assessed the range of these aircraft and where they could go simply excluded a potential attack on Pearl Harbor. Of course, the Japanese fixed this by using carriers and such. A second big wrong assumption that put Pearl Harbor at risk was the fact that American specialists thought that Japanese torpedoes would not be functional in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor. Of course, the Japanese fixed this as well, and as we saw during the attack, they were actually fairly effective. So that's all the military assumptions that make it more difficult for the US military to even consider that attack on Pearl Harbor, so they weren't really looking for it, but even when the diplomatic channels offered signals, one such message came from the Peruvian embassy, which the US simply dismissed. The message clearly stated, 'Hey, Japan is preparing an actual attack on the United States.' This was during the whole set of negotiations that was still ongoing, and thus, what you want to believe, where you want to put your effort into actually achieving something in that negotiation or prepare militarily for an attack, that can become difficult at that time.

Ben Sheen [00:22:21] So it seems like, looking back forensically with the benefit of hindsight, there were these signs that were either overlooked, or neglected, or simply weren't factored in, and we can see this in other cases. People often point to the 9/11 attacks, an example of a strategic intelligence failure, but when you go back and look at the signs, there were signs that were potentially overlooked. It makes the role of an analyst incredibly difficult, shifting through the noise and working out what's relevant, what's connected and what isn't. But actually, you can learn a lot from going back and seeing the things that were missed, and then trying to ensure they're not missed in the future. How do you think that plays into future intelligence gathering, if it's a methodology for making sure that we don't miss things?

Sim Tack [00:23:02] I think it puts a very, very big emphasis on the concept of imagination in intelligence, and it's a very difficult one to deal with, because on the one hand, you require your analysts to have a certain amount of imagination, because if you don't, then you will simply confirm the current state as the one that will continue, as you are unable to perceive the potential different scenarios in the future, but if you have too much of that imagination, or it runs wild in your organization, then you become the boy who cried wolf. That's the big juxtaposition within intelligence that will always exist, and it's one that needs to be carefully managed through trying to adjust your processes all the way down to the level of how analysts communicate and how they interact with collected materials, up to how actual reports are made up and provided to policymakers. That's simply a truth of the industry that will not disappear.

Ben Sheen [00:23:58] And these factors are currently at the forefront of our collective minds, as we put together our annual forecast for 2017. Sim, thank you so much for talking this through with me today.

Sim Tack [00:24:07] Thanks, my pleasure.

Ben Sheen [00:24:21] Thank you for joining us for this edition of the Stratfor Talks podcast, marking the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. A special thanks to Stratfor's Omar Lamrani, Roger Baker and Sim Tack for sharing their insight with us today. If you'd like to delve deeper into these trends still unfolding today, visit us at for more geopolitical intelligence, analysis and forecasting that reveals the underlying significance and future implications of emerging world events. Thanks for listening.

75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor
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