November 13, 2005


The pros and cons of an island nation: economic growth vs. national security (TERUHIKO MANO, 11/14/05, Japan Times)

In the early 1960s, I was working at Duesseldorf on my first assignment at the then Bank of Tokyo's operations in Germany. At that time, West Germany -- having experienced the Berlin Blockade and the Allied airlift operations right after the war -- was confronted with security risks because it was situated right next to the communist bloc, a risk that was alien to Japan as a nation surrounded by the sea.

One of my German friends warned me that Soviet military tanks could reach Duesseldorf in an hour. He also advised me to always carry my passport, saying that a number of his fellow Germans got into a lot of trouble because for not carrying documents that could prove their nationality. Such dangers in continental Europe, however, have radically been reduced since the end of the Cold War and the birth of the European Union.

The sense of crisis has hardly touched Japan. British Ambassador Graham Fry -- speaking from his position as a diplomat from another island country -- was joking when he said in a recent speech that the best solution to racial disputes is to create island nations each made up of just one race.

However, Japan's advantage of being an island nation is wearing off in Asia, where the Cold War still lingers on the Korean Peninsula, in the Taiwan Strait and in Japan's territorial dispute with Russia. Since both China and North Korea possess missiles, the sea surrounding Japan does not provide much of a defense anymore.

On the contrary, my recent visit to Germany reminded me of Japan's disadvantages as an island nation. One of them concerned cellular phone services.

Although some cell phones can be used to make international calls, most of the ones used in Japan are exclusively domestic. A shop at Narita airport that leases cell phones with international calling capability is popular among both incoming and outbound travelers. On the other hand, people in Europe take it for granted that they can use their "roaming" mobile phones across national borders.

So long as you're an ally of the U.S. -- England, Ireland, Bermuda, Iceland, New Zealand, Australia -- there is no downside to being an island nation and huge upside.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 13, 2005 7:20 PM
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