Whales, International Trade, and National Security

In late February, I began to consider the linkages between whales and warfare. I’m a bit of a news junkie and lately I have very good reason to pay particular attention to international policy issues between Japan and the U.S., and how the ‘politics of whales’ might factor into the broader political landscape between these two global economic superpowers.

As it turns out, some interesting events soon unfolded within key trade issues. Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, traveled to Japan several times for high-level negotiations on beef trade issues – Japan is a huge market for U.S. beef, and for other commodities as well. Japan is the third-largest foreign market for U.S. agricultural products, with total agricultural exports valued at $11.2 billion in FY 2009, an almost 15% increase over the $9.7 billion in agricultural exports recorded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in FY 2007. Japan is a major market for many U.S. products, including chemicals, pharmaceuticals, films and music, commercial aircraft, nonferrous metals, plastics, and medical and scientific supplies. Additionally, revenues from Japanese tourism to the United States reached nearly $14.6 billion in 2008.

But as important as these issues are, there’s a more important issue that eclipses all of these… the Okinawa military base.

You may have heard that Japanese Prime Minister (PM) Yukio Hatoyama recently resigned after failing to deliver on a campaign promise to close the U.S. Okinawa Air Force base in southern Japan, a popular and contentious issue among Okinawans. After a plummeting approval rating among his constituents and calls for his resignation, PM Hatoyama publically issued an apology for failing to reach a satisfactory deal with the Obama Administration, and resigned on June 2nd.

So then it occurred to me. We (the U.S.) want Okinawa and markets for manufactured goods. The Japanese wants our products and… commercial whaling rights? At the time, it didn’t seem so far-flung an idea.

And now, prior to the onset of the IWC Plenary meeting, advocacy groups like ACS are suddenly informed that this issue, per White House communique, is one of ‘national security.’ So….you’ve got to wonder, are whales just one piece in a myriad of much larger trade/economic/military policy?

Of course they are. Many of my colleagues may disagree, or don’t want to consider whales as a part of a bigger trade network. But since when have whales that don’t actually work for the Navy been an issue of ‘national security’ in their own right?

So, in addition to having to keep abreast of all of the cetacean-related news out there, those of us who care about whales have yet another task – assiduously keep apprised of all international and political news.

You never know what connections you’ll make between whales and other seemingly unrelated issues.

What do you think?

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6 Comments on “Whales, International Trade, and National Security”

  1. Marilynn Block Says:

    Of course Obama’s support for legal whaling has to do with trade with Japan. Please, read between the lines.

  2. Uko Gorter Says:

    You may be on to something here. Sad to think the whales are used as bargaining chips and still regarded as commodities.
    Thank you for keeping us all informed, Cheryl.

  3. skott Says:

    i think that you’re making a very fair observation.

    japan thinks of whales as a commodity, not an entity.
    the US thinks of the $$ that they have involved with Japan.
    the US is very willing to trade whales for $$ especially if we don’t have to have the blood on our hands, literally.
    even better, the gov’t can make righteous claims that they don’t approve of what the japanese govt is doing, even thought the US is complicit.

    i wonder about the Tuna issue, though, too.

  4. JOE BAKER Says:

    wouldn’t put it past our government. for your information i am not a tea party member. i’m just a little disapointed in out govt.

  5. Betsy Says:

    Wow, Cheryl. You nailed it.
    How I wish it not true but ….

  6. cindy rustanius Says:

    It seems to always come back to $$, especially in today’s economic times. Good insight, I believe, Cheryl.

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