Japan’s Defense

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Japan’s defense is paramount to global peace. The Japanese Embassy in Islamabad will celebrate its 60th Defense Anniversary Day on 26 June as the debate about Japan’s defense continues. What is unique here is that Japanese soldiers cannot defend their motherland as soldiers do in other countries.

Japan’s defense has been tied up with the United States through a defense treaty knitted in 1951, at the time of the signing of the San Francisco peace treaty. The treaty restored Japanese sovereignty but questions remained unanswered about its dignity. It was a double-sword cutting-off strategy to disable Japan’s defense right in the global arena orchestrated after 1945 by victor powers against a defeated nation – Japan.

The Japanese Peace Constitution of 1947, drafted by the United States under Article 9, forever renounces war as an instrument for settling international disputes and declares that Japan will never again maintain ‘land, sea, or air forces or other war potential’. Had Japan been a victor, the whole strategy would have been the other way round.

However, much water has passed under the bridge. Let’s enable Japan to function as a ‘normal state’ like other sovereign states. Prime Minister Shizo Abe is absolutely right when he asks for reinterpretation of the Japanese Constitution allowing Japan to perform its military role in the world arena. This is not the re-militarization of Japan. This is the normalization of Japan’s constructive military role.

The punishment to the Japanese defense has been there for decades. Therefore, Japan concentrated more on its economic development. It rose as the most peaceful nation after 1945 and the nation’s soldiers did not fire a single bullet against another nation. This is enough to understand the Japanese peace strategy and its role in Asia-Pacific.

The post-war imperial system, Diet, Prime Minister and his Cabinet are symbols of peace, development, and cooperation. The system embodies global principles in light of Japanese history and values to promote peace amongst nations. The national check and balance system, in the shape of the Diet, virtually controls and democratizes Japan’s defense.

Nevertheless, with massive changes taking place in global security paradigms, particularly affecting the Asia-Pacific region, the post 1945 restrictions on the part of the Japanese military such as the core restriction of de-militarization should be reconsidered by global powers signed the San Francisco treaty, US-Japan bilateral defense treaty, and Japanese Constitution to enable the nation to continuously play an effective and responsible role in Asia-Pacific and at the global level as a ‘normal state’.

Japan’s right to collective self-defense should permit Japanese defense forces to extend help to other forces even if Japan was not attacked. Japanese self-defense forces (Ground Self-Defense Forces, Maritime Self-Defense Forces, and Air Self-Defense Forces) should be called Defense Forces as they are known in other countries. This change could be introduced through the Constitution, which Prime Minister Abe is seeking at the current Diet session.

These amendments are indispensible now; otherwise Japan would be an ‘ineffective global power’ and at the mercy of another power to check the forces of temptations around Japanese waters and in other areas. In the fight against global terrorism, the Japanese have played an effective and democratic role in the post-9/11 arena. This is another reminder to understand the peaceful role of Japan.

Moreover, Japan’s neighbor, North Korea, detonated three nuclear blasts in 2006, 2009, and 2013 and a number of missile launchings. These developments have challenged Japanese defense and its sovereignty. Should Japan depend on the United States to thwart off these threads or as a sovereign power to respond to these security challenges? A militarily disabled Japan cannot wholly solely challenge these threads. Unfortunately, the prestigious and dignified nation is at the mercy of an ally to defend it.

Furthermore, the rise of China is yet another challenge for Japan and it needs to equip itself against this challenge. The new potential military build-ups in Asia-Pacific would disturb the power equilibrium by creating apprehensions leading to global conflicts. Japan needs a preventive military strategy to cope with such challenges. Hence a new legal base should be provided to enable Japan to cope with new challenges. As part of many regional alliances, suspicions about Japan’s future role should be ended.

Additionally, countries that were in the forefront of imposing harsh restrictions on Japanese defense during parlays leading to the conclusion of the San Francisco peace treaty, are now backing an increased security role for Japan and extending it military cooperation. For example, Australia now forges close military ties with Japan.

To increase its military role in Asia-Pacific, Japan mainly concentrates on ASEAN, Australia, and India. Japan needs to be more cautious in its South Asian approach by appropriately allocating importance to Pakistan as a nuclear power, an important thumb in the Islamic world, and a lunching-pad of economic activities in Central Asia by building mega projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

In short, the incorporation of changes in Japan’s Constitution would bring a major shift in the nation’s security paradigm. A Japanese Diet-drafted Constitution would create a new sense of belonging amongst the Japanese people. This would thwart away security threats and challenges faced by Japan.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ISS or of the Government of Pakistan.