Japan’s Militarisation


Ever since the ban on Japan’s military and its use to settle international disputes after World War II, there has been serious debate about the role of Japanese military forces at home and abroad. Japan’s Pacifist Constitution was drafted in about a week by the staff of General Douglas MacAuthor. The Constitution came into effect on 3 May 1947 which stipulates:

“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognised.”

The renouncing war article was inserted on the advice of Prime Minister Kijuro Shidehara.

Japan is now many steps ahead. It has become a “normal country”, which maintains land, sea and air forces. Now the Self Dense Forces (SDF) would participate in what Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says in “collective defense abroad” even if Japan was not attacked. Japan would share more responsibilities. It is no longer a militarily disabled country. Would the step be useful for Japan and the United States? This would be much clear in the coming years.

The legislation passed by the national Diet on 19 September was the most controversial legislation ever passed by the Diet in the past 70 years, ending a ban on Japan’s forces to act internationally. The opposition could not stand in front of 148 votes, opposing only 90. Abe was banking for long to reinterpret Article IX of the Pacifist constitution.

The legislation would be a great challenge for Japan in coming days and one has to see how Japan would respond to the challenging situation on the Korean Peninsula, around South China Sea, defining territorial row with Russia (18 Kuril Islands), Takashina/Dokkdo dispute with the Republic of Korea, and fast evolving situation in the Middle East where Japan faces a dilemma about its policy toward the Israel and Palestine issue and the Islamic State. Peace in Afghanistan is yet another pressing challenge. Japan’s SDF might be in close contact with the United States on these issues.

In this new situation how much Japanese diplomacy and economic performance would take part, and how Japan would seek a military solution, would be daunting challenges. Many at home disagree with this changed position of their country. But Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition forces once again “changed the destiny” of their people and pushed them into world’s conflicts if not wars at the moment.

Controversy is always there about Japan’s role in security matters overseas. The Allied Powers considered Japan the most belligerent nation. They militarily disabled Japan so that Japan should not become a threat to other nations. This also means that this arrangement does not need any more. The impact of the legislation has to be seen on the US-Japan security treaty signed in 1951. Since the 1980s, United States pushing Japan to share strategic responsibilities in Asia-Pacific.

By expanding the scope of logistic support to the United States, including refueling and transport activities, the legislative change also enables Japan and the United States to work together seamlessly, from peacetime to emergencies. Conflict with North Korea and rising tension with China, and the Middle East crises would drag Japan into conflicts.

Earlier, Japan used to be reluctant to swiftly respond to many international crises. Now realities have become different. Japan could not remain indifferent and pacifist on these issues. Japanese military and Foreign Ministry have to work more toward their practical responses to these issues.

Many in East Asia worry about Japan re-militarisation. ‘The US will welcome a more active Japanese military as it seeks to check China’s military build-up in the South China Sea and encourage its ally to play a more active role in their security alliance’, writes Guardian newspaper on 18 September.

The United States views Japanese security laws from point of view of countering China.Would Japan be able to tackle China’s problem for the United States? China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told briefing on 18 September. “We demand that Japan earnestly listen to these just voices domestically and internationally, learn the lessons of history, uphold the path of peaceful development, speak and act cautiously in security and military matters and take actual steps to maintain regional peace and stability”.

Reacting to security laws passed by the Diet, China accused Japan of “threatening regional peace”. A Xinhua editorial added that Japan’s new security bills “not only broke Japan’s promise to the world after World War II, but also betrayed its own people”.
China has been slashing its troops. On victory parade celebration on 3 September, President Xi Jinping’s announced to cut-off 300,000 troops of the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA). Japanese National Diet, however, re-militarised Japan. Tension is already high in South China Sea and with this new legislation relations could further worsen between the two nations.

The legislation has introduced a new puzzle. Article IX has been retained. It has not been reinterpreted or scraped. It remains intact. However, at the same time, new laws were introduced by allowing Japanese army to take part in conflicts abroad by resolving them by the use of force. This is the fundamental contradiction of the new legislation. “How could one be unmarried and married at the same time”?

Has Japan really become a ‘normal” State after this new legislation? The fundamental question has not been touched at all: the Diet must write its own Constitution. One has to see when the Meiji Constitution of 1889 would be reinforced or when the National Diet rewrites its own Constitution than living on a foreign made Constitution written in haste. This would make Japan a complete “normal” country.

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