Japan Ends 60-Year-Old Ban On Fighting Abroad
Japan took a historic step Tuesday by adopting a resolution to shift away from its post-war pacifism, which has kept the military from fighting abroad. In 1945, following the allied bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan signed a surrender and subsequently adopted a constitution which bars it from using force to resolve conflicts except in cases of self-defense.
|Shinzo Abe, Japanese Prime Minister|
The United States has welcomed the move, while China and South Korea whose people have suffered under Japan's occupation voice concern.
It is widely speculated that Abe fought for a landmark change to "contain" China's influence in the region. But some analysts argue that the move has been considered and debated for many years and for more than one reason.
Derek Mitchell, a senior analyst at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, made the following observation in 2005: "They are now talking about changing their constitution to say that their self-defense forces actually constitute a military. And there is also a sense that perhaps Japan's defense agency should be a full ministry, like any other country. So it is emerging out of its past, which was rather extraordinary and abnormal, into a more normal nation."
After World War II, occupied Japan had to dismantle its military and adopt a constitution that allows the use of arms only in case of an attack on the Japanese territory. Yuki Tatsumi, a research fellow with the East Asia program at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, said the relatively low cost of its collective defense force enabled Japan to channel its resources to other areas. "Because Japan didn't have to spend that much on defense, it was able to focus more on its economic development and it did lead to Japan's rapid economic growth which really hit the high note in the 1980s," said Tatsumi.
By the time its economy slowed in the 1990s, Japan was a major power, both in Asia and globally. The United States, Japan's World War II adversary, has become its staunch ally. Neighboring countries, once targeted by Japanese colonialists, are Tokyo's major trading partners. Japan has been contributing to global peace-building efforts. And it has served as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. But since the 1990s, the decline of the Japanese economy, the rise of China and India, global terrorist attacks and North Korea's provocations have shaken Japan from its pacifist complacency.
Muthia Alagappa, senior associate in the Asia Program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the 1991 Persian Gulf War was a major turning point. "The Japanese contribution was largely financial. They contributed some $11-12 billion, which is a large amount of money, but Japan never got recognition for that. Instead, Japan was blamed for not contributing in terms of blood."
Alagappa said the United States has put pressure on Japan to contribute military aid, including troops, toward international security efforts. But, he said, the mood has changed in Tokyo as well, especially after 1998 when North Korea conducted ballistic missile tests over Japanese waters and, starting in 2006, three nuclear tests. Japan's desire to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council is another reason, said Alagappa.
"If you are going to be a permanent member of the Security Council, then you have to partake in the collective enforcement efforts authorized by the Security Council," said Alagappa. "So there, I think, it's very difficult for Japan not to play a role just like other countries; like China and the U.S. and so forth. So I think it becomes increasingly important for Japan to be able to play a role as part of Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter," he said.
Thus, despite a strong pacifist undercurrent among the Japanese public, in 2004 then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi responded to the U.S. request by sending several hundred troops to Iraq on a non-combat mission.
Mitchell said there is no reason today why Japan's armed forces and foreign policy should be constrained by a post-World War II mind set. "After 60 years, I think, time has passed and Japan is a new Japan. They've had a different history over the past 60 years," he says. "Asia is different. The U.S. has evolved. And I think what you are going to see is a more normal Japan," said Mitchell. "There is a growing sense of nationalist pride. Now they can recognize a national anthem and a national flag - only in the past couple of years. And they feel that perhaps they ought to have a sense of themselves more. And with that goes the military."
Mitchell noted that Japan's so-called self-defense force has grown over the years, and now has ground, air and naval forces like most other nations. "They have advanced destroyers. They have advanced fighter jets. They have been developing their missile defenses and submarines. They have pretty advanced capabilities that they are developing, in helicopter carriers, that are able to project power," said Mitchell. He also said that Japan spends about 40 billion dollars a year on its armed forces, more than most other countries. So even if they call it differently, the Japanese possess a strong military, capable of flexing its muscle anywhere in the world.
But Japan's neighbors, whose memories of imperial Tokyo's atrocities from before and during World War II are still fresh, worry about a more assertive Japan in the global community. Japan's "normalization" may be needed for the security and stability of the region, but Tokyo may have to put some effort into reassuring its neighbors that they have no reason to fear it.