Kim Jong Un's missiles may be final nail for Japan's pacifism

TOKYO — The two ballistic missiles that North Korea fired over Japan in September sent ordinary Japanese citizens scrambling for cover, rattled financial markets, and shocked a region long accustomed to a tense peace. But amid the crisis, one man’s stock appears to be rising. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s public approval ratings have surged along with his prospects for revising the country’s pacifist constitution, acquiring more powerful weapons, and confronting China’s rising regional clout.

While Abe hopes his growing stature will allow him to bolster Japan’s military in the face of multiple threats beyond North Korea, he risks alarming neighbors who have not forgotten the horrors of its World War II-era expansion.

“In a sense, it’s as if China and North Korea are supporting Abe’s popularity,” said Yukihisa Fujita, a lawmaker with the opposition Democratic Party. Fujita worries that Abe’s moves will cause “unnecessary mistrust and tensions, not only by governments but also people in other countries.”

Abe had set a deadline to revise the Japanese constitution by 2020 — the year Tokyo will host the Olympic Games — to formalize Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) as an actual military. While a mostly symbolic move, it’s one that feeds red meat to his conservative base.

Abe is moving ahead with plans to purchase more advanced weaponry capable of offensive operations, such as Tomahawk cruise missiles and the first batch of an order for 42 advanced F-35s fighter jets from the United States. He’s also beefing up Japan’s defenses by adding a land-based missile defense system called Aegis Ashore to its sea-borne capabilities.

All of this will be paid for by the country’s most sustained stretch of military funding increases in a generation. Abe has pumped up Japan’s military budget every year since he’s been in office. For 2018, he’s asking for 2.5 percent more for the Ministry of Defense — a princely total budget of $48.2 billion.

Japanese and American hawks have long argued that Tokyo’s military spending is too low relative to its more militaristic neighbors. After all, Japan’s SDF already walks and talks like a real military. With nearly 250,000 standing soldiers, Asia’s most powerful navy and some of its most advanced military technology, Japan already ranks among the world’s top 10 defense spenders.

“We have a full-fledged military, but we are saying that these are self-defense forces, that these are quasi-military forces,” said military analyst Narushige Michishita. “So it’s a big lie.”

Michishita and other analysts reject the notion that more weapons for Japan would spark a regional arms race. They contend Abe’s militarization will maintain the current balance of power rather than allowing Japan to yield ground to China.

“There is right now a one-sided arms race that China is winning,” said Jeff Kingston, a professor of Japanese history at Temple University’s Tokyo campus. That China and South Korea might take exception to Japan’s more aggressive posture is predictable, he said. Beijing and Seoul regularly invoke Japan’s history of war crimes for domestic consumption.

But for all of its defensive logic, most troubling for Abe’s opponents both inside and outside Japan is the prime minister’s subtle but noticeable revival of nationalist rhetoric and authoritarianism — the kind of talk that reminds many in East Asia of the years of jingoism that led to World War II.

Fujita, the opposition lawmaker, warned against rhetoric that could damage Japan’s standing across the region. “I have a belief that a nation’s surest defense is the trust and gratitude of its neighbors,” he said.

Most surprising to many Japanese is the sudden mutual affection between Abe and American president Donald Trump, who is widely reviled in Japan. As North Korea’s threats accelerated this year, Trump phoned Abe far more often than he dialed South Korea’s liberal Prime Minister Moon Jae-in.

Trump and Abe also played golf at the president’s Florida resort in February — something which didn’t play well among much of Japanese public, Kingston said. “They see Trump as this ignorant man-child who is creating huge security problems for everybody in the region, and nobody knows to what extent they can really rely on him.”

While the love-in with Trump and overtures toward militarization attract support during confrontations with North Korea and play well with Abe’s right-wing base, they are ultimately shortsighted, said Fujita and Yoichi Funabashi, chairman of the Tokyo-based Asia Pacific Initiative.

Even though Trump had criticized Japan during his campaign for freeloading off America’s military might, more militarization could backfire by convincing Trump that Japan no longer requires U.S. support, Funabashi said. “I think that could induce or tempt the United States to lessen U.S. commitments to Japan’s defense. There has emerged more inward-looking tendencies in the U.S., and now the U.S. is more nakedly exposed to North Korea's [missile] threat.”

– edited from NBC News, September 18, 2017
PeaceMeal, Sept./October 2017

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Japan lower house of parliament OKs expanded military role

TOKYO — Japan’s lower house of parliament on uly 16 approved legislation that would allow an expanded role for the nation’s military in a vote boycotted by the opposition. The vote came one day after Prime Minster Shinzo Abe’s ruling bloc forced the bills through a committee despite intensifying protests.

Opposition lawmakers walked out after their party leaders made final speeches against the bills. Only members of the Japan Restoration Party voted for their counterproposal and against the ruling party legislation.

Abe wants to strengthen the military’s role to counter China’s growing presence in the region and contribute more to international peacekeeping efforts. The legislation was crafted after his Cabinet last year adopted a new interpretation of Japan’s pacifist constitution, which was drafted by the United States and has been in place since a year after the end of World War II.

Opponents, including lawmakers, legal experts and academics, counter that the new interpretation is unconstitutional. Polls show that about 80 percent of Japanese find the bills hard to swallow, and the majority of them say they think the legislation is unconstitutional.

The legislation moved to the upper chamber of parliament for further debate and a vote within 60 days. If the upper house votes down the legislation or fails to vote within 60 days, it will be sent back to the lower house for a final say.

However, the lower house’s approval virtually guarantees enactment of the legislation into law because its more powerful decision overrides the upper chambers vote.

– edited from The Associated Press, July 16, 2015
PeaceMeal, July/August 2015

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Japan to confront decades-old secret nuke pact with U.S.

A decades-old secret pact between Tokyo and Washington that allowed U.S. ships and aircraft to carry nuclear weapons on stopovers in Japan is the subject of an investigation by Japan’s new government. Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said that the findings of the investigation will be announced in January. “We’ll be unburdening ourselves of the insistence of past governments that a secret agreement did not exist,” Okada said in a speech November 21. The pact violates a Japanese law that prohibits nuclear weapons from being made, possessed or stored on its territory. Existence of the 1960s-era agreement has been generally known for years because of declassified U.S. government documents, but the Japan government’s insistence on an official investigation has placed new strain on U.S.-Japanese relations.

The traditionally close U.S.-Japan alliance has been knocked off balance in recent months by new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s insistence that Japan be more assertive in controlling the heavy footprint of U.S. military forces on its soil. The U.S. government is treaty-bound to defend Japan in case of attack, and it has about 36,000 military personnel based there.

During President Obama’s recent visit to Japan, he and Hatoyama agreed to create a bilateral working group of high-level officials to resolve a dispute over location of the U.S. Marine air station o

n Okinawa. Noise and pollution from the base annoys local residents. But the leaders have since disagreed over the working group’s purpose. Obama says it should focus only on implementing a three-year-old agreement to allow the air station to be relocated on Okinawa. Hatoyama  has  said  he  wants  the  air  station  moved off Okinawa or outside Japan.

The dispute over the air station has become a highly publicized symbol of Japan’s new forcefulness in negotiations with its most important ally. It is also an early political test of the leadership ability of Hatoyama and his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which won a crushing victory in recent lower-house parliamentary elections and is preparing for another election in the upper house next summer.

Although both governments insist that U.S. vessels no longer bring nuclear weapons into Japan, publicity about the secret pact is almost certain to embarrass the Liberal Democratic Party. Until this fall, the LDP had ruled Japan as a virtual one-party state for nearly half a century and quietly decided in the 1960s to ignore the law when nuclear-armed U.S. ships entered Japanese ports.

– edited from The Washington Post, 24 November 2009
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2009

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Japan’s nuclear weapons taboo is fading

Ever since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the Japanese people have possessed a strong aversion to the idea of nuclear weapons. Public discussion of developing nuclear weapons has been practically nonexistent, and politicians have been chastised for mentioning the topic. As recently as 1999, Japan’s vice defense minister resigned after receiving overwhelming criticism for suggesting that Japan should arm itself with nuclear weapons.

This “nuclear weapons allergy” has existed alongside a generally pacifist society that has highly constrained itself militarily and politically following World War II. Japan’s Constitution — drafted by U.S. occupation forces after World War II and unchanged since 1947 — bars the country from employing military force in international disputes and prohibits it from having a military for warfare. Article 9 — the “peace clause” — of the Japanese Constitution asserts that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation.”

But Japan has been slowly shedding taboos linked to its war defeat. In recent years with growing nationalism, Japan has sought to become a more mainstream country, especially involving matters of defense and diplomacy. Japan has shown more interest in becoming a regional leader and global player — even expanding its military capability, with encouragement from the U.S.

The Japanese government first re-interpreted the Constitution to allow the establishment of a 240,000-strong “Self-Defense Force” to protect itself. The government presented a further re-interpretation of its pacifist Constitution in 1992 that enabled the dispatch of troops to participate in international peacekeeping operations in non-combat roles. Japan sent warships to assist the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. In 2004, the dispatch of 600 Japanese non-combat troops to help with reconstruction in Iraq was the first since World War II to a country where fighting is under way. And in December 2006, Japan’s parliament passed a bill to create a cabinet-level defense ministry for the first time since World War II.

The “peace clause” of Japan’s Constitution has come under particular attack. Present and former members of the Diet (national parliament) have formed an organization to revise the Constitution by eliminating Article 9. Meanwhile, the Article 9 Society, established in 2004 by prominent intellectuals and public figures to save Article 9, has grown to 7,000 branches nationwide, rivaling as a grassroots political mobilization the anti-Vietnam war movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. The A9 Society promotes the existing Constitution as a global model. And to the dismay of revisionists, the more they attack Article 9, the stronger public support for it becomes, reaching two-thirds in a May opinion survey by the Asahi newspaper.

Most surprisingly, the attitude toward nuclear weapons has begun to change. The attitude shift is evident in the growing prevalence and acceptance of the subject in public discourse. High-level Japanese officials, such as current Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and his predecessor Shinzo Abe, have made several public statements in recent years regarding the nuclear threat presented by Japan’s neighbors, the need for deterrence in the region, and the possibility of development of nuclear weapons. Just a few years ago, broaching these subjects openly would have been unpopular and near political suicide, but the Japanese public is now less critical.

While these developments mostly encompass asserting the right to debate nuclear options rather than debating the options themselves, they represent a major shift. Although Japan is by no means even considering nuclear weapons development seriously, still, as a fervent supporter of non-proliferation, Japan’s attitude change could harm the already teetering Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The 1970 treaty is the cornerstone of both non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament.

To date, Tokyo has been a foremost advocate of the NPT — as opposed to the current administration in Washington, which has rejected the treaty’s obligation to disarm. The binding nature of international agreements relies on support from its signatories. So although Japan may never violate the treaty, if Tokyo is perceived as being less supportive as it opens up domestically on the nuclear weapons issue, the effect on an already vulnerable NPT could be dire.

– edited from Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists web edition, AsiaTimes.com and Pax Christi USA
PeaceMeal, July/August 2008

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Breaking taboo, Japan creates defense ministry
New defense minister criticizes U.S. war in Iraq

Japan’s parliament passed a bill in December 2006 to create a cabinet-level defense ministry for the first time since World War II. Since its defeat by the United States, Japan has had a defense “agency” with lower standing than full-fledged ministries.

 Japan’s Constitution — drafted by U.S. occupation forces after World War II and unchanged since 1947 — bars the country from employing military force in international disputes and prohibits it from having a military for warfare. But Japan has been slowly shedding taboos linked to its war defeat. The government first interpreted the Constitution to allow the establishment of a 240,000-strong “Self-Defense Force” to protect itself. The government presented a further interpretation of its pacifist Constitution in 1992 that enabled the dispatch of troops to participate in international peacekeeping operations in non-combat roles. Japan sent warships to assist the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. And in 2004, the dispatch of 600 Japanese non-combat troops to help with reconstruction in Iraq was the first since World War II to a country where fighting is under way.

Upon taking over as prime minister in late September, Shinzo Abe said his priorities would be to revise the U.S.-imposed pacifist Constitution and eliminate the longtime ban on engaging in collective self-defense. Abe has now already upgraded the country’s defense agency to a full ministry, introduced “education reform” to provide for nationalist indoctrination in Japanese schools, and is promoting a referendum to rewrite the Constitution to allow Japan to again have a military in name. Japan already has one of the world’s biggest military budgets at 4.81 trillion ($41.6 billion) a year.

PM Abe’s constitutional revision idea is focused mainly on eliminating the clause that bans the use of force as a means of settling international disputes. Although a world economic power, Japan has relied heavily on U.S. military might and largely deferred to the U.S. in foreign policy. “Now is the time for us to boldly revise this postwar regime and make a new start,” Mr. Abe declared in a key policy speech to the Japanese parliament in mid-January. He said a stronger deterrent is needed to the threat posed by neighboring North Korea, which recently sent shock waves through the region with ballistic missile launches and its first test of a nuclear device.

Only the small opposition Social Democratic and Communist parties opposed the elevation of the Defense Agency. The change gave the former defense Director-General, Fumio Kyuma the new title of “Defense Minister.” Ironically, just weeks after being installed in that role, Mr. Kyuma openly criticized the U.S. war in Iraq as “a mistake.” Kyuma, who previously supported Japan’s participation in the U.S. occupation of Iraq, made his remarks within hours after President Bush delivered his State of the Union address defending his plan to escalate the Iraq war.

Mr. Kyuma’s comments were at odds with his government’s previous support for the Bush Administration’s “war on terror” and the deployment of Japanese troops to Iraq — a move that was deeply unpopular among the Japanese people. Japan pulled all its troops back out of Iraq last year.

The U.S. State Department immediately lodged a protest at the Japanese embassy in Washington DC over Mr. Kyuma’s criticism, and PM Abe warned Kyuma to be careful about his words.

However, Mr. Abe’s push for constitutional revision faces intense opposition in Japan over concerns that the changes he wants may lead to extreme nationalism like that of the pre-1945 years, divert funds to military growth and away from domestic social projects, and allow the country to be pulled into dangerous missions backing the United States in the Middle East or elsewhere.

– edited from Agence France-Presse, The Associated Press and World Socialist Web Site
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2007

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)