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Land of the Rising Gun
A Showdown on Japanese Pacificism

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had a long to-do list in his quest to remilitarize Japan. His cabinet voted last July to reinterpret Article 9 of the post-war constitution—the “renunciation of war” section—in a highly contentious move that, Abe claims, theoretically allows Japan to go to war for reasons other than direct self-defense. But there’s a long way from claiming that making war for “collective self-defense” is not technically forbidden by the constitution to actually making it legal.

Now, the (slightly reshuffled) Abe cabinet is taking the plunge. On May 14, it voted in favor of bills that would make Japan’s new stance on defense the law of the land. Reuters reports:

Japan’s cabinet approved on Thursday bills to implement a drastic shift in security policy allowing the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War Two, although the public is divided and wary over the changes.

The planned changes, reflected in new U.S.-Japan defense guidelines unveiled last month, set the stage for Japan to play a bigger role in the bilateral alliance as Tokyo and Washington face challenges such as China’s growing military assertiveness.

As we wrote earlier this week, a lot of things are coming together for Abe’s push to transform Japan: Tokyo is set to start selling its arms on the international market, it’s standing up to China in regional territorial disputes, its annual military spending is set to pass the symbolically important threshold of 1 percent of GDP, it is deepening its ties with the U.S. on defense, and the constitutional reinterpretation has effectively been adopted.

Yet even with Cabinet approval, the new rules aren’t through the gauntlet yet. They still have to pass the Diet, Japan’s parliament. Their chances are good, given that Abe’s coalition holds a majority in the upper house and his party, the LDP, holds a strong majority in the lower house. If these bills do make it through the Diet, Abe will have won, any way you measure it.

But with a confused and divided public, neither passage nor what comes after is certain. And no matter what happens, this debate isn’t about to go away as an issue in Japanese politics; the taboo against militarization runs very deep in Japanese post-War culture, and the authors of the Constitution did not want to make is easy for anyone to do what Abe has been doing.

Perhaps no region will determine the global geopolitical climate of the future as much as Asia. As China tries to realize its ambitions to be a global great power and regional hegemon, this somewhat arcane argument about Japanese constitutional law and parliamentary proceedings is a big part of the battle for the future of power in Asia.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    In decades following WWII, we got comfortable with defending Japan from virtually nothing to threaten Japan. In the age of China and North Korea, we can’t really do it except with the threat of using nukes which we cannot use on a first-strike basis (“MAD”, you know.) So. Japan will need to re-militarize to a degree.

    • JR

      The fact that we managed to keep Japan, and it’s samurai fighting spirit, a pacifist country for as long as we did in a miracle in and of itself. But you’re right. Japan will re-militarize very quickly. What is your over-under on what year Japan announces itself as nuclear power?

      • f1b0nacc1

        If Iran gets their deal, 5 years, likely a lot less.

      • FriendlyGoat

        I doubt if Japan will be going to nuclear weapons soon because they have ours as an umbrella, and almost all rational nations know they cannot really be used. (As an aside, we also know that Islamic-led places are not necessarily rational.)

        Japan, though, “might” want to pursue nukes simply to warn off the crazy Kim of DPRK. And, there again, that would be something prompted by a neighbor that appears to not be in “rational” mode.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    China is unworthy of being a hegemon, its entire economy was uplifted by foreign investors building state of the art factories in China to take advantage of cheap Chinese labor. With the rising cost of Chinese labor, and China’s belligerence and territorial ambitions against all its neighbors, the risks of investing have become too high and the foreign investors and their state of the art factories and money are gone. And what does China have to show for the 30 years of uplifting? Choking air pollution, empty cities, buildings, and high speed trains, and not a single recognizable world class brand name like Microsoft, Apple, Intel, Google, Sony, Toyota, Samsung, etc… There isn’t a single product China makes that can’t be replaced or built in a different country, and at a lower price and less risk.

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