Our best ally in the Pacific, a place I personally love and where I have done a lot of business, has since WW2 sheltered under the American defensive envelope. But now it appears Japan may be rethinking that idea; rearmament is now being discussed. Excerpt:
The notion that the best defense is a good offense is gaining traction among Japanese decision-makers. On Aug. 4, newly appointed Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Tokyo would begin considering whether to allow its military to carry out pre-emptive strikes against overseas targets. Such a move would be a substantial reinterpretation of Japan’s post-World War II defense policy, which has generally abided by constitutional stipulations limiting the use of force to self-defense. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe quickly walked this back, saying he had no plans to consider the issue. Japan’s 2017 Defense White Paper, released the following day, made no mention of such a policy shift. But Abe did note that escalating threats from China and North Korea have made Japanese defense guidelines effectively obsolete — a sentiment echoed in the white paper.
Despite Abe’s dismissal of the issue, there’s enough smoke around pre-emptive strikes to suggest that Tokyo is taking the possibility seriously. In March, a research commission (of which Onodera was a member) set up by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party called for Japan to arm itself with long-range weapons to address the growing threat from North Korea. In May, following a visit to the Pentagon, Onodera said Washington had given Tokyo tacit approval to do so. Shortly thereafter, several reports alleged that Abe’s government was in discussions to buy Tomahawk cruise missiles from the U.S., potentially giving Japan the capability to pre-emptively disrupt a North Korean missile launch.
Japan has a fundamental desire and ability to project power and to give its military freer rein to operate abroad. A push for the Tomahawks would show how the emerging crisis on the Korean Peninsula is creating a sense of urgency in Tokyo to do so. But at the same time, Abe’s apparent unease with saying so publicly underscores the stiff domestic political currents that will, at least for now, keep Japan’s drive for a modern military from moving too fast.
Post-war treaties have discouraged Japan from re-arming before now – and, in truth, even now. But missile launches in Japan’s direction by the insane little gargoyle with bad hair in North Korea has a lot of folks in the Japanese government very nervous, which is a big part of their motivation for rearming.
Here’s where the plan may run awry, though: Japan isn’t the same nation it was in 1941. The Japanese people don’t look at things the same was as the Japanese people of 1941 did. Japan is today a pretty pacific society, a comfortable, wealthy, modern Western-style nation with an aging population and little appetite for things military. As the linked article points out: In the Japanese context, even if Tokyo can expand its offensive capabilities without Article 9 reform, public uneasiness with remilitarization is likely to suppress defense spending — currently at roughly 1 percent of GDP annually — and hinder Japan’s ability to lay the groundwork needed to act decisively in a crisis.
One percent of GDP is a pittance for a defense budget. But my experience with Japan is that most of the common folk there have little enthusiasm for raising that to any higher level of spending. But will they maintain that attitude if tensions with the Norks increase? If a Nork missile “accidentally” lands in Japanese territorial waters – or in a Japanese coastal village in Kyushu?
Were those (unlikely, but still) things to happen, we may well see a preference cascade take hold in Japan. The nation once had a strong, proud martial heritage; it’s not impossible to conclude that they may find that within themselves again.