Japan’s new global role – a turning point in Tokyo

After the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last Friday, his party won an overwhelming majority in the parliamentary elections over the weekend. The Liberal Democrats certainly received a lot of sympathy for Abe, but the election result was largely an expression of how Japanese public opinion was thinking about the important Article 9 issue that was once overseen by Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the US occupation forces in Japan. to the Japanese constitution. Article 9 prohibited Japan from using any military force. It was a decision Washington later regretted.

After World War II, Japan changed dramatically. The country has become a democracy and has experienced remarkable economic growth. The United States needed allies against the Soviet Union in the Pacific, and Japan found itself in a key geographical position. The main Soviet port in the Pacific was Vladivostok, but Soviet ships could not reach the wider Pacific without traversing the narrow passages between the great Japanese islands.

An article on Japanese pacifism

During the Cold War, the Soviets looked for different ways to deploy their larger naval forces in the Pacific. The US feared that Japan would not be able to maintain a narrow corridor against the Soviets without its own significant naval and air forces. Although America had its own necessary air and naval forces, faced with the Soviet challenge in Europe and the Atlantic, it was reluctant to withdraw troops to Japan. That’s why Washington tried to arm Japan: the country posed no threat to the United States – and should have a blockade against the Soviets.

But the Japanese refused, citing Article 9 – which Tokyo pointed out was written by the Americans themselves in the Japanese constitution. Nevertheless, Washington tried to use Japanese resources to support US goals. On the other hand, the Japanese stuck to the part of the constitution that was a historical burden for them. But Tokyo did not want to spend a lot of money on the navy. Instead, he preferred to invest en masse – in the auto industry, for example, which would later challenge American car makers.

Several Japanese governments from various parties defended Article 9 until the Japanese Supreme Court ruled that Tokyo could not do without military strength to defend Japan. It has been argued that the government has an almost inherent responsibility to protect its citizens and therefore an armed force limited to the defense of Japan should be created.

Since then, Japan has built up considerable military power, while adhering to the principle of Art. 9 and limiting the amount of support it would give the United States in the Pacific. As the world’s third largest economy, Japan has sufficient resources for a powerful army, and such an army could also enable the country to defend US military interests in the region. Recently, however, Tokyo extended its Article 9 pledge by declaring that Taiwan’s security was essential to Japan’s defense. If Taiwan falls into Chinese hands, China could threaten southern Japan.

Japanese turning point

This brings us to the present and weekend choices. The Liberal Democratic Party of the late prime minister strongly supported the amendment of the constitution in order to remove Art. 9. This would allow Japan to support its military. It would also enable Japan to mentally move beyond WWII by relinquishing the constraints that set it apart from all other countries. In this way, Japan would become the great power it might have been for decades, but so far has avoided it. Both because of the memory of the old days and because he wanted to avoid the risks and challenges of a great power.

The waiver of Article 9 is attractive to Japan now that China has become more aggressive – at least rhetorically. As a major power, Japan could deter and even intimidate China if it were to act in alliance with the United States. A modernized Japan would be a more valuable partner for the United States, but it would also give Tokyo its own options if Washington did not deploy enough forces to protect Japan in the event of a crisis.

Japan is the world’s third largest economy. And the country has an advantage over China in that it creates a much more stable and homogeneous society. On the other hand, China must use its security forces to conduct internal policing, which means that the actual size of China’s conventional armed forces is smaller than it appears. Japan does not need its armed forces to perform internal policing duties, so its security investments can be focused on national defense and power projection. This would not necessarily mean that Japan’s army would be larger than China’s, but it would have an army capable of resisting China.

China is in the middle of an economic crisis. In my opinion, this will lead to considerable internal political tensions. Japan is less prone to the transformational economic crisis. The country faced such a crisis in the 1990s and emerged from it in what, for reasons I do not understand, American investors call the “lost decade.” It is clear, however, that Japan survived the severe crisis without much social unrest. Japan’s internal social discipline contributes to its ability to build comprehensive military power and expand its economy.

New geopolitical reality

Japan’s decision to create a self-defense force will change the geopolitical reality in the Pacific. China is already arguing with the United States, which operates at extreme distances from its own territory. Washington can do it, but the Japanese can play an equal or even leading role. The cost and risk of containment of China would then decrease for the United States. It would also strengthen the informal Quad alliance, which includes Australia, India, Japan and the United States. American control of the Western Pacific would depend on American security guarantees, but not on a permanent large-scale presence.

All this assumes the maintenance of the alliance between the US and Japan. It has stood the test of time as a link between the unequal since World War II. Japan’s armed forces will not surpass American forces, and the United States guarantees open world waterways. Japan would not be able to do this alone, and as a major commodity exporter and importer, Japan relies on a global US presence. Unlike before World War II, the United States and Japan therefore have key interests in a relationship that was built over several generations.

An alliance between the world’s largest and third largest economies, in which Japan also has considerable military power, would redefine the balance of power in the Pacific with little risk of contention. At least in the foreseeable future.

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