Japan’s Remilitarisation

I just finished reading Japan’s Remilitarisation by Christopher W. Hughes. While this is a 2009 publication it gives an overview of where things stood at that date and highlights characters who are still heavily engaged in Japan’s political scene – including super-conservative Shinzo Abe who has just been re-appointed as head of the LDP ahead of impending elections.

The book systematically goes through criteria that would signify a remilitarisation of Japan and assesses each of these criteria against what is happening in Japan. This covers, military doctrine, expenditure and power projection; transformation of civilian control; Japan’s military industrial complex; external military commitments; and anti-militaristic principles (such as in education and public opinion). In each of these we see that to varying degrees there is indeed a slight but steady remilitarisation of Japan and that the long-term trend, despite short-term political ups and downs, is towards remilitarisation but with little fear of any return to a pre-war scale.

This book was particularly interesting in view of the article highlighted over at The Marmots’s Hole  regarding the need to up-date the Japan-US security pact in light of the on-going territorial dispute between China and Japan. I expect there is a valid argument to make on the need to update this pact, but this article doesn’t make it.  And before I criticise the article further, I should also note that I’m not an expert in this area and the article’s definition of ‘defence’ was not clear to me as it seemed to be referring to Japan’s offensive capabilities (but maybe it meant something else).

The premise of the article seems to be that Japan should be more like the US in their military role and stance. That way, the security pact between them would be great because Japan and US would be equal partners. This would mean Japan has to spend more on their SDF/military, renounce Article 9 of the Constitution and become more ready, willing and able to get engaged in international military theatres. And not expect US to get involved in conflicts that don’t concern the US such as the current island dispute. The article doesn’t say what US would have to do.

The article suggests that Japan is being obstinate by respecting its own Constitution, recalcitrant by sticking to a budgetary cap on military spending (which is a bit inaccurate because Japan does get around the cap and spends more on defence that the 1% signifies. For example via the Japan Coast Guard and by excluding certain costs from the defence budget such as JSDF pensions), and selfish for not developing nuclear weapons. And then makes a presumption that America’s renewed commitment in the region would be a good thing. (After noting that America’s attention has been in the Middle East, it doesn’t link well to then suggest that this type of attention is desirable in Asia).

The article not only fails to take stock of what Japan is already doing, including to increase its inter-operability US and its increased role in international peace and security operations (a patchy record), it also doesn’t address the obvious risk with calling for a more overtly militarised Japan. As “Japan’s Remilitarisation” concludes:

“The US may seek to nudge Japan towards enhancing security cooperation, but it needs to recognise that Japan is a changing quantity as an alliance partner. Japan will demand increased reciprocity from the US in return for meeting expanding alliance expectations. …The [US administration] will need to be seen to reciprocate more fully on key strategic issues, including North Korea and China, if it is not to be saddled with a more obdurate alliance partner more willing to question US security strategy and to generate tensions with regional neighbours”


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