Wednesday, December 27, 2006

New Role For Japan's Military

Revolutionary changes are about to give a big boost to the military's role in Japanese government and its foreign policy. Despite being the second largest economy in the world, the Japanese military has always been saddled with pacifist restrictions. Ever since its creation in the wake of World War II, the U.S.-imposed 1947 Japanese Constitution has relegated Japan's Defense Agency to being a second-tier agency with a lower status than all other cabinet ministries and little influence in the government. The 1947 Japanese constitution is widely interpreted as forbidding the possession of a military - in constitutional terms, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) are not a military, but a kind of police force, and their "primary duties" are limited to national defense and disaster relief at home, and overseas operations are classified as "supplementary duties." Japan's House of Representatives and House of Councilors passed a bill this month to upgrade the current Defense Agency into a full-fledged defense ministry in January 2007.The newly amended Japanese Defense Agency Establishment Law and Self-Defense Forces Law not only upgrade the status of the Defense Agency to a ministry, but also expand significantly the range of "primary duties" for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. The new SDF Law now puts such activities as international military missions, participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations, and support for the U.S. military during emergencies near Japan on par with national-defense and disaster-relief operations at home. The new laws also further cement the bonds between the two close allies - the United States and Japan - through increased integration of their military operations and pave the way for Tokyo's greater involvement in U.S.-led operations not only in Asia but globally. Beyond being a sign of the growing importance Tokyo is now placing on its military, the decision to give the SDF a more prominent voice in Japanese politics also shows Japanese government's growing consideration of factoring military matters into its foreign policy decision-making. With North Korea's apparent nuclear ambitions, China's plan to beef up its military establishment and America's declining role in Asia, Japan's new cabinet, led by the newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Abe, wants to make sure every major foreign-policy decision contains a strategic component.The decision by Prime Minister Abe to upgrade the status of the Japanese military forces and to expand its primary functions is also a symbol of the increasing importance the Japanese government, with the support of the Japanese people, is placing on Japan's role in Asia and the world. As Japan inches toward a full-fledged military power, pressure is also mounting in Japanese politics and society for the nation to have a "go nuclear" option. With the plutonium from its reactors and its capability to manufacture centrifuges and other highly precise instruments that can be used in making nuclear warheads, Japan could become a nuclear-armed nation almost overnight. Given a political go-ahead, Japan could produce a nuclear weapon in weeks - or less, according to Prime Minister Abe. But for more than five decades, the development of nuclear weapons had been too sensitive a subject to be even discussed in Japan. However, that is no longer the case. "Go nuclear," especially after Pyongyang's nuclear test in October, has become the subject of a serious and open discussion in Japan today. Prime Minister Abe, who took office in late September, has been one of the foremost proponents of a Japanese nuclear arsenal and has maintained that Japan has the right to possess nuclear weapons and should develop them.
The upcoming name change of Japanese Defense Agency and burgeoning discussion of "go nuclear" in Japanese society are a precursor for Japan's "return" to a militarily prominent global position. As the world's second-largest economy and Asia's most advanced democracy, however, these developments in Japan should not be interpreted as a hard-line military policy against anyone. Rather, it is above all an indication of how the Japanese are coming to terms with their desire to become a "normal nation" - one that can confidently act on the global stage. Meanwhile, as Japan is going in the direction of becoming a more important military power regionally and globally, it is vital for the Japanese government to give a sincere explanation to its Asian neighbors, especially China and South Korea, to dispel their understandable concerns over Japan's genpuku - the "coming-of-age ceremony."