“Japan is not moving away from pacifism toward militarism. It’s moving away from isolationism toward internationalism,” said Narushige Michishita, director of the security and international studies program at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.“In the past, we could rely on the U.S. and stay away from foreign wars. Now, North Korea is developing nuclear weapons. China is bullying its neighbors. But the U.S. is not acting as the world policeman,” Michishita said. “Japan must do more to maintain peace and stability in this region.”
When it comes to North Korea, what is Japan’s military role?
- View Original
- November 6th, 2017
After President Donald Trump was officially welcomed to Japan by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the pair fed Asian koi carp together. (Nov. 6) AP
President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speak together while feeding fish at a koi pond at the Akasaka Palace, on Nov. 6, 2017, in Tokyo.Photo by: Photo: Andrew Harnik, AP
President Trump pressed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday to purchase more military hardware from the United States and take a more active role in its defense against North Korea.
Trump had privately questioned why Japan didn’t shoot down the North Korean missiles launched over the northern island of Hokkaido in August and September, according to a report Saturday by Japan’s Kyodo News Agency. The report, citing diplomatic sources, said Trump wondered why a nation of “samurai warriors” wouldn’t take action.
At a news conference in Tokyo with Abe, Trump addressed the question, saying: “(Abe) will shoot them out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the United States. … And we make the best military equipment by far.”
Trump is on the first stop of his 12-day Asia trip, where he plans to urge world leaders to help curb North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
While Trump’s comment might have been taken as part of his trademark bluster, the question of Japan’s military role remains a crucial issue both in Japan and around the region, especially with provocations from North Korea and China’s increasing assertiveness.
North Korea, which has warned that Japan would be “sunken into the sea” by a nuclear weapon, was a key topic in Japan’s general election on Oct. 22, in which the nationalistic and hawkish Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party won by a landslide.
Abe has long advocated for revising Japan’s pacifist constitution, which was written by the U.S. after World War II, to now allow for a more robust military.
Japan is heavily restricted by the constitution’s Article 9, which states that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”
The article also says that “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”
For more than 60 years Japan has operated the Self-Defense Forces, with some 250,000 air, naval and ground troops that experts say are among the best-trained and most well-equipped in the world.
“I would never underestimate the Japanese military,” said retired vice admiral Robert Murrett, deputy director of the Institute of National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University. “In terms of just sheer military proficiency — unit for unit, person for person, they’re the best military in Asia.”
Murrett said that North Korea is continuing to push Japan to toward a more assertive posture.
“From a policy approach, they’re getting more energetic and less deferential to their neighbors or to the umbrella provided by the United States,” he said.
A 2015 report on globalization by Credit Suisse Research Institute ranked Japan’s military as the fourth-strongest in the world, behind only the U.S., China and Russia. The Japanese forces include some of the world’s largest submarine and attack helicopter fleets, as well as four modern aircraft carriers (which Japan calls “helicopter destroyers”) — a figure second only to the U.S.
Japan had the world’s seventh-highest military budget in 2016, at $47.3 billion, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, a British think tank.
While Japan maintains a powerful military capacity, its role in international affairs has been muted. Japan is restricted from engaging in combat. But in 2015 its capacity was slightly expanded by a security law under Abe that allowed it to take greater role in peacekeeping operations.
Even those limited roles have proved controversial at home. In May, Japan withdrew its remaining peacekeeping forces from a mission in South Sudan. In July, the country’s defense minister and army chief resigned over allegations they covered up the dangers faced by Japanese soldiers there.
Public opinion remains sharply divided on Abe’s push to revise Article 9. An Asahi Shimbun poll in October showed that 37% of those polled supported Abe’s proposals, with 40% opposed.
While opponents warn that Abe is moving Japan along a hard-line course, others argue that the country should bear more international responsibility.
“Japan is not moving away from pacifism toward militarism. It’s moving away from isolationism toward internationalism,” said Narushige Michishita, director of the security and international studies program at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.
“In the past, we could rely on the U.S. and stay away from foreign wars. Now, North Korea is developing nuclear weapons. China is bullying its neighbors. But the U.S. is not acting as the world policeman,” Michishita said. “Japan must do more to maintain peace and stability in this region.”