Japan’s decision to drastically increase its defense budget and re-militarize coincides with its new foreign policy goals of confronting China over disputed islands.
After World War II, it seemed unlikely that Japan would ever return to its prior state as a military power, largely due to article 9 of its post-war constitution that “forever [renounced] war as a sovereign right of the nation.” Following the Allied occupation of the country and near complete disarmament, Japan was all but forced to align itself to US interests as it came to rely on the American military almost exclusively for its defense. To this day, the US State Department refers to the American-Japanese as relationship “the cornerstone of US security interests in Asia and […] fundamental to regional stability and prosperity.” Though the US has pushed Japan to re-militarize on more than one occasion, such as the Korean War, Japan continued, for much of the last sixty years, to restrict military spending to about 1% of its gross national product.
Yet, everything began to change when Junichiro Koizumi assumed the office of President in 2001. Koizumi, likely influenced by the hawkish Bush administration, approved the expansion of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, even allowing them to operate outside of the country. In 2004, Koizumi sent a sizeable number of forces to assist the US occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then, in 2007, he upgraded the Japan Defense Agency to ministry status, creating the Japanese Ministry of Defense. However, Koizumi’s efforts pale in comparison to those of Japan’s current prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Abe, by 2015, had transformed Japan’s Defense spending, making its defense budget the 7th largest in the world despite the fact that they still have no “formal” military. That same year, Abe led the charge to essentially repeal the pacifist clause of the constitution in order to allow Japanese troops to fight more easily in overseas conflicts, even if Japan itself is not threatened. The measure came packaged with 10 other security bills, which were widely opposed by the Japanese people. However, that didn’t stop Abe from forcing them through parliament, a move which sparked fist fights and general chaos among legislators. A member of Japan’s Democratic party said, “If bills can be passed in a violent way like that, then our country’s democracy is dead.”
This year, Abe’s efforts at militarization continue as Japan’s government just approved a record-breaking defense budget of ¥5.1 trillion (~$44 billion) which will include six new submarines, eight new coast guard ships, and an upgraded missile defense system among other investments in military assets. The stated reason for this increase largely revolves around a chain of disputed islands, which both Japan and China claim as their own. In recent years, these islands have been the site of several confrontations between the two country’s armed forces. The most recent took place earlier this month when the Chinese Defense Ministry accused Japanese jets of interfering with “Chinese military aircraft from close range and even launched jamming shells, which endangered the safety of Chinese aircraft and crew.” Japan argued that the fighter jets were scrambled when six Chinese aircraft “trespassed” on territorial waters near the disputed islands. Japan “scrambled” Chinese jets in the vicinity of the island 407 times just this year. China’s islands disputes have also been contentious issues for other US allies in Asia as well as the US itself, as the US has “provoked” China in disputed waters on more than one occasion in recent years. Like many other international conflicts currently brewing, this seems like an accident waiting to happen.
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