By Paul Richard Harris
Axis of Logic exclusive
Sunday, Jul 6, 2014
|In 1947, Japan adopted a new constitution. Well, to be fair, the United States imposed a new constitution on Japan - but that's nitpicking. One of the hallmarks of that constitution was to curb Japan's military and permit it to engage only in self-defense, largely as interpreted by someone other than Japan.
The current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has introduced a 'new interpretation' of the constitution. This shift would allow Japan's military to engage with other countries in actions that don't necessarily involve Japan at all. In theory, the new interpretation will allow Japan to co-operate with any foreign country with which it has 'close ties', thereby substantially expanding the scope for military co-operation with different countries far beyond the narrow 'defence of Japanese territory' envisaged by the current constitution.
As you might imagine, there is not universal agreement about this move in Japan, and even less agreement outside Japan. Indeed, a recent Nikkei poll showed 50% of Japanese people opposed, with only 34% firmly in favour. This is, after all, a country that made a 180 degree following World War 2 and became fervently pacifist.
Outside Japan, opinions vary a great deal.
The New York Times editorial of July 2 was fairly even handed, merely stating the facts without a hard opinion on either side.
Although some countries, like the Philippines, endorsed Japan’s move, China and South Korea, which suffered greatly from Japan’s aggression, are wary about how Japan might exercise this new authority. While they share blame for the current tensions with Japan, Mr. Abe is fueling their fear and mistrust with his appeal to right-wing nationalists and their abhorrent historical revisionism. For instance, he unnecessarily reopened the politically charged issue of the Japanese military’s use of Korean women as sex slaves during World War II, though his government’s recent report acknowledged the abuses. Still, the South Koreans have reacted with outrage.Dr John Swenson-Wright, in an opinion piece appearing on BBC Newsworld (July 2) said:
The Japanese Parliament must still clear legal barriers to the constitutional reinterpretation by revising more than a dozen laws, which could take months. Mr. Abe’s governing coalition has a comfortable majority in both houses, and the revisions are expected to pass. Even so, there is time for citizens to be heard through their elected representatives. It is fair for them to ask Mr. Abe to prove that the shift “is not going to change Japan into a country that wages wars.”
There is also some fear, both within Japan and amongst its closest neighbours, most notably China and South Korea, that the new interpretation is intended to allow the government to deploy troops freely in a wide-range of conflict situations.The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, supports the US government in saying this move is a good thing.
However, the Abe administration has explicitly ruled out such options and has been careful to distinguish between collective self-defence (intended to safeguard Japanese national interests and assets) and collective security - where states co-operate to protect their mutual interests in the face of foreign aggression. Mr Abe himself has made it clear that Japan's forces will not "participate in combat in wars such as the Gulf War and the Iraq War".
The U.S. supports Japanese collective self-defense because it is critically important to the defense of South Korea and the Northeast Asia region more generally. Here’s why:Regardless of who is reading this correctly, the proposal from Mr Abe still has to get through both houses of the Japanese legislature. And noting the 50% of Japanese citizens opposed, it seems reasonable to expect that this change will get a rough ride. Mr Abe does have control of the legislature, so he may be able to bully his way through. But it is a coalition government, and with sufficient public pressure that coalition might begin to crumble.
The U.S. will defend South Korea against any North Korean attacks. It is particularly concerned about deterring a North Korean invasion of the South, and defeating such an invasion if deterrence fails. If the U.S. is to defend South Korea against invasion, it must deploy its forces to South Korea and carry-out military operations against North Korea.
The South Korean and U.S. navies lack sufficient capacity to handle all North Korean ships, including every fishing ship that could carry weapons or experts in weapons of mass destruction. Japan has a substantial number of ships in its Maritime Self-Defense Forces, and they are mainly located near North Korea; they could begin operating quickly in the aftermath of North Korean aggression.
In short, with its collective self-defense policy, Japan assumes its responsibilities to support the defense of South Korea and regional security in general, an appropriate action given the economic and other independencies of the regional countries.
Regardless of the outcome, it should always be seen as bad news when the United States is in favour of your country girding its loins for the fight. That NEVER turns out well.
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