Japan is building a military meant for more than self-defense — and has the US to thank for it

Posted on : 2024-07-01 17:17 KST Modified on : 2024-07-02 15:54 KST
It’s been 10 years since Japan adopted a reinterpretation of its constitution, allowing the country to engage in “collective self-defense”
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force during a drill. (courtesy of the JMSDF)
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force during a drill. (courtesy of the JMSDF)

As the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) celebrate the 70th anniversary of their founding on Monday, there are mounting concerns that it is accelerating its drive to become a war-ready military capable of being mobilized anywhere in the world. 

Monday also marks the 10-year anniversary of Japan’s adoption of a reinterpretation of its postwar pacifist constitution that enabled the country to engage in collective self-defense.
The US stripped Japan of its military and armaments upon its defeat in World War II and only allowed the former Axis Power to maintain public security through the National Police Reserve and the Japanese Coast Guard.
The outbreak of the Korean War was the catalyst for the creation of the JSDF on July 1, 1954, but Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which renounces the country’s right to any military power, has long restricted its activities.
Yet 70 years later, the JSDF has plotted an unsettling course. Using China’s military threats as justification, the number of joint drills the JSDF has held with countries in the Indo-Pacific region increased to 56 in 2023, an 18-fold increase from 2006, when it only took part in three drills of such nature.
The JSDF also expanded its geographic scope of activity to not only Japan, where it held 18 drills, but Southeast Asia, where it held 10 drills, and the South China Sea, where it held four.
The forces will begin deploying Tomahawk cruise missiles made by the US in 2025 to obtain counterstrike capabilities against enemy missile bases, and by 2027, Japan’s defense budget is expected to exceed US$68 billion, making Japan the third-largest military spender after the US and China.
The country is also slowly but surely lifting its arms export embargo, which has existed since its defeat in World War II.
The fact that Japan is growing its military influence with the blessing of the US is also noteworthy. On June 10, Japan and the US held a Defense Industrial Cooperation, Acquisition, and Sustainment Forum to discuss the joint development and production of weapons, including Patriot PAC-3 missiles.
On June 23, Rahm Emanuel, the US ambassador to Japan, stated, “The US is going to have to change the way it deals with technology transfer to get speed, and Japan is going to have to change the way they deal with exports so there is a business case for this coproduction.”

The Asahi Shimbun noted, “Japan’s security policy until now has been to follow the US blueprint for bilateral cooperation, and to strengthen its defense capabilities in order to do so.”

“Japan has either lost or is pretending to lose its independence and is using pressure from the US to break the longstanding taboo surrounding Japan’s postwar security policy.
Monday also marks 10 years since the Japanese government allowed a reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, thus allowing the JSDF to engage in collective self-defense.  
On July 1, 2014, the Shinzo Abe cabinet decided that “when an armed attack against a foreign country that is in a close relationship with Japan occurs, [. . .] use of force to the minimum extent necessary should be interpreted to be permitted under the Constitution as measures for self-defense in accordance,” thus allowing the previously prohibited right of collective self-defense through an expanded interpretation of the constitutional clause.

Then-Prime Minister Abe, who considered amending the pacifist constitution his life’s work, expanded the scope of the JSDF’s activities through changes in constitutional interpretation after public opposition made the amendment of the constitution difficult.
In 2015, the Bill for the Development of Legislation for Peace and Security, which paved the way for a revamp of individual laws in order to practically enable the changes reflected in the reinterpretation of the constitution, was passed.
The Japanese government also declared in 2023 that it would retain the ability to attack enemy bases under the concept of “counterstrike capabilities.”
“The reinterpretation of the constitution prompted Japan’s national image as a ‘peace-loving nation’ to change,” Japan’s Tokyo Shimbun wrote Sunday. “The past decade has seen Japan and the US integrate their militaries and the scrapping of Japan’s military strategy based on passive defense.”
By Hong Seok-jae, staff reporter

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