By Dr. Subhash Kapila
Japan needs a second Meiji Restoration to shrug off its Post- Second World War imposed guilt and step out once again boldly to assume its rightful role in regional and global affairs and power-play. The first Meiji Restoration transformed Japan from an inward-looking nation reluctant to embrace modernity to a world class power in a span of thirty to fort years. Japan singularly distinguished itself within the first decade of the twentieth century as the only Asian nation standing tall as a co-equal with the reigning global powers of the day.
The beginning of the 21st Century once again beckons Japan to shake itself out of its “Self Defense” mental mind-set which was initially externally imposed and then in the following decades finding domestic acceptability for a host of reasons. Japan may have emerged as an economic superpower in the preceding decades but the lack of an assertive strategic mind-set dwarfed its political and military stature in East Asia.
Japan’s security environment today is extremely turbulent and uncertain creating newer military uncertainties than those that were prevalent during the Cold War period. The Cold War never finished in East Asia and there were no ‘peace dividends’ that could justify Japan continuing with its Peace Constitution and ‘Self Defense’ mind-sets.
East Asia specifically is now being engulfed in a Second Cold War primarily because of China’s national aspirations to push out United States forward military presence from East Asia and the Asia Pacific. China for all practical and realistic military assessments is the ‘prime threat’ to Japan’s security, despite any political rhetoric to the contrary. Japan must recognise that unlike the Russian threat in the First Cold War, the China Threat in the Second Cold War is more potent and menacing to Japan’s national security and survival as a proud and self-respecting nation in the best ‘honour traditions’ of the Samurai.
The China threat to Japan gets further magnified by China’s use of North Korea as a wayward strategic and military proxy against Japan. .Japan with its existing military policy attitudes conditioned by decades of ‘Self Defense’ mind-sets is ill-equipped to deter China from political and military coercion against Japan and nor restrain North Korea under China’s tutelage.
Multiple strategic imperatives exist for Japan’s policy makers and the Japanese public as a whole to resurrect the ‘Samurai Spirit’ and put Japan on the path of a Second Meiji Restoration.
The Second Meiji Restoration should aim at transforming Japan into a first class military power and adding military muscle to its economic power and to its global diplomacy.
Japan’s military transformation must shift from ‘Self Defense’ strategy to a bold and assertive strategy of ‘Deterrence through Comparative Military Strengths’. Japan cannot be expected to acquire overwhelming military expansion but Japan can certainly be expected to reduce the military differential that currently exists and which encourages China to adopt over-bearing strategic and military attitudes against Japan.
In today’s existing security environment in the Asia Pacific there will not be any expected outcry against Japan building up her ‘Deterrence through Comparative Military Strengths’. In fact adoption of such a military profile would be welcomed by countries of the Asia Pacific, excepting China.
China’s outcry would be self-defeating and find no resonance in Asia Pacific as in Asian perceptions it is China which has unleashed military turbulence in Asia Pacific with its unrestrained military build-up and muddying the Asia Pacific security environment by its military aggressiveness in the South China Sea against a host of countries of the region.
In terms of building her deterrence capabilities Japan has to consider both conventional and nuclear deterrence, however distasteful the latter may be. For years I have been advocating the acquisition of a nuclear deterrent by Japan to cope with the highly nuclearized military environment of East Asia. Japan has to consider what I have been repeating that Hiroshima and Nagasaki would not have been inflicted on Japan, had a similar deterrent been possessed by Japan then. In the China Threat context, this becomes an overriding strategic imperative.
Japan has been making some incremental progress in improving her military capabilities to cope with the China Threat in terms of weapons profiles and military infrastructure. Japan has also shifted its military focus from the North against the Cold War Russian threat to one of a South-western focus against the China Threat, including her outlying islands which in any case serve as floating aircraft- carriers.
With Japanese indigenous defence production capabilities and defence R&D comparable to the United States and the West,. Japan should have no problem in effecting the augmentation of Japan’s deterrence capabilities.
Japan enjoys superior edge in cutting-edge defence technologies so essential for modern high technology warfare. This would enable Japan to offset any disadvantages that arise from a limited population base. It also imparts Japan military capabilities for significant antiballistic missile warfare and a ballistic missiles shield.
Japan should not feel helpless against a possible China Threat and nor should others feel likewise. Japan has an unenviable military history of the ‘will to use power’ to ensure hear national security. Notwithstanding Japan’s existing ‘Self Defense’ mind-sets, Japan as a nation can and should be expected to rise up to the occasion to meet possible threats to her national security and political and military coercion arising from any quarter.
So “Rise O’ Samurai” and transform Japan strategically and militarily with a Second Meiji Restoration of Japan’s traditional and deeply embedded national pride.