This research paper is divided into five main parts. The first part concerns with defining the variables and problematises the term of ‘remilitarization’ to understand the changes in the security policy of Japan. The second part explains the main assumptions of the theoretical framework employed to answer the main research problem. The third part explains the dynamic of the change in Japan’s policy by underlining the main historical precursors. The fourth part provides the answer to the research question on the causes of the shift from the ‘self-defence to the proactive defence’ policy of Japan. The fifth part elaborates the implication of the Japanese changing defence policy for the regional politics followed by the conclusion.
Before analysing the dynamics of changes in Japan’s security policy spearheaded by the Abe administration, it is important to understand the scope and basic idea of the article nine of the Japanese constitution. The main focus of article nine is based on the renouncing war and use of force by Japan. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that it prohibits the use of force when it comes to the Japan’s self-defence forces. So the question arises what has changed now that seems to deepen the division in Japan over the article nine?
The answer is associated with the interpretation of the article nine which discourages the role of military forces in case of an attack. From the official perspective, the right of collective defence is being expanded so as to allow the Japan’s military forces to not only defend the country but its significant allies as well. In simple words, one school of thought views the interpretation of article nine as the opportunity to not only address the shortcomings of their security policy, rather it is seen as the mean to expand the conceptual contours of Japan’s national power in terms of adapting to an array of changes in the international arena.
On the other hand, the opposition including the public view is reading the ‘change’ endorsed by Abe’s government as the mean of drifting away from the long-held and celebrated notion of post-war Pacific Japan. The reinterpretation of article nine is seen as an attack on the Pacific traditions since it would allow the forces of Japan to participate in war or conflict if one of the allies of Japan is threatened. Therefore, the public of Japan and critics of Abe’s government see it as a threat, which could exploit the escalations with neighboring states; particularly China, which in turn could disrupt the security architecture of the region. Some of the advocates of a pacifist Japan are deeming it as a mean to stoke security concerns of the regional states, as it has the propensity to directly jeopardize the interests of Japan as well.
Speaking of article nine and its implications on the defence policy of Japan, it is important to understand the basic idea of the agreement between Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the ally of the government Komeito signed on 1st July 2014. Some of the observers read this development as the limitation faced by Abe to amend the constitution of Japan, given the requirement of majority consensus for any change in the Japan’s constitution. The interpretation of agreement backed by the Abe administration on article nine may allow Japan to exercise the right to use force in case of a threat or use of force by any state. Consequently, the right of collective defence could be invoked under the provisions of Japan’s constitution.
1 Definitions of the main variable and Theoretical Framework
1.1 What is meant by Japanese Re-militarization?
The use of prefix before the militarization of Japan in the title of the research topic surely has befuddling effect attached to it, since it reflects the traces of proclivity. Therefore, it is necessary to define and elaborate the rationale behind the use of a biased term ‘remilitarization’. The main idea is to problematise the term of militarization being used by the various observers in analyzing the approval of a bill in Japan that may reinterpret the article nine in Japan’s constitution.
Assuming the premise of the analysts is correct, it is necessary to make a distinction between a militarized Japan and a remilitarized Japan, given the past behavior and experience of the imperialist Japan that encouraged ‘use of force’ to increase the area of influence and state power at the international level. It is, therefore, important to highlight that it is factually wrong to dub the recent wave of changes in the security policy of Japan as mere militarization.
Second, a survey of the Japan’s revisions in security policy after the end of Second World War clearly reveals the gradual upgrading in terms of weapons acquisition aimed at enhancing the military capability of Japan.
Third, the aim is to question the notion related to the military posture, as it will help to investigate the underlying bias of arguments being stated by the observers particularly those who view Japan on the road to remilitarization as the “imperial Japan” before the Second World War did.
2 Theoretical Framework
The problem under investigation has a multifaceted nature; one of the most significant variables entails a gigantic claim associated with Japan’s security policy, as it views the revisions brought about by the government of premier Abe as aggressive: which would remilitarize Japan’s forces in the distant future if not in the coming three to four years. That being said, the main argument of the research study will focus on the seemingly two opposite schools of thought, it comprises those who have been observing the revisions in the security policy of Japan for the past couple of years.
Given the nature of the problem under investigation, the main assumptions espoused by Gideon Rose helps to understand the research problem. Among many other reasons, one of the compelling reasons for the choice of neo-classical realism is linked to the number of variables addressed by the advocates of the theory.
First, the intersection of internal and external variables in the policy of Japan is relevant to the research problem addressed in this study. Likewise, this research involves the understanding of not only the external pressures in impacting the security policy of Japan but the role of public opinion in addition to other domestic variables in shaping the security policy of Japan. The very integrating nature of neoclassical realism is what makes it different than the neorealist and classical realism. Since it incorporates variables at two distinct levels by providing an explanation of the policy choices, and how the process of grand strategy is formulated at the national level.
Simply put, the theory of neo-classical realism is the combination of structural variables and domestic variables from a pluralistic perspective. Conceptually, the idea of a grand strategy is also important to understand here. Since it explains the role of non-military means in terms of politics and how the ideology of nation serves to increase the power of a state. It basically highlights a level where variables of systemic and domestic level interact with the state level dynamics. It involves the role of public opinion as well, as the choice of policies and how the leadership reads a particular situation in terms of making the decision of going to war and peace. In other words, the interaction of these variables at two different variables defines the policy choices in Japan.
For instance, Abe’s administration in Japan has altered the interpretation of a particular article in Japan’s constitution which cannot be viewed independently of the domestic and international dynamics. To put simply, the interplay of the unit level and international variables do influence the policies and perception of a national leadership in Japan.
After determining the national goals perceived by the leadership of Japan, the choice of the means required for the attainment of the goals is important. The behavior of Japan towards the changing dynamics of international politics along with domestic factors facilitates in pursuing the desired goals.
In the Japanese context, the international environment can be taken as the changing polarity of the international structure in addition to the domestic constraint in form of opposition of the public opinion to any security revision that could lead Japan to more of an aggressive state.
Abe’s grand strategy can be analyzed by examining the nature of threats being posed to the national security of Japan. This assumption is inspired from the arguments of the classical realism in form of identifying the strategic environment. Likewise, the national interests of Japan can be assessed by overviewing the order of national priorities.
Hence, the material capability of Japan in the international system and the threats are also taken into consideration. Similarly, the historical relations of Japan with its neighbors and the ‘difference of ideology’ is another variable. But the problem that could disturb the process of conveying the information to the leadership of the state and how it is perceived by him/her is another factor that plays a significant role, it means that the process of threat perception directly depend on the information being fed to the decision makers, as it influences the outcomes of any political change.
3 Historical Roots
First, the use of term ‘remilitarization’ has its roots in the imperialistic past of Japan. Although the Meiji period is associated with reformation and an epoch of change for Japan; particularly, in the economic and political sphere, however, the two Japanese victories over China and Korea (1894-1895) are worth mentioning in order to understand the contemporary changes in the security doctrine of Japan. This can be deemed as one of the various causes of tense relations with China. In other words, Sino-Japanese enmity has historical roots as emphasized by the theorist of the realist school of thought.
Military modernization is the second significant factor that promoted a sense of aggression among the Japanese forces. This can be dived into three main phases: the first phase (1853 to 1870) was dominated by the introduction of organizational changes which was narrowed or institutionalized in the second phase (1870-1878), it attained a structure which gave it a proper form particularly to the army and naval forces, rather it is safe to claim that most of the processes and mechanism were given a shape in this phase. The third phase (1878-1890) focused on building the link between the military with social and political sectors of the society1.
Since the overlapping of military, political and social aspects contribute in gaining legitimacy at the societal level. The precursor behind the modernization was accentuated as a result of the threat from the Western world. Moreover, the dreaded access to Japan was through the sea, the attention, therefore, was given to the development of navy. Given the progress of the development, one can easily say that the structures, which promoted the militaristic forces, continue to dominate Japan regardless of the Meiji reformation.
In simple words, the promotion of militancy is connected with these medieval structures and low purchasing power of the Japanese people, since it diverted Japan towards seeking more markets. Hence the need for outer markets was achieved in form of breaching the sovereignty of adjoining states.
Third, Japan’s interaction with Korea in terms of significance is another factor, which contributed in shaping their relations in the East Asian region. This succinctly explains Japan’s relentless efforts to hold on to Korea, as giving it up to become a colony of other imperial powers meant a source of direct threat for Japan2.
In other words, the threat perception of Japan depended on the geographical proximity of Korea with the national security of Japan. One of the dimensions of Korea-Japan relations involves China factor. It can be traced back to 1881 when Japan attempted to increase her political, economic clout in Korea in form of developing the military forces of Japan. Despite falling into the Chinese area of influence, various strategies were employed to bring Japanese inclined group into power. Hence, the military became the common tool of achieving the desired goals.
Fourth, modernization coalesced with industrialization increased the pressure on Japan to adopt expansionist policies in order to broaden the area of influence, as it was associated with gaining international recognition as a ‘powerful state’. Therefore, expansionism was the common mean to achieve a significant place in the international arena.
Fifth, coming to the public support of imperialist Japan, one may view it as an attempt to resist the “oppression” of China. Interestingly, in the past, Japanese viewed expansionist policies as a noble pursuit, which helped the rulers to gain legitimacy for the expansionist policies; for example, securing the territory of Korea in form of bringing it into their area of influence was one of the underlying policies. Additionally, the war of Japan with China is often cited as the most defining development, which led to the display of immense power for increasing the Japanese influence in Korea. This also brought the Western powers close to China, since both of them perceived a threat from Japan. Hence, the Western powers witnessed competition in business and the rivalry over Korea between Japan and China, among many reasons.
In short, conventional wisdom associates the expansionist policies of Japan in 1984 onwards with the samurai ambition to deal with the imperialism of “whites”. This strategy was based on the principle of expansionism. Since most of the efforts and policies pursued by the government of Japan displayed a collective aim of acquiring the territories that had strategic meaning for Japan. Therefore, use of force was the commonly adopted mean to secure and conquer those adjoining territories which had an affiliation with Japan.
The main purpose was to increase the area of influence and build Japanese empire, as it played a role in building one strong empire to counter the influence of those western powers that had heterogeneous colonies under their control. Even in early twentieth century, the social foundation of Japan continued to be dominated by the influence of two main classes: bourgeoisie and military despite the adoption of the capitalist economic system3. Consequently, it brought more profit and influence for the two classes of Japan followed by the recognition at the international forum.
4 Understanding the Shift from Self Defence to Proactive Defence
Before determining the nature of militaristic turn in Japan’s defence policy, it is pertinent to understand the official perspective of Abe’s government and his supporters. The term “sekkyokuteki heiwashugi” literally “proactive pacifism” is translated as “proactive contributor to peace”4. It is based on the principle of international cooperation, which lays stress on playing a responsible role in maintaining international security.
The distinct feature of this policy emphasizes on playing an active role rather than a passive role in the global security. This idea is essentially derived from the document of Japan’s national security strategy.
It concerns with an extension of a national interest of a state with the security of its territory, progress as well as the need to coordinate internationally with global actors. In simple words, the role of international community is correlated with the national interests of the Japanese state. Coming to the main signifiers of Japan’s strategy paper, it highlights three pillars about the policy. The first one deals with enhancing the defence capability of Japan. The second is focused on deepening the alliance between Japan and US. And the third one deals with collaboration and cooperation with other states.
4.1 What prompted the shift in Japanese policy?
According to the official stance, the latest revision was a change in order to respond to increasing Chinese threat5. To back the premise of the argument, the case of Japanese hostages is cited to justify the inability of the military to save them from the Islamic state. The approval of the new bill is viewed in terms of broadening the scope of article nine to defend its ally (The United States as it has been stressed in the strategy paper of Japan).
In response, critics of this bill dread the involvement of Japan when it comes to the rivalry of the United States with China in the Middle East. So the question arises here: Can the so-called principle of collective defence turn into an act of aggression? The critics of Abe government outrightly reject the claims, as Japanese security is guaranteed by the USA.
Taking into account the humanitarian turn of Japan’s constitution of 1992, one may assess the impact of external pressures and changes asserted by Neo-Classical realism on the constitution of Japan. Since the peace-keeping function of Japan’s forces is reinterpreted as ‘collective self- defence’. This means that it reflects three main observations: first, the role of the army was initially seen as something abhorrent by the public of Japan. Second, the involvement of Japan’s self-defence forces in humanitarian missions helped to increase their credibility in the mind of Japanese in addition to removing the skeptical attitude towards their role. Third, the contours of Japan self-defence forces (JSDF) have been bounded by the constitution of Japan which can be steadily broadened to attain a controversial form in terms of sparking the controversy of remilitarization.
Most of the advocates of Abe’s policy revisions perceive the idea of peace upheld by Japan (right after the Second World War) as complete dissociation with military forces or their use in the combat missions. However, the older interpretation of Japan’s article nine missed the point related to a significant role of military forces in the security and maintenance of peace. But the dynamics of changes taking place in the international system based on the distribution of power and military muscle makes it imperative for Japan to maintain peace and order with the help of Japanese forces. Second, the development of flexing military muscle is the natural consequence exercised by those states that have attained a particular position in terms of economic gains.
4.2 Is Japan’s remilitarization a defensive or an offensive posture?
The answer to this question is difficult due to the implied connotation attached with these interchangeable terms. For example, the ‘defence’ for one state can and is mostly seen as the ‘offense’ by another state. Therefore, the answer depends on the perspective of the viewer analyzing the actions of a state.
In case of China or other neighboring states, the revisions in Japan’s defence policy are bound to create a sense of caution if not threat in the backdrop of changes taken to upgrade Japanese defence capabilities. However, if one looks at the whole debate from the point of view of policymakers of Japan, one would realize the presence of various threats and pressure in form of changing regional dynamics and internal pressure on the government of Mr. Abe to maximise security.
All those who associate remilitarization of Japan’s defence policy with an abrupt change fails to take note of the steady policy changes that have been taking place for the past two-three decades to beef up the military capability of Japan. For example, the focus on mutual cooperation granted approval to the United States to establish military bases, both parties agreed to defend each other. However, it does not mean that it allows the Japan to use its forces in case of an attack in United States by invoking the article nine6.
4.3 Opposition of Japanese Public
The role of public opinion can be best understood in form of the protest to the security agreement between Japan and America. The cause of this reaction from the public is grounded in the fears of being embroiled in the battles of America across the world. The second reason is related to holding onto the Japan’s tradition and value of being a ‘pacifist’ state, since people are still haunted by the repercussions of Second World War. In other words, people are not cognizant of the international pressures to upgrade security capability in the wake of the emerging threats.
5 Implications for the Regional Security
5.1 How will re-militarization of Japan shape the regional politics of Asia-Pacific?
From the perspective of the Neo-classical realist, the categorization of any state into the ‘status-quo’ or ‘revisionist’ state is over simplistic, since it is more important to trace the shift from one category to another by surveying the strategic adjustments of Japan. For Dueck, the assessment of a policy is connected with the strategic decision-making7. In simple words, it is important to identify the shifts in military deployment, spending, alliance to examine the change in the position of a state in the international hierarchy in addition to the interplay with the adversary.
For example, after the end of the Second World War, the US government had urged Japan to make the change in light of missile technology cooperation and in connection with the production of the F-35 stealth fighter8. According to one interpretation; Japan is free to sell weapons from multinational to another country, which has the potential to make Japan an interesting alliance partner in terms of improving state to state relations.
In the regional context, Japan feels threatened because China is modernizing at a fast pace, Chinese attention to the upgrading military capability and assertive foreign policy are among the few of defining variables. Similarly, North Korea’s nuclear program is the second factor in making Japanese cautious of the regional dynamics. Although Russia is not a direct part of the East Asian region, however, its past conflict over Kuril is something that plays a role in making and changing the threat perception of Japan. Coming to the institutional influence and response of Japan, it has developed a Security Council in order to respond to the emerging threats and regional dynamics. This response is also stressed by one of the assumptions of Neo-Classical realism. As it helps to view how Japan perceives the threats it is confronted with and the likely options to respond. Undoubtedly, the organizational structure of National Security of Japan is similar to the American model; however, the main function of this council may yield different results, as it is expected to only improve the coordination and cooperation of Japan with its ally and other states9.
When it comes to the viewpoint of critics regarding the defence policy revisions led by Abe, it is easier to label him as a leader who is associated with “revisionist” policies. For them, the policies and role of Japan in the early 20th century are something to be condemned rather than overlooked. Similarly, the regional states; China in particular, and North Korea perceive Japan with a wary attitude. In the backdrop of uncertainty in the region, the revision of any article which would allow Japan to modernize military capability is bound to aggravate instability in the region.
The central issue of Japanese foreign and security policy is the unprecedented rise of China and the resulting shift of power in the Asia Pacific Region. For instance, the formidable Chinese economic growth rate for decades cannot be overlooked. In 2010, it surpassed Japan as the second-largest economy in the world. Parallel to its economic rise, Beijing has been investing ever-larger sums in its military, primarily in its navy and air force, a development which causes great unease in Japan. Since 1989, China’s defense expenditures have been growing at a rate of more than 10 percent per year.
The country’s official defense budget, at ¥13.4 trillion (approximately €102 billion) in 2014, is approximately three times that of Japan’s. Although Japan’s armed forces are technologically superior to China’s, this edge is steadily eroding. A study conducted by the Tokyo Foundation, a foreign policy think tank, concludes that China will attain “overwhelming [military] superiority” over Japan in the near future. Experts believe that China’s defense expenditures could surpass even those of the US around 203010.
In addition to the rise of China, the impact of 2008 financial crisis deteriorated the economy of Japan and its ally America. Despite the announcement of the American administration to fully support Japan in Asia Pacific, some of the policymakers are skeptical of the future, the engagement of United States in the Asia Pacific may slow down seems to be the most important concern of Japanese. One of the factions in Japan dreads the shift in America policy on China. This has become a source of constant trouble for many. In simple words, Japan fears that closer relations of the United States and China will affect their alliance with America. Therefore, it emboldens the Japanese perception of self-help in form of making attempts to become a ‘normal state’.
One of the many causes of negative public opinion is associated with the public perception of Japanese national interests and the role of their forces. For most of them, Japan is supposed to defend itself and play a part in humanitarian missions, anything that goes out of the publicly defined ambit is considered detrimental to the national interest of Japan. The use of Japanese forces to project power in the region is another matter of concern for the people.
To sum up, it would not be irrational to claim that the association of the term remilitarization does seem to present an exaggerated picture of the Japanese revisions because the steady Japanese changes in the past few decades are often ignored by the analysts. This means it is the combination of internal and external factors that have led Abe administration to make recent revisions in Japan’s constitution. North Korea’s missile and nuclear program in addition to rising China continue to threaten the policy-makers of Japan.
That being said, one cannot completely rely on the official stance of the government and all those who support Abe’s revisions. The argument given by public of Japan and pacifist does have validity and shows genuine concern of the people regarding the fate of Japan. Similarly, some of the revisions which allow Japan to acquire more weapons can aggravate the regional security dynamics in terms of increasing the mistrust and regional instability. Therefore, it would be simplistic to side with all the arguments of any school of thoughts in Japan. In order to completely understand all the dimensions of Abe’s reinterpretation of article nine, one will have to examine all the unfolding dynamics over the period of one to two years in order to provide a clear answer to the remilitarization question of Japan.
* Iqra Mobeen Akram works as a researcher at an Islamabad-based think tank
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