By Dr Subhash Kapila*
Japan on the verge of 2018 is geopolitically a ‘Leading Power’ in Asia along with India, and both as important heavy counterweights to a militarily disruptive China need to fast-track their corresponding military build-ups. Japan needs to unshackle itself from its Pacifist Constitution to do so.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s overwhelming victory in October 2017 snap elections uniquely places him as Japan’s ‘Prime Minister of the Moment’ to lead Japan to break-free from the militarily debilitating Pacifist Constitution shackling Japan to confront threats increasingly emanating from China and North Korea.
Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s decision to call for snap elections was well-timed. Despite doubts expressed in some sections of the global media that an election victory was uncertain, PM Shinzo Abe rode into victory with a two-thirds majority. This itself should be taken as an indicator that the Japanese public despite their traditional dislike for a more assertive Japanese military role reposed faith in PM Abe’s leadership in the uncertain security environment imposed on the region by China and North Korea.
Following PM Abe’s landslide electoral victory, he stands lauded in Western media as not only Japan’s strongest and most successful leader but also the ‘West’s strongest leader’. Reputed for his personal inclination to amend Article Nine of the Japanese Constitution renouncing war and for Japan to maintain strong military forces commensurate with Japan’s enhanced geopolitical status, PM Abe can now be expected to strive for in this direction.
Japan on the verge of 2018 finds itself in the midst of a threatening and coercive security environment with no optimistic indicators on the horizon suggesting that China and North Korea would desist from their military brinkmanship directed at Japan.
Contextually, Japan is in the military crosshairs of China and North Korea chiefly because of Japan’s strong military alliance with the United States facilitating the Forward Military Presence of over 40,000 US Forces on the Japanese Mainland and on Okinawa. This imparts a significant forward military intervention capability intervention to the United States to swiftly respond to any crisis-situations that China or North Korea may be tempted to generate in the region. In addition the United States has a similar military presence in South Korea.
Galling for China is the fact that despite its concerted attempts to drive a wedge in US-Japan Strategic Partnership, the opposite stands generated. Responding to the intensifying China threat and the North Korea threat in recent times where North Korea has indulged in nuclear blackmail there is visible evidence that United States and Japan have embarked on increased levels of defence preparedness integration and solidification of their counter-responses to aggressive provocations.
China aside, even Russia has reacted sharply to strengthening of the US-Japan Strategic Partnership when in a recent meet of the Russian and Japanese Foreign Ministers, the former accused Japan of facilitating greater military presence of US military effort in Japan on the pretext of catering for the North Korea threat.
In such a hostile security environment it becomes pertinent for Japan to ponder whether it can continue with its self-renouncing pacifist Constitution shackling it against any substantial war-preparedness initiatives against the impending China threat and North Korea threat?
Japan and the Japanese public have to come to grips with the strategic reality that China and North Korea leave no space for Japan to continue as a pacifist nation secure under the security umbrella of the United States. While that continues as a given, Japan’s security imperatives and geopolitical imperatives too dictate that Japan shedding aside its pacifist impulses asserts itself by building up its both conventional and nuclear deterrence capabilities too.
Breaking-free from the pacifist Japanese Constitution imposed by the United States in the immediate aftermath of American victory over Japan may have been an American imperative at that moment in history. But in end 2017, it is the United States, compelled by geopolitical compulsions now advocate a greater military role for Japan to complement the US Forward Military Presence in the Asia Pacific and more significantly Japanese participation in Joint Patrols in the South China Sea and naval exercises with US Navy off the coasts of North Korea.
Japan freed from Article Nine of the pacifist Constitution and other restrictive clauses would enable Japan to add muscle to its ‘leading Power’ status, sale of Japanese advanced military equipment in order to enable capacity building of Japanese strategic partners and friends and add musle to its diplomacy. It would also enable Japan to shed the appellation of ‘Self Defense Forces’ from its Land, Navy and Air Force military organisations and thereby build-up their capacities beyond the minimum levels of the present ‘Self Defence’. This would enable Japan to respond to crises farther away than her present capabilities. It would also enable Japan to build up her counterattack capabilities.
Within Japan certain powerful forces may object to change the status-quo but then such sections have to be asked as to what does Japan do if North Korea is foolish enough to launch strikes at the Japanese Mainland? Should Japan in possession of credible intelligence that North Korea is about to launch strikes against Japan not have the right to launch pre-emptive strikes against North Korea? Many such scenarios can be visualised in the coming times where Japan should not continue with the existing war-renouncing Constitution.
In conclusion, it needs to be strongly emphasised that Japan as a Leading Power in Asia should have at its disposal instruments of State-Power that equips itself to withstand coercion from any quarter and also to intervene with force jointly with other nations to forestall threats to regional security and more importantly against the sovereignty, security and stability of the Japanese Nation.
*Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at [email protected]