Tue, Apr 23, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Effects of Japanese military change

By Manik Mehta

The transformation of Japan’s post-war “peaceful” armed forces into an offensive military could have profound implications for the region, including Taiwan. The transformation might come about in the face of challenges in Japan’s neighborhood — particularly the emergence of nuclear North Korea and China’s growing assertiveness — but also the growing doubts over the reliability of the US to provide security.

The New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, the US’ leading think tank on foreign affairs, recently held a discussion on Japan’s possible militarization while launching a new book called Japan Rearmed: The Politics of Military Power, whose author, Sheila Smith, a senior fellow for Japan studies at the council, was quizzed by council president Richard Haass, a noted US foreign policy expert and an author of several books on foreign policy issues.

Smith, considered an authority on Japan and US-Japan ties, said that Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, effective since May 3, 1947, prohibits war as a means of settling international disputes involving the state. Under this article, Japan renounced the sovereign right of belligerency, and committed to work for peace through diplomacy and other state means.

However, Japan already maintains de facto armed forces, referred to as the Japan Self-Defense Forces. In July 2014, the Japanese government approved a reinterpretation that gave more powers to the Self-Defense Forces, allowing them to defend other allies in case of war being declared upon them, despite opposition from China, South Korea and North Korea. The US supported Japan’s move.

Smith explained the nuance in her book’s title — Japan Rearmed, rather than “Japan rearming.”

“The point of the book, really, is to acknowledge that Japan has been a major military power for decades, despite the debate over its constitution and despite its hesitancy in the use of force, particularly in coalition and offshore of Japanese territory. The Self-Defense Force has been very limited in the scope it’s been given, but it is a significant military power. And so I wanted to make sure that we were talking not about yesterday’s headlines, but we were really talking about the changing debate in Japan about how that military power is used as part of Japanese national strategy,” she wrote.

While Haass considered Japan one of the world’s leading, but more underestimated military powers, Smith said that it has been very good for Japan to continue to reiterate — as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his predecessors did — that Japan and Japanese are committed to peace.

Smith said that there was a rethinking in Japan about Article 9 governing the armed forces.

“And the last significant policy change that involved reinterpretation [of Article 9] was when the Abe Cabinet in 2014 said we are going to allow our military to operate and use force alongside other national militaries, again, for the purpose of Japanese security. So [this is] still within this constraint, but much more elastic than it’s ever been in the past,” she wrote.

What will this mean for Taiwan?

Taiwan, as Haass put it, is an issue “that doesn’t perhaps get the attention it should, and there’s those of us who think that it’s something of a sleeper issue and the potential for crisis there is greater than is generally appreciated.”

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