Why Japan Should Rearm

by Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney is the author of Asian Juggernaut and Water: Asia’s New Battleground.

"Media tend to depict Japan’s current economic troubles in almost funereal terms. But, while it is true that the economy has stagnated for more than two decades, real per capita income has increased faster than in the US and the United Kingdom so far this century"

TOKYO – Japan’s political resurgence is one of this century’s most consequential developments in Asia. But it has received relatively little attention, because observers have preferred to focus on the country’s prolonged economic woes. Those woes are real, but Japan’s ongoing national-security reforms and participation in the new 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership have placed it firmly on the path to reinventing itself as a more secure, competitive, and internationally engaged country.

Japan has historically punched above its weight in world affairs. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Japan became Asia’s first modern economic success story. It went on to defeat Manchu-ruled China and Czarist Russia in two separate wars, making it Asia’s first modern global military power. Even after its crushing World War II defeat and occupation by the United States, Japan managed major economic successes, becoming by the 1980s a global industrial powerhouse, the likes of which Asia had never seen.

Media tend to depict Japan’s current economic troubles in almost funereal terms. But, while it is true that the economy has stagnated for more than two decades, real per capita income has increased faster than in the US and the United Kingdom so far this century. Moreover, the unemployment rate has long been among the lowest of the wealthy economies, income inequality is the lowest in Asia, and life expectancy is the longest in the world.

In fact, it is Japan’s security, not its economy, that merits the most concern today – and Japan knows it. After decades of contentedly relying on the US for protection, Japan is being shaken out of its complacency by fast-changing security and power dynamics in Asia, especially the rise of an increasingly muscular and revisionist China vying for regional hegemony.

Chinese military spending now equals the combined defense expenditure of France, Japan, and the UK; just a decade ago, pacifist Japan outspent China on defense. And China has not hesitated to display is growing might. In the strategically vital South China Sea, the People’s Republic has built artificial islands and military outposts, and it has captured the disputed Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines. In the East China Sea, it has unilaterally declared an air-defense identification zone covering territories that it claims but does not control.

With US President Barack Obama hesitating to impose any costs on China for these aggressive moves, Japan’s leaders are taking matters into their own hands. Recognizing the inadequacy of Japan’s existing national-security policies and laws to protect the country in this new context, the government has established a national security council and moved to “normalize” its security posture. By easing Japan’s longstanding, self-imposed ban on arms exports, boosting defense spending, and asserting its right to exercise “collective self-defense,” the government has opened the path for Japan to collaborate more actively with friendly countries and to pursue broader overseas peacekeeping missions.

To be sure, Japan’s security-enhancing efforts have so far been limited in scope, and do not open the way for the country to become a militaristic power. Restrictions on deployment of offensive weapons, for example, remain in place.

Nonetheless, the government’s moves have proved divisive in a country where pacifism is embedded in the constitution and widely supported by the population. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that only 23% of Japanese want their country to play a more active role in Asian security. Another survey last year revealed that only 15.3% of Japanese – the lowest proportion in the world – were willing to defend their country, compared to 75% of Chinese.

But the reality is that ensuring long-term peace in Asia demands a stronger defense posture for Japan. Indeed, reforms that enable Japan to defend itself better, including by building mutually beneficial regional partnerships, would enhance its capacity to forestall the emergence of a destabilizing power imbalance in East Asia.

It is now up to Japan’s government to win over its own citizens, by highlighting the difference between pacifism and passivity. Japan would not encourage or support aggression; it would simply take a more proactive role in securing peace at the regional and global levels.

A more confident and secure Japan would certainly serve the interests of the US, which could then depend on its close ally to take more responsibility for both its own security and regional peace. Americans increasingly seem to recognize this, with 47% of respondents in the Pew survey supporting a more active role for Japan in Asian security.

But there remain questions about precisely how self-sufficient Japan would have to be to carry out this “proactive pacifism” – a term popularized by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – consistently and effectively. Would Japan need to become a truly independent military power, with formidable deterrent capabilities like those of the UK or France?

The short answer is yes. While Japan should not abandon its security treaty with the US, it can and should rearm, with an exclusive focus on defense.

Of course, unlike the UK and France, Japan does not have the option to possess nuclear weapons. But it can build robust conventional capabilities, including information systems to cope with the risk of cyber warfare. Beyond bolstering Japanese security and regional stability, such an effort would likely boost Japan’s GDP and yield major profits for American defense firms.

As a status quo power, Japan does not need to match Chinese military might. Defense is, after all, easier than offense. Still, the rise of a militarily independent Japan would constitute a game-changing – and highly beneficial – development for Asia and the rest of the world.


Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2015.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Added 23.05.2018
The good news is that the United States and China appear to have backed away from the precipice of a trade war. While vague in detail, a May 19 agreement defuses tension and commits to further negotiation. The bad news is that the framework of negotiations is flawed: A deal with any one country will do little to resolve America’s fundamental economic imbalances that have arisen in an interconnected world.
Added 21.05.2018
The cryptocurrency revolution, which started with bitcoin in 2009, claims to be inventing new kinds of money. There are now nearly 2,000 cryptocurrencies, and millions of people worldwide are excited by them. What accounts for this enthusiasm, which so far remains undampened by warnings that the revolution is a sham? One must bear in mind that attempts to reinvent money have a long history. As the sociologist Viviana Zelizer points out in her book The Social Meaning of Money: “Despite the commonsense idea that ‘a dollar is a dollar is a dollar,’ everywhere we look people are constantly creating different kinds of money.” Many of these innovations generate real excitement, at least for a while. As the medium of exchange throughout the world, money, in its various embodiments, is rich in mystique. We tend to measure people’s value by it. It sums things up like nothing else. And yet it may consist of nothing more than pieces of paper that just go round and round in circles of spending. So its value depends on belief and trust in those pieces of paper. One might call it faith.
Added 19.05.2018
The protests that rippled across Russia ahead of Vladimir Putin’s fourth inauguration as president followed a familiar script. Police declared the gatherings illegal, and the media downplayed their size. Alexey Navalny, the main organizer and Russia’s de facto opposition leader, was arrested in dramatic fashion, dragged out of a rally in Moscow by police. On May 15, he was sentenced to 30 days in prison. More than 1,600 protesters across the country were beaten and detained.
Added 16.05.2018
Many knowledgeable people dismiss the prospect of advanced AGI [=Artificial General Intelligence]. Some, ..........,argue that it is impossible for AI to outsmart humanity........Yet other distinguished scholars........do worry that AGI could pose a serious or even existential threat to humanity. With experts lining up on both sides of the debate, the rest of us should keep an open mind.
Added 15.05.2018
The world’s most important bilateral relationship – between the United States and China – is also one of its most inscrutable. Bedeviled by paradoxes, misperceptions, and mistrust, it is a relationship that has become a source of considerable uncertainty and, potentially, severe instability. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the brewing bilateral trade war.
Added 15.05.2018
Viewed from Palestine, it’s hard to disagree that we’ve perhaps seen one of the most inflammatory weeks in recent memory. In just a few days, several extremely sensitive events have coincided to devastating effect: the culmination of weekly protests in the Gaza Strip, the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the 70th anniversary of the 1948 Nakba (from the Arabic, “Immense Catastrophe”) and the start of the holy month of Ramadan. Throw in for good measure Israel and Iran’s recent clash over the occupied Golan Heights and it seems that more than ever, the region is something of a tinderbox.
Added 14.05.2018
The irony, of course, is that this is exactly the type of “grand bargain” Iran proposed to the Bush administration in May 2003. Bush rejected the offer, vowing never to talk with a member of the “axis of evil.” As Vice President Dick Cheney put it in reference to North Korea – another member of that fanciful “axis” – Americans “don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.” But by trading diplomacy for saber-rattling, the Bush administration slammed the door on a solution with Iran. Today, as Trump embraces the same tactics, it’s hard to fathom how the outcome will be any different.
Added 12.05.2018
Quote: "If you take out a piece of paper and put 10 political issues that are important to you on one side and the words “Republican” or “Democrat” on the top, then categorize them, most of you are likely to find that you, too, are a hybrid of both. If my contention is correct, and enough voters get fed up enough with the political status quo in the mid-terms and the next presidential election to say that neither Party actually represents their belief system, we may just find that the 40% of American voters who are already Independent turns into 50% or 60% in the near term. I am willing to bet that in spite of all the hype about most Americans being firmly in one political camp or the other, that most Americans are actually middle ground voters who form part of the emerging hybrid political class. Whether they choose to remain affiliated with either the Democrat or Republican Parties in the future remains to be seen. Stay tuned".
Added 10.05.2018
Quote: "China, clearly, is emerging as a world power, even more quickly than it otherwise would, to the extent that the US is coming to be seen as an unreliable partner concerned only with advancing its own interests – at the expense, if necessary, of other countries. But the belief that China will continue growing at mid-single-digit rates for an extended period violates the first rule of forecasting: don’t extrapolate the present into the future. At some point, China will hit bumps in the road, and there is no guarantee that its leaders will admit their failures and adjust policy accordingly."
Added 08.05.2018
The decertification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by Trump is most unfortunate. It seems that Trump was not swayed by either France’s President Macron or Germany’s Chancellor Merkel to preserve the deal. Instead, he appears to have taken Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s advice to decertify the deal, even though Iran continues to fully adhere to all of its provisions. It is dangerous that neither Trump nor Netanyahu appears to fully grasp the dire regional and international implications of the unilateral decertification of the deal by the US.
Added 04.05.2018
Quote fromthe article: "Iran has been instrumental in the survival of the Assad regime since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011. Since then, Israel has used its air power to disrupt weapons supplies to Hezbollah and maintain a buffer zone in the southwest, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. But now it seems things are heating up. Is this now a far bigger, more direct confrontation in the Syrian arena?"
Added 03.05.2018
As signs of an incipient slowdown in the European economy begin to multiply – coincident indicators suggest that industrial production has slowed sharply in 2018 – the case for agreeing on a Brexit deal and refocusing attention on capital markets union is becoming more powerful and more urgent. The commissioner now responsible, Valdis Dombrovskis, said in London in late April that the “building blocks” will be in place early next year, to “help our companies to better cope with the departure of Europe’s largest financial center from the single market.” That is a laudable goal, but it could well be too little, too late.
Added 03.05.2018
Gaza has often been invaded for its water. Every army leaving or entering the Sinai desert, whether Babylonians, Alexander the Great, the Ottomans, or the British, has sought relief there. But today the water of Gaza highlights a toxic situation that is spiralling out of control. A combination of repeated Israeli attacks and the sealing of its borders by Israel and Egypt, have left the territory unable to process its water or waste. Every drop of water swallowed in Gaza, like every toilet flushed or antibiotic imbibed, returns to the environment in a degraded state.
Added 24.04.2018
Renewable electricity costs have fallen faster than all but the most extreme optimists believed possible only a few years ago. In favorable sunny locations, such as northern Chile, electricity auctions are being won by solar power at prices that have plummeted 90% in ten years. Even in less sunny Germany, reductions of 80% have been achieved. Wind costs have fallen some 70%, and battery costs around 80%, since 2010.........[The] estimate that the cost of going green will be very small has proved too pessimistic – the cost will actually be negative.
Added 23.04.2018
Electric Vessels, EVs don’t rise or fall on Tesla — Nissan and the Chinese brands are arguably way ahead, and the Chevy Bolt is comparable to the Tesla 3. But it is unarguable that a price spike in petroleum would certainly help the company get past its current Tesla 3 production problems by substantially bolstering investor and consumer confidence.
Added 20.04.2018
 

As the US, Russia and China test each other’s patience and strategic focus, speculation about the chances of a world war has hit a new high.

Added 18.04.2018

HONG KONG – At the beginning of this century, when China launched its “going out” policy – focused on using foreign-exchange reserves to support overseas expansion and acquisitions by Chinese companies – few expected the country quickly to emerge as a leading economic player in Latin America.

Added 18.04.2018

BEIJING – Last month, US President Donald Trump enacted steel and aluminum tariffs aimed squarely at China. On April 2, China retaliated with tariffs on 128 American products. Trump then announced 25% tariffs on another 1,300 Chinese products, representing some $50 billion of exports.

Added 17.04.2018

WASHINGTON, DC – Last week was a most unusual one for President Donald Trump’s administration.

Added 16.04.2018

All the attention being given to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica regarding their breach of public trust and exploitation of personal data is richly deserved.