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Japan takes step toward having a 'normal' military

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In the wee hours of Saturday morning, Japan took a step toward having a military in line with most armed forces around the world, one that would be able to take part in combat even when the country is not under direct attack.

Not everyone agrees that would be a good thing, as the noisy street protests outside parliament and the requisite criticism from China show.

But conservatives in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who have long chafed at restrictions on Japan's military under a constitution imposed by a victorious United States after World War II, want to undo what they consider unreasonable limits on the nation's armed forces.

While Japan's military remains far from unfettered, the package of bills approved by parliament is a further step in a gradual erosion of the restrictions that has been underway for more than two decades. The actual changes under the new laws may not be huge, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, over heated opposition, has achieved a significant shift in Japan's security framework, nudging his nation closer to having what proponents call a "normal" military.

Initially after World War II, Japan wasn't supposed to have a military at all. The United States, which occupied Japan from 1945 to 1952, wanted to banish the militarism that led to the war.

Under Article 9 of a new constitution adopted in 1947, the Japanese people renounced the use of force to settle international disputes, and the right to maintain land, sea and air forces for that purpose.

U.S. thinking, though, changed with the outbreak of the Korean War. It began to view Japan as a potential Cold War ally rather than a threat. At American insistence, Japan created what is called the Self-Defense Force in 1954. While some still question its constitutionality, most now accept that Article 9 allows Japan to have what has become a sizeable and well-equipped military to defend the country.

Over time, the government, again often under U.S. pressure, has repeatedly stretched the definition of self-defense to send the military on missions to the Mideast, Africa and elsewhere, though short of actual combat. And more often than not, the moves have met strong public opposition.

The first Gulf War in 1990-91 was a major turning point. Japan, by then an economic superpower, made a major financial contribution to the effort, but was criticized for giving too little, too late and not sending any people.

"The Gulf Crisis forced Japan to judge and cope with many questions which Japan after World War II had not experienced," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a 1991 annual report.

The following year, despite vocal opposition, parliament authorized the military to join U.N. peacekeeping operations around the world, though only in noncombat roles such as building infrastructure and policing.

A decade later, a special law approved in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 allowed Japan to send naval vessels to the Indian Ocean to refuel ships in the U.S.-led coalition. In 2004, another special law authorized the one-time deployment of troops to Iraq for construction projects.

The latest legislation formally allows many of these activities. The government will no longer need to enact a special law each time, though parliamentary approval to dispatch troops will still generally be required.

The most heated provision enables the military, for the first time in the postwar era, to come to the defense of allies under attack, though only when the situation is also deemed an imminent, critical threat to Japan.

Previous governments have considered collective self-defense, as the concept is known, unconstitutional. Abe's Cabinet unilaterally reversed that finding by approving a reinterpretation of the constitution last year. This weekend's legislation changes laws governing the Self-Defense Forces to allow them to do that.

Approval of the bills was never in doubt — the ruling coalition holds a solid majority in both houses of parliament — but the battle over them sparked larger-than-usual protests, energized a new generation of student activists and came at a political cost to Abe's public support ratings. Protesters saw the legislation as an assault on Article 9 and demanded that Abe resign.

In a way, the U.S. succeeded perhaps more than it now wishes in instilling a strong pacifist chord in the Japanese psyche, which has come to embrace the U.S.-drafted constitution as its own.

U.S. officials today are careful to avoid demanding changes in Japan's military policy, at least publicly. But in the face of China's growing military challenge and North Korean threats, they say they welcome whatever Japan can do to strengthen bilateral military cooperation and contribute more to regional security, within the constraints of its constitution.

Abe is eager for his country to play a larger international role, but voters remain unsure. Though the economy has stagnated, Japan has enjoyed decades of peace under the war-renouncing constitution, paving the way for its economic rise. That's a source of pride, particularly when compared to the war defeat and utter devastation brought on by the military-led government in the first half of the 20th century.

Japanese are not anti-military anymore, in the way they were in the immediate postwar decades, but the pacifist chord remains strong nearly 70 years later, as evidenced by the ruckus inside and outside parliament over the security legislation. Abe's long-term goal is to revise the constitution, but that remains a daunting challenge.

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21 Comments
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Japan takes step toward having a 'normal' military

It's not exactly 'normal' when you consider that it's probably the only military force in the world operating outside of its own country's constitution. One abnormal has just been replaced by a different abnormal.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

How can Japan have ANY kind of military when what is stated in the constitution is the following;

Article 9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

0 ( +7 / -7 )

"Abe is eager for his country to play a larger international role,"

Which ordinary Japanese can ill-afford diplomatically, hardly pay for financially and most don't want morally. Mr. Abe is in for more stomach trouble of his own making that might well make the rest of Japan very sick.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Japan was ahead of it's time with only a self defense force. Why go backwards, Japan? Why?

10 ( +13 / -3 )

Japan takes step toward having a 'normal' military

'Normal' military, 'normal' bodybags, 'normal' PTSD...

6 ( +10 / -4 )

Japan is still very limited in what the SDF can do in terms of equipment and especially manpower. The SDF is still a civil service job unlike other militaries of the world, one can simply resign from the SDF. Notwithstanding as I mentioned before, at the moment there are not many incentives for young Japanese to join the SDF. In America, college education paid by the government and experience are some top motivations to join the military, but in Japan, you'd probably get more benefits working for Toyota.

Any case with the security bills passed, Japan still faces the manpower issue and with such backlash against the bills, I don't see many young Japanese lining up at SDF recruitment centers. If I recall about 2-3 years ago they had to close the Shibuya recruitment center simply because there wasn't enough interest in joining.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Jorge,

Japan was ahead of it's time with only a self defense force. Why go backwards, Japan? Why?

Because of the voices in Abe's head!

1 ( +7 / -6 )

Badge213SEP. 21, 2015 - 03:16PM JST

Notwithstanding as I mentioned before, at the moment there are not many incentives for young Japanese to join the SDF. In America, college education paid by the government and experience are some top motivations to join the military, but in Japan, you'd probably get more benefits working for Toyota

Well, there's still one thing - tenure. Make it to the NCO ranks, behave yourself, and you are set until 53, and if you do the NCO course, becoming NCO is virtually guaranteed. In a world where all too many are bouncing from one temp job to another, that is still an attraction.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

What's normal about allowing a group of people to go and kill another group?

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Oh good. We can probably look forward to the LDP pushing for more military spending, despite Japan already being in the top-10 in the world. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I often hear "...a constitution imposed by a victorious United States after World War II..." "Imposed" is a charged word. Can we ask Mr. Moritsugu why the circumstances of the adoption of the Constitution warrant its use? Not that I myself know about the matter. But I have heard opinions to the contrary - that the Constitution was very much a Japanese document, although drafted under the eyes of the Occupational Forces. Can you refer us to any specific history or bibliography to help us understand better whether the Constitution is a US-imposed document or not?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

How can Japan have ANY kind of military when what is stated in the constitution is the following;

You change the constitution. If we can do it in the US to allow Blacks to vote and to count them as citizens, something that was horribly and morally wrong to begin with, then Japan can do the same as to the regards of normalizing their military.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

So the US imposes a constitution that bans Japan from having a standing army, then pushes Japan to have a standing army. That makes sense. Abe should just tell the Americans to put a sock in it. They don't need an army, they're fine with the SDF. I was in favour of the whole "collective self defence" thing, but anything more than that is unnecessary, and would only cause more outcries from China and South Korea. As if there aren't enough outcries already.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

You change the constitution.

Not often I agree with bass, but yes, if you think the Constitution is flawed, then you start the procedure to change it.

something that was horribly and morally wrong to begin with, then Japan can do the same as to the regards of normalizing their military.

Didn't think we would stay in agreement for long.... While the position of black people under the American Constitution was horribly and morally wrong, there is nothing wrong with the position of the military under the current Japanese Constitution (in its original interpretation, not Abe's laughable if we don't like it we'll just close our eyes and pretend we can't see it interpretation - unless you think the prohibition of military offence is horribly and morally wrong.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

This is article is an example of the American and LDP party line. It is full of the usual weasel wording plus something new, the perversion of the word "normal." What was normal was what was constitutional. Now that Abe and the LDP have chosen to violate the constitution what follows will not be normal.

What has been normal for Japan.is staying out out of foreign wars and eschewing war as national policy. This normal for other small countries like Costa Rica, Switzerland, Sweden, Iceland and others. It is also true of big counties like Mexico.

The old Japanese normal was the imperial warfare state. Its remdents are represented by the LDP and the United States.

Why is the United States leaning on Japan to militarize? It is not because it suddenly trusted Japan back in the 50s. It is because of Japan's geographic position, which is ideal for making war on the rest of Asia.

Welcome to the insecure future. If America gets Japan into a war we will be the ones to get roasted.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

****At last count the British Royal Navy had 19 warships, the Japanese 52. The British Army is down to 90000, the Japanese have 150000.The Air Self Defence Force operates more F15s than any other country outside the US. What more do they want?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

What more do they want?

An actual war to prove Japan's mettle after getting their butts stomped into the ground 70 years ago. Like the Germans after WWI, some did not learn the lesson the first time. Unlike the Germans though, they don't have nearly as much reason to be angry with their conquerors post-war behavior.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

What is the point of having a ' normal ' military ?

As many as 4 island of Kuril are conquered by Russia at the end of WWII. And Japan still can't accept it as a result for it to start WWII.

I don't know where is the cheek of Japanese soldiers for unable to take those Kuril Islands back after over 70 years of WWII This proves Japanese are the most useless human being in the world.

Other than losing the 4 Kuril islands, Japan has became USA's guarding dog after eating USA's 2 atom bombs. USA wins all and the useless Japanese lost all. They should go for the ' harakiri ' to avoid shames as long as the Kuril island are under Russia's ownership.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

****Why doesn't Mitsubishi build a fleet of aircraft carries? I'm sure Abe is planning to do so. The best kind of defence is offence, like D-Day 1944. Take the war to the enemy. So where is the SDF going to take its war?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Oh yes, the misleading photograph. Children cheering the SDF in Iraq. Underscore the fact that Japan did NOT have a belligerent role in its brief stay there. The SDF role was basically janitorial, as I recall.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Article 9 is something for Japan to be proud of.

If EVERYONE had an article 9 we would have world peace. Japan should have been promoting it overseas instead of shredding it at home. Abe will go down in history as the PM who ruined peace for Japan

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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