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Japan’s new policy on collective self-defense: Storm in a teacup, or bridge too far?

29 Comments
By Bart Gaens

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet has postponed the submission of legal bills relating to collective self-defense until next year. The actual impact of the decision to reinterpret article 9 of the Japanese Constitution therefore remains unsure.

It is beyond doubt, however, that determining precisely under which conditions the Japanese military can to come to the aid of foreign allied forces under attack or defend friendly nations in the course of a U.N. mission, will prove highly complex. Temporarily shelving related legislation reveals just how controversial the issue continues to be among policymakers and general public alike.

The new policy, formally issued on July 1, 2014, has resulted in a revived domestic debate between an opposing camp deploring Abe’s “annihilation of article 9”, and supporters of the move who assert that the commotion is overblown and no groundbreaking changes should be expected in the short term.

The government’s incentives are clear. First, collective self-defense forms an additional tool to confront regional security threats from an increasingly assertive China and an unpredictable North Korea. It is also a valuable device promoting alliance building, especially in the context of Abe’s envisaged “Democratic Security Diamond”. Abe floated the idea of a security alliance between Japan and the U.S., Australia, and India in December 2012. In the past year, Japan has markedly stepped up security cooperation with the three other countries in terms of shared military technology, arms sales deals, and planned joint exercises.

A second important incentive is rooted in Abe’s long-held belief that collective self-defense stands for more autonomy and equality in Japan’s alliance with the U.S. It furthermore allows for a more self-reliant role in international missions without the “humiliating” dependence on other nations for the security of Japanese forces. In other words, it symbolizes another step towards breaking away from the post-war regime.

In addition to these two domestic drivers, U.S. pressure also played a role. In recent years, the U.S. has actively sought to enhance the alliance cooperation by allowing collective self-defense, for example in order to allow for joint operation of Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) systems. Accepting collective self-defense is an essential ingredient of the scheduled revision the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance guidelines, which will likely materialize in 2015.

Judged from the angle of international cooperation, Japan’s policy shift on collective self-defense might not seem unreasonable. Even as a “civilian power”, Japan will likely be involved in military activities, including peacekeeping operations, under the U.N. flag. A clear decision on the possible scope of action, equipment and use of weapons is therefore only rational. However, viewed from domestic and regional perspectives the new policy course is problematic.

First of all, it should be kept in mind that the reinterpretation of the constitution overturns 60 years of government policy. It also follows a failed attempt to garner sufficient political support to amend article 96, so as to make it easier to formally revise the constitution. A reinterpretation therefore merits more debate and clarification, especially in view of insufficient public support for the new policy. The results of opinion polls differ according to the source. However, it seems undeniable that a majority of the population is unsupportive, that many agree that the government did not follow the proper procedures to achieve its goal, and that the necessity of reinterpreting the constitution was not explained sufficiently.

It is therefore essential that the Abe government address this “democratic deficit” both in the Diet and through a broader public debate with different stakeholder groups. It should be viable to explain in more detail and delineate the conditions under which collective self-defense would come into play, if Japan is serious about transforming from a non-military country focused on economic affairs, to a “global civilian power” which includes collective security activities in the U.N. framework.

More challenging, however, is the larger picture of Japan’s policy shift and the link with regional security. Undeniably, collective self-defense cannot be seen separately from other efforts to make Japan in the long term a more “normal” country also in the military sense. It therefore needs to be viewed in the context of the ongoing attempts to create more “dynamic and assertive” armed forces, to loosen the restrictions on sales and export of weapons, and to cooperate closer with the U.S. by creating a State Secrecy Law and a National Security Council.

For example, collective self-defense is closely linked with weapons sales, joint development of military technology, and logistical training, support and maintenance. It is furthermore closely aligned with the strategic use of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to supply used patrol ships, maritime security equipment, and naval training to befriended nations. It is therefore easy to see how Japan’s new policy can prompt China to further increase its military spending, and eventually exacerbate Asia’s ongoing arms race. What is needed therefore is a proactive Japanese effort to deepen relations with its neighbors.

Economic interdependency in Northeast Asia urgently needs to be matched by an institutionalized political and security dialogue between Japan, China and South Korea, just like functional economic cooperation led to political integration in Europe.

Bart Gaens is senior research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs and specially-appointed associate professor at Osaka University.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

29 Comments
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Not enough Diet support to change the Article 9.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Japan is clearly responding to the security situation in which they find themselves. The hesitancy of the US to involve itself in the current conflicts in the region, the reduction in overall US military power, and the increasing assertiveness shown by both Russia and China place Japan in precarious circumstances. How can anyone blame Japan for increasing its military spending and ability to defend itself and its allies? How can Japan commit to formal alliances with South Korea, South East Asian nations, or other potential allies without the ability to reciprocate in defense matters? Obviously, it is extremely difficult.

In addition, without a normalization of military in Japan, Japanese will continue to be pushed around and abused in international discourse and formal policies of its neighbors. Diplomacy only goes so far without any military might in international affairs that stands behind international policy.

Clearly Japan needs to manage this situation well in order to defend its interests in the region. Japan has not started the Arms race in Asia, however, it must respond to the increased threat China poses to the regional interests. Japan is a third party in the arms race started long ago when China began building military equipment in direct opposition to US might in the region. With the increased reluctance of the US to involve itself in foreign conflicts, the US must begin to burden themselves with the responsibility of defending their borders and interests.

In terms of domestic interest, very rarely do we see domestic populations coalesce around the desire for strong militaries and war. This is not an excuse for Japanese government to avoid the most important function of a federal government - defense from foreign actors.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

DrIzakayaOct. 05, 2014 - 11:38AM JST Japan is clearly responding to the security situation in which they find themselves. The hesitancy of the US to involve itself in the current conflicts in the region, the reduction in overall US military power, and the increasing assertiveness shown by both Russia and China place Japan in precarious circumstances. How can anyone blame Japan for increasing its military spending and ability to defend itself and its allies?

Blame Japan for increasing its military spending? I'm not doing that. It is WHAT they are spending on that I object to. Weapons with absolutely no defensive potential, only for offense... It is completely idiotic. Japan could defend itself quite easily, but it has NO chance of winning a war against any of the real "threats" in the region... what seems to completely escape the attention of militarist in Japan is that Japan has barely enough young people to prevent a complete collapse of the country in the next 30 years... even if they lost just 10% of them it would be a disaster. Japan is the last country in the world that should be engaging in offensive warfare.

And defending its allies?? NO WAY! You just stated above that the US is "reluctant" to help defend Japan... so it is unreasonable to expect Japan to assist the US. Not to mention that the US is involved in multiple frivilous and unjust wars on at least two continents right now... it would be sheer idiocy to get involved.

How can Japan commit to formal alliances with South Korea, South East Asian nations, or other potential allies without the ability to reciprocate in defense matters? Obviously, it is extremely difficult.

War is about economics, and in economics Japan is the 3rd most powerful nation in the world. Just give them money and let they buy their own arms if defense is a sticking point, or share technology. Again, Japan simply doesn't have enough manpower to field an army of any real size, and Japan's population is shrinking, making this a dead-end.

In addition, without a normalization of military in Japan, Japanese will continue to be pushed around and abused in international discourse and formal policies of its neighbors. Diplomacy only goes so far without any military might in international affairs that stands behind international policy.

This is the height of illogic. Words are just words. They can say what they like, but for so long as they continue to buy Japanese products it doesn't actually matter. And if you don't like what they're saying that is NO excuse to attack their country. ... and if you don't plan to attack their country then a huge army is just an empty threat and a huge drain on your economy.

That's what warmongers don't understand, that at the end of the day it all comes down to economics, and the US is a case study in what happens when you field a huge military... you end up NEEDING to go to war to fund it.

In terms of domestic interest, very rarely do we see domestic populations coalesce around the desire for strong militaries and war. This is not an excuse for Japanese government to avoid the most important function of a federal government - defense from foreign actors.

Japan's current military infrastructure is 100% geared to defense. What you can't seem to grasp is the difference between defense and offense.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Just wait until mommy and grandma find out little Kinjo has to go to war and has no choice

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Frungy The strongest defense is a good offense. And Japan does have to prepare to win a war against China or it might as well hand the Senkakus and possibly Okinawa over to China now. That is the problem with bullies: they only understand violence.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet has postponed the submission of legal bills relating to collective self-defense until next year. What a coincidence, that happens to be the same time the "secrecy act" will be up and running.

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Japan does have to prepare to win a war against China or it might as well hand the Senkakus and possibly Okinawa over to China now. That is the problem with bullies: they only understand violence.

Not true at all. Bullies also understand fear of imprisonment, fear of financial prosecution, fear of getting in trouble from authority etc. There are numerous ways of dealing with bullies, which is why your analogy doesn't work so well when referring to China.

Because there are other ways of dealing with them. War should be the absolute last of the list after everything else has been attempted, and only in the case where China attacks first.

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scipantheistOct. 05, 2014 - 05:18PM JST @Frungy The strongest defense is a good offense.

Do you get all your ideas from fortune cookies?

And Japan does have to prepare to win a war against China or it might as well hand the Senkakus and possibly Okinawa over to China now. That is the problem with bullies: they only understand violence.

Accept reality, Japan cannot win a war against China. Japan lacks the manpower.

There's also the small matter of the A-bomb, which is why no country with the A-bomb has been invaded since it was invented, there is simply too great a risk that some "death or glory" general will authorise its use and destroy half the planet. China has the A-bomb, and war with China is simply not possible... or at least not war in the way that you understand it.

And this is where we get to the real issue. WW3 started 70 years ago. Russia wasn't defeated with force of arms, it was defeated economically, socially, culturally. These weapons are a little too subtle for some people to understand, but they're far more powerful and unlikely to trigger a nuclear war. The best bit? Japan is the third best armed country in the world economically, and culturally its influence is increasing (if it could get over its aversion to English it would be the world leader!).

Japan doesn't need to be aggressive, it just needs to defend its borders physically while undermining its opponents economically and socially, and then let them collapse on their own.

Physical war with China cannot happen, if it did it would be the destruction of Japan, with or without allies. Even the USA wouldn't be stupid enough to attack China, just look at what happened when they went into Vietnam, a much smaller and less powerful country.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Our host country Japan, finally has an opportunity to really take a look at their state of affairs as a nation. A review of the constitution which was in essence written by "foreigners" on their behalf after WWII, does make sense. Article 9 just happens to be one of them. Defensive and Offensive really does not matter when "protecting" one's family or country. All weapons depends on "how" they are used, so types of weapons are not really an arguable issue. The key is "how best to protect one's country." Japan has the right to find that on their own.

As far as war is concerned, all wars are economic in nature. Regardless of how it fought, physically, mentally, emotionally or otherwise, it is to gain control of natural resources including people resources in any territory, that benefits and assures the survival and prosperity of a tribe, a nation, a race, in essence of the human species. Sadly when competition for basic resources go beyond the basic needs and become wealth and power that allows for luxury and pleasure, sharing such resources does not satisfy all.

Physical possession and occupation determines control and availability of such resources and competition becomes conflicts, which when declared by the leaders of that tribe, nation or race, it becomes a military engagement we call war. Today people find that information and use of that information is the most important tool in finding, using and keeping all resources. Therefore, those who control communication have the power to control resources. However, resources are physical, so physical possession requires physical presence or occupation. Therefore, sadly, military might determines physical possession.

Japan, in order to keep Japan, requires military might.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

kazetsukaiOct. 05, 2014 - 11:52PM JST Defensive and Offensive really does not matter when "protecting" one's family or country. All weapons depends on "how" they are used, so types of weapons are not really an arguable issue.

Perhaps then you would care to explain how a nuclear missile can be used defensively? It cannot. How about a stealth bomber? Also used purely offensively. They could be used for purposes for which they were not designed, such as using a stealth bomber for surveillance, but at a MASSIVELY higher cost than a purpose-built device.

And this is what proponents of offensive weaponry for Japan just cannot grasp, that buying the offensive versions means that Japan's military spending would go up massively... and why? Japan cannot hope to win an offensive war. At best it could offer some support to an ally, but the US is not going to attack China. It is simply not going to happen for the same reasons that the US never attacked Russia directly.

Japan's military currently focuses entirely on defensive weaponry, and so gets maximum utility for its spending. Even if China threw half of its current forces at Japan (leaving itself dangerously exposed on half a dozen fronts) it still wouldn't be able to break through, because China has invested too heavily in a variety of equipment, much of use would be of absolutely no use in trying to attack Japan (ever tried to use a mobile SAM unit at sea?... not gonna work mate).

Japan, in order to keep Japan, requires military might.

It does, but spread that military might across offensive and defensive weapons systems and you'll end up being neither able to defend Japan nor with sufficient manpower or equipment to pursue an offensive war.

To put it simply, Japan's current load-out works well. If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Do you get all your ideas from fortune cookies?

I get my ideas from Carl von Clausewitz, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_von_Clausewitz . The communists certainly understand his theory: they prepare for war by creating thousands of missiles (offensive, much?).

I like you theory of using social power to undermine China. If only it were possible in a reasonable time frame. The west has been trying to get through to average Chinese person on the bankruptcy of their political system, but when you can cut off large parts of the internet and poison the minds of children when they are young, it doesn't leave much room for hope. In the mean time, the Senkakus are very much in danger of being taken and you don't really have a credible answer for defending them. What is Japan supposed to do: send thousands of coast guard boats around them? They are bit small for marine bases.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Perhaps then you would care to explain how a nuclear missile can be used defensively?

There's also the small matter of the A-bomb, which is why no country with the A-bomb has been invaded since it was invented, there is simply too great a risk that some "death or glory" general will authorise its use and destroy half the planet.

In your own words.

And this is what proponents of offensive weaponry for Japan just cannot grasp, that buying the offensive versions means that Japan's military spending would go up massively... and why?

Completely wrong. Many of Japan's weapons platforms can deploy offensive systems. There is no reason why Aegis ships, for example, could not deploy ballistic missiles, nor is there a reason why their current fighters cannot deploy smart bombs. The F-35 certainly will have most certainly have offensive capability out of the box.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

all weapons can be used offensively or defensively. just depends on who strikes first.

having the nukes would be a deterrent. it limits how far you can be pushed before you say screw it and there would be no "winner" of a nuclear war no matter who was offensive first. the only reason china has not invaded yet is cause japan is ostensibly covered by the u.s. nuclear umbrella. although i highly doubt the u.s. will do much more than complain and bring sanctions in the event that china invaded the senkakus.

actually, potentially nukes would be perfect for defending the senkakus. 10-20 deployed by cruise missiles and subs would be virtually impossible to stop and enough to turn china into parking lot. if china ever occupied them, just tell them to leave your nuclear testing range or suffer the consequences. its in the middle of no-where so minimal risk to non-combatants or of fall out but sends a very clear message about how serious you are about defending your territory.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

the only reason china has not invaded yet is cause japan is ostensibly covered by the u.s. nuclear umbrella.

A bit paranoid, no?

Japan has almost no natural resources. What could China possibly gain from an extra 120 million angry "citizens" and a massive destabilisation of the whole region?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Perhaps then you would care to explain how a nuclear missile can be used defensively?

By having them, they can prevent being attacked by others that have them too?

Walk softly, but carry a big stick kind of thinking.

You don't have to agree with it, but surely you can see the rationale for it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

MGigante - I could also use a Ferrari as a delivery vehicle, but it would be an expensive and stupid decision. Just look at the Aegis Kondo class destroyers. Their main selling point is their advanced missile tracking system and anti-missile capabilities. Slapping on a mass of long-range missiles for surface strikes outside their radar range would be like hitching a horse box onto a Ferrari. A massive waste of time, money and effort for a substandard result.

Most military systems are designed for a specific use. Just because something is possible doesn't make it a good idea.

Scipantheist - Ask yourself this question, how long would a war in China drag on, and to what result? The Vietnam war dragged on for 19 years and ended in defeat. A war in China would either be much longer (with the same result) or much shorter if China chose the nuclear option (and they might well decide it was a viable option strategically).

Given these choices economic warfare is the only sane and viable choice, and as such Japan's military focus should remain on defense as it is the only area where they can hope to win any victories.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

By having them, they can prevent being attacked by others that have them too?

Seems to be working for N. Korea. The whole world is focused on ISIS, a bunch of ragtags who have been causing a ruckus for a few months, ignoring NK which has been doing it for three generations.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Seems to be working for N. Korea. The whole world is focused on ISIS, a bunch of ragtags who have been causing a ruckus for a few months, ignoring NK which has been doing it for three generations.

Exactly, which is ironically why I would prefer that no new states have them. It would just makes a bad situation worse. However, I can understand why they might want to have them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

DrIzakayaOct. 05, 2014 - 11:38AM JST

the increasing assertiveness shown by both Russia and China place Japan in precarious circumstances.

Collective self defense is to protect a foreign country. Protecting ones own country is individual self defense.

I do not see why Japan should protect a foreign counrty because Japan is put in precarious circumstances by Russia or China.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Given these choices economic warfare is the only sane and viable choice, and as such Japan's military focus should remain on defense as it is the only area where they can hope to win any victories.

I don't believe that is necessarily true. For one, Japan does not have the absolute size to do much to China in terms of economic warfare. In regular warfare, however, technology is the great spoiler. There is also the issue of alliances. Make no mistake, victory is not certain for the Chinese against the United States. You mentioned the Vietnam War. That should illustrate the importance of determination in overcoming an otherwise superior foe. Given that China only has its hordes and nukes on its side, Japan could eke out a stalemate even without the United States if it had the determination.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

CH3CHO : I do not see why Japan should protect a foreign counrty because Japan is put in precarious circumstances by Russia or China.

Same as for Western Europe. 70 years of protection from Communists by USA at price way below cost.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I should clarify in my last comment that the Viet Cong and NVA fought essentially an offensive war against the US: they weren't relying on bunkers and anti-aircraft guns to win, that is for sure. In any event, Japan doesn't need to be able to start a war, but it does have to be able to end one. Powerful countries don't get to play the pacifist card, unfortunately.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Scipantheist - You are mistaken. The only stalemate Japan can realistically force with China is by using the Sea of Japan as a barrier and continuing to invest in primarily defensive weaponry.

The logistics of invading China are mind-boggling. The entire U.S. army couldn't even pacify Iraq, a comparatively tiny and technologically backwards country. The idea that they would be more successful in China is... completely impossible.

Japan's current defensive strategy is sound. It ain't broke, don't try to fix it. No matter how hard the USA pressures Japan to shoulder more of the burden of pointless US wars.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Frungy

Japan has no ambition of invading mainland china. We lost our appitite 70 years ago.

On the other hand there is more then one way to subdue PRC into a stalemate if and when PRC starts an military advance towards Japan.

Japan can provide economic and material asisstance to the Uyghur independence movement through Turkestan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and/or Tajikistan. There is also the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Tibet and even Hong Kong/Shenzhen/Zhuhai/Guangzhou region which may consider independence with the right motivation.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

+1 It doesn't have to be invasion. In any event large parts of China's military will have to be used to put down "local disturbances".

1 ( +1 / -0 )

SamuraiBlueOct. 06, 2014 - 11:42PM JST Japan has no ambition of invading mainland china. We lost our appitite 70 years ago.

I should hope so. But then why invest in offensive military equipment that has massively high maintenance costs if they don't intend to use it? Eventually it just forces the military to start a war to justify their shiny toys.

On the other hand there is more then one way to subdue PRC into a stalemate if and when PRC starts an military advance towards Japan. Japan can provide economic and material asisstance to the Uyghur independence movement through Turkestan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and/or Tajikistan. There is also the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Tibet and even Hong Kong/Shenzhen/Zhuhai/Guangzhou region which may consider independence with the right motivation.

... and we all know how that can NEVER backfire, right? ... isn't that how Al Queda got started?

Because giving high tech weapons and training to a bunch of terroris... I mean freedom fighters is a great idea, right?

Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Those who can't even remember what happened a decade ago are just plain beyond hope.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Japan is an interesting place.

They cannot admit to the war crimes committed by Imperial forces, but they don't want a return to the blind patriotism, militarism, and aggression of the Imperial era. Given that whenever a country achieves a strong military there is the temptation to misuse it, I do not have any advice to give.

If I were to attempt to give advice, it would be for China: you should attempt to achieve your place in the world without recklessly using military forces to browbeat your neighbors. Make your neighbors your friends, instead of your enemies.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

1glennOct. 07, 2014 - 01:58AM JST If I were to attempt to give advice, it would be for China: you should attempt to achieve your place in the world without recklessly using military forces to browbeat your neighbors. Make your neighbors your friends, instead of your enemies.

Gee, why should they follow that advice? The US have been using that tactic for the last 70 years and it got them to the top.

Face it, the US is anti-China simply because it doesn't like competition in the "World's biggest despot" race.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Japan has almost no natural resources. What could China possibly gain from an extra 120 million angry "citizens" and a massive destabilisation of the whole region?

no US military base to choke its access to the pacific and a free hand in S.E. asia to start.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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