Changing Japanese Defense Policies

By February 18, 2015

Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 112

East Asia is marked by numerous volatile security issues: struggles over unresolved territories; disputed sea and air lanes; North Korea’s missile threats and nuclear program; piracy and insurgencies; and the growing militarization of most of the countries in the region. In particular, a rapidly-arming China makes this area potentially explosive. Chiefly in response to the perceived weakness of President Obama and to threats from China, Japan’s leaders have decided on a more proactive (rather than reactive) security stance. This has not been a sudden shift: in response to regional and worldwide developments, for over twenty years Japan has been slowly complementing its economic diplomacy with a greater emphasis on military power, and a gradual hardening of its defence posture. But recently, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has accelerated changes in national security policies, under the title “proactive pacifism,” as part of a new strategic equation in East Asia. Initiatives include a new National Security Council and National Security Strategy, new National Defense Program Guidelines, a new legislative basis for security activities, a new cyber-security unit, and more lenient guidelines for arms exports. Moreover, these steps have ended a decade of reductions in Japan’s defense expenditures, and the 2015 defense budget is the largest in the country’s history.

Japan is at a watershed in its reactions to its security environments, in particular to its East Asian surroundings. Two key questions arise: Is there is a possibility of a formal revision of Article 9 of the constitution, prohibiting the country from maintaining an offensive military? And is there any likelihood of Japan actually using its military power? Further reinterpretations of the constitution do seem likely, in order to allow Japan to gradually deploy more troops abroad as part of collective security, but this does not imply the remilitarization of Japan or its development into a threat to regional stability. They do however entail a rational, if accelerated, progression towards the use of armed forces to meet a number of pressing challenges to Japan’s security.

 

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(Photo Credit: Wikipedia Images)

Eyal Ben-Ari

Prof. Eyal Ben-Ari is Chair of the Center for Society, Security and Peace at Kinneret Academic College. His books include (with Zev Lehrer, Uzi Ben-Shalom and Ariel Vainer) Rethinking Contemporary Warfare: A Sociological View of the Al-Aqsa Intifada.