US strategy to militarize Japan

By MV Naidu

What role should Japan play in the post-Cold War era? There are those old-guard hawks of that period in the United States who have been pushing Japan as an ally to become a military counterpoise to China, whom they cannot fully trust. Ironically, in Japan I recently heard a Russian military strategist say the same thing-but coming from the opposite side. He was pleading with Japanese academics that Japan should now take over the place vacated by Russia as a nuclear power to checkmate both the U.S. and China.

Peace advocates, however, are insisting that Japan, the only victim of nuclear weapons, should remain a witness to the horror of a nuclear holocaust; it should refrain from ever becoming a maker and user of the nuclear bomb.

During the Cold War, Japan was a close ally of the United States and initially without military forces. Under Article Nine of the national constitution, imposed on Japan by the U.S. at the end of World War II, Japan could neither maintain national fighting forces, nor send abroad any military contingents. The United States, which enforced demilitarization, has been the power facilitating, coaxing, bullying, threatening, and demanding the remilitarization of Japan. Today Japan has a strong, well-trained armed force euphemistically called Self-Defence Force (SDF). While the military expenditure in 1981 was nearly $21 billion, constituting 0.9% of the GNP, the expenditure rose to nearly $31 billion in 1990, 1% of the GNP. The 1976 self-imposed limit of defencespending of 1% of the GNP was formally abandoned by the Nakasone government in 1987. The Pentagon and the U.S. Congress have been demanding that Japan should spend as much as 3% of the GNP. Even Japanese public opinion seems to be moving in favor of increasing militarization. According to a 1991 public opinion poll, when the sample was asked to pick an effective defence policy, 31% chose military balance, while only 12% chose detente and only 8% chose arms control.

Last June the Japanese parliament (the Diet) passed a law enabling the dispatch abroad of Self-Defence Force in the service of the U.N. peacekeeping operations. Would the peacekeeping operations legislation prove an opening for Japanese entry into foreign military adventures? Last year Japan sent its first batch of soldiers to a foreign country, Kampuchea. Many Asian countries are still suspicious of Japanese militarism. It is not easy for them to forget that between 1894 and 1945 (a period of 51 years) Japan undertook 12 military operations of various kinds, averaging one every 4.3 years.

Will increasing militarization of Japan also lead to the nuclearization of Japanese military power? What arguments can the pro-nuclear forces, inside and outside Japan, put forth to seek public endorsement of the nuclearization of the Japanese military? Of course, one simple argument could be the existence of a nuclear threat to Japanese national security. But who-other than the U.S.-poses such a threat? Answer: Russia and China, which still own thousands of nuclear weapons. Will they resort to nuclear attacks? Not unless they are ready for a full-scale nuclear war. It is inconceivable that Russia or China can think of such a desperate, self-destructive strategy.

If not a full-scale war, can Russia or China resort to a sort of limited nuclear war against Japan? It is insane to argue that any war, especially a nuclear war, can be controlled consciously, manipulated and managed to keep it within predetermined limits. Besides, nuclear powers such as the U.S., U.K. and France would not remain detached observers of any nuclear confrontation.

Another source of nuclear threat to Japan, one could say for the sake of argument, could come from North Korea, which is supposed to have or will soon have, a nuclear weapon. Although Korean antagonism to Japan does have long historical roots, North Korea would hardly think of avenging historical wrongs by dropping a nuclear bomb on Japan.

The only other nuclear threat in Asia is the so-called Islamic bomb, which Pakistan has been secretly trying to develop. In spite of being a military ally of both the U.S. and China, Pakistan is far from being a threat to Japan. Moreover, Pakistan's nuclear aspirations are motivated by its concern about India, not Japan.

What other argument could Japanese leaders put forth to justify nuclearization of Japanese military power? It should be noted that more than 70% of the Japanese have been historically opposed to nuclear weapons. No Japanese government can callously disregard the strong anti-nuclear sentiments of the Japanese people. Japanese sentiments during the 1960s were expressed by the policy of Prime Minister Eisaku Sato. His three anti-nuclear principles were: no possession, no manufacture, and no introduction of nuclear weapons in Japan. In 1968 Japan signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In a 1975 poll of the newspaper Asahi Shimbun, 75% of the Japanese supported these nuclear principles. But American nuclear carriers (ships and planes) have been visiting Japan, and American military bases in Japan are thought to store nuclear weapons. In 1986 Japan got involved in the Americans' Strategic Defence Initiative research.

Having met and heard older and middle-aged Japanese, I am convinced that they are committed to anti-nuclearism. These are the citizens who have personally witnessed the explosion at Nagasaki or Hiroshima, or who have had close relatives or friends who witnessed the holocaust. But I wonder, how far the new generation (those aged 25 years or less) is committed to anti-nuclearism? This generation, like its counterpart in the U.S. and Germany, is materialistic and admires military power, the two main traits of highly industrialized societies. What would this generation feel if Japan's economic affluence were threatened? Japan's industrialization is entirely dependent upon foreign raw materials, cheap labor, and mass markets. If these were denied, what would Japan do? If the past is any indication; it would get them through military means! The United States has done the same in Latin America for the last 100 years. All European countries fought many wars to gain and hold onto their empires; all Western powers have recently done the same in the Persian Gulf. Should Japan be expected to act any differently?

Thus the remilitarization of Japan and the despatch, for the first time in the post-war era, of Japanese troops beyond its shores, ostensibly to help U.N. peacekeeping in Kampuchea, may have far-reaching implications for world peace. If Japan is sincere in its commitment to peace, then it should withstand pressures to increase its military forces, its military science-technology, and its military budget. But advanced industrial economy cannot be achieved and sustained, it can be argued, without colonization, without militarization and war, and without dehumanization of science-technology, productivity, and trade. Are the Japanese willing to question the fundamentals of unlimited industrialization? Japanese people can be far-sighted in vision and innovative in their enterprises: Japan has one of the world's strongest peace movements. Letus hope these factors will collectively transform Japanese attitudes, values, economy, and politics, to make them appropriate and effective for permanent peace.

M V Naidu is a professor of political science at Brandon University, Brandon MB.

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1993

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1993, page 22. Some rights reserved.

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