The Abe Cabinet’s decision on defense policy is highly problematic because it is bent on increasing the nation’s defense capabilities without self-restraint. Contrary to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s intention of making Japan safer, the new defense policy carries the risk of increasing tension in Northeast Asia and destabilizing the security environment around Japan, thus reducing Japan’s security.
On Tuesday the Cabinet endorsed a national security strategy (NSS), Japan’s first comprehensive guideline for security policy and diplomacy, along with a new defense program outline and a new five-year defense buildup program. Behind the decision is China’s military buildup and its attempts to increase its military presence in Northeast Asia as well as North Korea’s programs to develop nuclear weapons and missiles.
The NSS says Japan has followed the basic policy of maintaining a defense-only defense posture, refraining from becoming a military power and upholding the principles of not manufacturing, not possessing and not permitting the entry of nuclear weapons, and “will make firm its walk as a nation of pacifism.”
But the content of the new defense policy shows that this declaration rings rather hollow. The Abe administration is clearly trying to end postwar Japan’s traditional strictly defensive posture, thus undermining the no-war principle of the Constitution.
The NSS says that Japan will contribute to the peace, stability and prosperity of the international community through “proactive pacifism.” But what Abe means by this phrase is that he plans to reverse the government’s traditional interpretation of the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 that Japan will not exercise its inherent right to collective self-defense. This would lead to the Self-Defense Forces’ participation in military operations in foreign countries, in most cases in cooperation with the United States. An expansion of the SDF’s roles in this manner would completely destroy the no-war principle of the Constitution. Abe has not given any convincing explanation of why the exercise of the right to collective self-defense will benefit Japan.
It has been customary for Japan since 1995 to insert the phrase “improving defense power with moderation” in its defense program outlines. But the Abe administration dropped this phrase. Instead it adopted the phrase “efficiently building defense power so that it is highly effective and integrated.” This points to the administration’s intention to strengthen the SDF’s defense capabilities without caring about self-restraint.
Certainly the security environment surrounding Japan is becoming dangerous as shown by China’s recent establishment of an air defense identification zone that includes the skies over the Senkaku Islands, which belong to Okinawa Prefecture, in the East China Sea. In an effort to increase the SDF’s capabilities, the new defense program outline calls for building “integrated flexible defense power.” For example, it calls for the introduction of 17 Osprey tilt-rotor transport planes, three Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance planes, two more Aegis destroyers, five more submarines, 52 amphibious vehicles and a mobile amphibious combat unit. Once this defense buildup begins, its trend will become apparent to neighbors. It could trigger an arms race in the region, worsening the security environment around Japan.
Such an environment is prone to give rise to contingencies that could lead to accidental military clashes. The Abe administration should seriously consider how to have the SDF best serve as a deterrent to such contingencies. Instead, it appears to operate under the illusion that the use of force ultimately could resolve the difficult situation Japan finds itself in. If the administration neglects diplomatic efforts, the situation will worsen.
The NSS says in part that Japan will make efforts to build a strategic, mutually beneficial relationship with China and will endeavor to build a system that prevents the development of dangerous contingencies. But given the behavior of the Abe administration, one wonders whether Japan is ready to move in that direction.
Such efforts, if the administration is serious about them, would involve the installation of a hotline between the Japanese and Chinese governments and the introduction of confidence-building measures between the SDF and the Chinese armed forces.
The NSS and the new defense program outline call for drastically changing the long-standing weapons-export ban by setting clear principles — befitting the new security environment — on the transfer of weapons to foreign countries.
It is clear that the Abe administration is thinking of gutting the weapons-export ban altogether. This would mean discarding an important diplomatic asset of postwar Japan, one that has helped Japan gain the international community’s trust. The government should uphold the weapons-export ban and thus prevent the emergence of a situation in which Japan’s weapons and technologies could be used in conflicts abroad.
The defense program outline says that in view of the improvement of the capabilities of North Korean ballistic missiles, Japan will try to improve its ability to cope with them “in a comprehensive manner.” In this connection, a Defense Ministry official said Japan will study whether the SDF should have capabilities to attack military bases in enemy territory. Possessing such capabilities would not only be costly but also spark an arms race and increase regional tensions. It would also upset the balance in the division of roles in defense cooperation between Japan and the U.S., thus introducing an element of instability in the security relationship. Abe should not forget that the U.S. itself is wary of Japan’s move toward possessing capabilities to attack enemy bases.
As a means of strengthening the social infrastructure for defense, the NSS stresses the importance of nurturing people’s love of Japan and their native province. This smacks of nothing less than a governmental attempt to intrude into people’s thoughts and conscience, an endeavor that could lead, as 20th-century history proves, to an atmosphere of oppression in Japanese society.
Coupled with the enactment of the state secrets law and the establishment of the National Security Council, the Abe administration’s new defense policy could turn Japan into a nation that places a heavy emphasis on its military capabilities. This, in turn, could tempt neighboring countries to respond by further beefing up their own militaries, and to consider preemptive military solutions to diplomatic problems.
Instead of setting for himself the goal of changing the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, Abe should concentrate his efforts on honing diplomacy to prevent risky security-related contingencies from arising.
It is deplorable that his administration, without public discussions, has adopted a defense policy that will drastically change the fundamental nature of postwar Japan. Political opposition forces should stop his dangerous moves.