Japanese lawmakers spent much of the last month deliberating over the future of their country’s military, with negotiations descending into a scuffle, live on Japanese television. High emotions were justified, though, given that the law being debated would allow Japan to engage in conflicts abroad for the first time since the end of World War II. The legislation, which passed on Sept. 19, allows Japan to come to the defense of allies, principally the United States, in any international military conflicts. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe argued that this provision moves Japan closer to being on equal military footing with the United States. In reality, this bill could harm the United States more than it could help it.
After World War II, the United States occupied Japan until 1952. When Japan’s sovereignty was returned, the United States established stipulations in the Japanese constitution — the Japanese military was constitutionally forbidden to act in any armed conflicts that were not considered the direct defense of the Japanese mainland. During the intervening 60 years, a culture of pacifism has developed amongst the Japanese populace. The concept of being dragged into foreign wars without precedent does not sit well with the people, as evidenced by only one in six respondents supporting the law.
This obligation does not serve Japan’s best interests, but on an international level, it could also harm the United States. The wording of the law is quite vague, and many critics note that the law would allow for joint operations with the U.S. military. Essentially, as long as there is an ally that needs support in a matter that in some way concerns Japan, the country is free to act. However, since the United States has been caught in a bilateral military pact with Japan since 1951, U.S. forces must always be deployed alongside Japanese troops. Additionally, the strengthening of Japanese military ties with the United States further isolates countries like China and North Korea. The tensions over claim on the South China Sea have grown in recent years, and this sort of military positioning is likely to antagonize China and hasten their aggressive tactics.
Japan must start worrying less on foreign affairs and much more on domestic interests. Within 30 years their population is projected to fall by more than 20 percent, a dire economic problem. When Abe came to power almost three years ago there was concern that he would focus less on his country’s real problems and more on nationalistic ideology. This is exactly what is happening now, and before he expends all of his political capital, he must address bigger issues. At the very least, his policies should not be putting countries other than his own at a bigger threat.
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A version of this article appeared in the October 5 print edition. Email Max Schachere at [email protected]