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Japan Self-Defense Forces authority-expanding law first step towards country’s transformation

16:57 | 01.10.2015 | Analytic

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1 October 2015. PenzaNews. The new law on expanding the authorities of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) – a foster project of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, President of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), that had been approved by the LDP-dominated National Diet on September 18, 2015 – was the first step towards the country’s transformation and introduction of amendments to the country’s Constitution, writes Zachary Fillingham, expert for Geopolitical Monitor, in his article “Japan: PM Abe puts pacifism on notice” published in the foreign media.

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For the first time since WWII, JSDF can be deployed overseas even without any direct threat to the country, he reminds.

According to the observer, the decisions made by the Japanese authorities after months of heated debate caused outrage in the society, stirred up criticism from the opposition, and substantially undermined Prime Minister’s ratings.

“Pacifism runs deep in Japan, having served as one of the main pillars of its post-war constitution for 70 years. Its legacy is apparent in the protests surrounding the security law’s passage and the drawn out legal challenges that are sure to follow,” the author suggests.

He points out that JSDF can be deployed in the event of an attack on the country or its close ally, but only as a last resort and with minimal use of force sufficient to repel the threat.

The expert thinks that a loose interpretation of the aforementioned preconditions may transform JSDF into a tool for preemptive strikes or acts of intimidation.

“Here’s a little taste of the semantic gymnastics coming soon to the floor of the Diet: Japan is an island, sea-faring nation that depends on the free flow of trade for its very survival. A small deterrent force would be the minimum response required to guarantee this free flow of strategic imports such as oil, food, etc. And voila, Japan can dive headfirst into tumultuous waters of the South China Sea,” the Geopolitical Monitor analyst writes.

The Japanese public and the opposition claim that the new law is inconsistent with Article 9 of the 1947 Japanese Constitution that outlaws war as a means to settle international disputes, he adds.

However, the author suggests there is a possibility that the Japanese PM could have done it intentionally.

“Those inclined towards skepticism could be forgiven for wondering whether the law was set up to fail a legal challenge on its constitutionality. This would frame the constitution itself as the problem, allowing Abe to target the golden goose of his rehabilitation project: an amendment of Article 9,” the expert stresses, explaining that the topic in question will be on the frontlines during the elections to the upper house of the National Diet in 2016.

In his opinion, the Japanese PM is ready to sacrifice much to transform the country into a full-fledged world power that is able to take part in peacekeeping operations for its national objectives, but that would require overcoming the strong opinion of the public.

“It is just an opening volley in a much wider struggle to define the very essence of modern Japan. […] If Shinzo Abe’s endgame is in fact a constitutional amendment and a sea change in how the Japanese people view their country, it’s going to be a long and contentious process, and no one knows that more than he does,” the author emphasizes.

There also might be an economic element in Prime Minister’s plan, he suggests.

“A previous ban on the export of military technology was relaxed in April, freeing the way for Japan’s entry into international arms markets. Though Tokyo has only sold missile parts to the United States so far, it’s only a matter of time until it secures a larger contract for one of Japan’s more advanced weapon platforms,” Zachary Fillingham writes.

He also points out that the new law is connected with diplomatic relations between Tokyo and Washington, shaped by the strategic location of Japanese islands in the East Asia and the shift in American external priorities.

“Before the US qualitative military advantage was so vast that it could guarantee Japan’s defense without incurring catastrophic costs; now the playing field is more level and allies are being asked to contribute more to their own security. This phenomenon is not limited to US-Japan relations. […] In other words, it’s no longer a one-sided relationship where it is only the United States’ job to offer assistance to Japan,” the expert stresses.

The new law attracted the most criticism from China and South Korea, the biggest victims of Japanese aggression in the Second World War, he notes.

“The Chinese defense ministry released a statement saying Japan should learn the ‘profound lessons from history.’ […] South Korea issued a statement urging Japan to abide by the spirit of its post-war constitution and pursue a transparent defense policy that contributes to regional peace and security,” Zachary Fillingham points out.

However, from his point of view, the current budgetary and demographic situation in Japan gives no reasons for China to see any real military threat.

“This is more a case of playing to the nationalist base. […] Then there are the more tangible consequences of further complicating China’s consolidation of the South China Sea and increasing the early survivability of US forces in the event of a conflict – these are real reasons why Beijing prefers a pacifist neighbor,” the Geopolitical Monitor analyst suggests.

At the same time, he stresses, the Philippines, Vietnam and India voiced support for the new law because, from their point of view, it would weaken Beijing’s stand in the South China Sea, pave the road towards a multilateral solution of the territorial dispute there, and strengthen their military ties with Tokyo.

“Vietnamese Communist Party Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong recently visited Japan in a trip that saw a flurry of new announcements, including a Japanese pledge of $832 million in infrastructure aid and new ships for Vietnam’s coast guard,” the expert notes.

He also comes to a conclusion that the course towards the Japanese remilitarization would add to the climate of political instability in East Asia, while ideological struggle against current public opinion would take many years.

“Abe can’t celebrate yet. Pacifism runs much deeper than the law’s easy passage would suggest, and the fight for Japan’s soul might only be getting started,” Zachary Fillingham writes. 

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