Should the US and NATO allow Japan to rearm in the face of the current evolving world order? This is a question being asked globally as disturbances unfolded on the fringes of the G7 summit in Hiroshima. Law enforcement grappled with individuals protesting against the convening of global leaders.
Law enforcement officials were spotted restraining demonstrators following an eruption of a physical altercation.
The protest was orchestrated by the “Revolutionary Communist League National Committee”, an extremist group leaning to the far left, that condemns the G7 summit as an assembly advocating “imperialism for nuclear war”.
The G7 includes the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan, with eight additional countries extended an invitation this year. The agenda for their meeting encompasses discussion on the conflict in Ukraine, among other foreign policy topics, inclusive of their relations with China.
A survivor of the Hiroshima bombing in 1945 recalls the horrifying aftermath, reminiscing about the burnt survivors fleeing past his home in the countryside. The memories of the atom bomb survivors, known as hibakusha, are becoming scarce as they grow older.
“There are only a few people like us who experienced the war and the atomic bombing. We are dying,” says one survivor while sitting in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park, where world leaders attending the G7 summit paid their respects.
The fear of losing the hibakusha and the changing world around them has prompted a shift in Japan’s outlook. The country has aged, and its once thriving post-war economy has faltered in the face of China’s growing dominance. Consequently, there is an increasing desire among the Japanese public for greater protection against emerging threats.
The governing Liberal Democrat Party (LDP), which has faced resistance from voters opposed to militarization, is now taking steps to strengthen Japan’s military capabilities. The government, under Prime Minister’s leadership, plans to embark on a significant military spending spree and expand the armed forces.
However, each move to militarize the nation further deepens the division over Japan’s long-standing commitment to pacifism.
“The world is going through a period of turmoil right now,” expresses a concerned individual. “Recently, there has been talk about raising the military budget. It makes me wonder if we are heading towards war.”
A difficult balance Japan’s transformation from an imperialist power into a pacifist nation after being devastated by atomic bombs brought the adoption of a post-war constitution. The constitution, implemented in 1947 under the influence of occupying US forces, includes Article 9, which renounces war and prohibits the maintenance of military forces.
The interpretation of Article 9 has been a constant struggle for Japan in finding a balance between defense and the desire for peace. While some argue that the law has weakened the country, others believe that changing it would mean forsaking pacifism and forgetting the painful lessons of history.
Various leaders have attempted to revise Article 9 in the face of public opposition, but Japan’s government has managed to expand its interpretation with each security challenge it faces.
Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF), created in response to the Korean War and the Cold War, have gradually taken on a broader role. In the 1990s, Japan deployed the SDF for peacekeeping missions during the Gulf War, marking the first overseas military involvement. More recently, the late prime minister Shinzo Abe pushed through laws allowing Japanese troops to engage in self-defense alongside allies in overseas conflicts, despite controversies.
While pacifism remains a deep-rooted belief among the Japanese public, there is a process of reinterpreting what it means in light of evolving circumstances. What was once opposition to the use of armed force now includes acceptance of the use of force in the name of self-defense against aggression.
Japan finds itself at a turning point, grappling with unprecedented challenges and growing fears of encirclement. With China’s assertive military expansion and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, coupled with Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the potential for a closer Moscow-Beijing alliance, Japan perceives its neighborhood as increasingly hostile.
Calls for greater militarization have traditionally come from a minority of conservatives seeking to restore national pride. However, recent polls suggest that a larger portion of the Japanese population is warming up to the idea. More people now support a stronger Self-Defense Forces (SDF), and there is overwhelming support for Japan’s security alliance with the US. Furthermore, a significant portion of the public favors amending the second part of Article 9 to allow Japan to have a military.
Even within Hiroshima, a city deeply scarred by the atomic bombing, there are individuals open to considering a shift in Japan’s approach to national defense.
“Every time I hear the news about missile threats, I am horrified,” says one woman. “There are cases in today’s world where people are attacked out of the blue… I wonder if it is necessary to see [the increased military spending] as something to protect ourselves.”
The risks Japan may face if it does not rearm:
Should China and Russia become dominant powers in Asia, and should the US become unable to maintain its current protective role due to economic constraints, Japan may face several potential risks, particularly if it does not choose to rearm itself. However, please note that this answer is purely hypothetical and speculative, based on current international relations trends and historical patterns as of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021.
- Potential Security Threats: Without a substantial self-defense force or American military presence, Japan could become more vulnerable to potential threats from neighboring countries. Historically, the region has seen numerous conflicts and territorial disputes, some of which are ongoing, such as the disputes over the South China Sea and the Kuril Islands. If Russia or China chose to assert their power militarily, Japan could potentially find itself at a disadvantage.
- Increased Economic Dependence: Japan could become more economically dependent on these dominant powers. It might have to acquiesce to unfavorable trade agreements or policies to avoid potential political or military confrontations.
- Loss of Influence: Japan’s influence in regional and international politics could be diminished, potentially impacting its ability to negotiate on various matters such as trade agreements, environmental policies, human rights issues, and more.
- Deteriorating Democracy and Human Rights: Historically, dominant powers have often sought to spread their political ideologies. If Russia and China, which are both countries with controversial records on human rights and democratic values, become dominant, Japan could face pressure on its democratic values and human rights practices.
- Risk of Nuclear Proliferation: There is a risk of nuclear proliferation in the region if Japan does not rearm itself, which could lead to a more unstable security environment. The balance of power could potentially shift in favor of countries with nuclear capabilities.
- Dependence on External Security Guarantees: Without a significant defense capability, Japan would need to rely on the security guarantees of other nations, potentially putting its security at the mercy of their interests and strategic decisions.
That said, these risks must be balanced against the potential risks and costs of rearming. These could include regional tensions, arms race, the economic cost of militarization, and possible revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution, a move that could face significant domestic and international opposition. It’s a delicate balance that would require careful, strategic decision-making.
What have we learned in the last 100 years?
Numerous scholars and historians argue that the imposition of harsh sanctions by the Western powers against Japan and Germany in the lead-up to World War II served to provoke, rather than prevent, the global conflict. They contend that these economic penalties, including the U.S.’s embargo on oil exports to Japan and the debilitating reparations imposed on Germany after World War I, pushed these nations into a corner where they felt they had little choice but to act aggressively to ensure their survival.
This perspective suggests that the West should have learned from this historical example that sanctions can often have unintended and devastating consequences, particularly when they push countries to the brink of economic collapse. Rather than promoting compliance or fostering negotiation, these punitive measures can induce desperation, leading to unpredictable, and often violent, responses. Therefore, they caution that it’s crucial to consider the potential backlash when implementing such strategies in the international arena.