TOKYO – In one of modern Japan's biggest changes to security policy, its government decided this week to reinterpret Article 9 of its constitution to allow greater use of military force to defend other countries. The move sparked street protests amid fears it marks a reversal of Japan's post-World War II pacifist principles.
Three experts shared their thoughts with The Associated Press about where Japan's military is headed and why it is such a sensitive issue: Jeffrey Kingston, head of Asian studies at Temple University Japan; Takeshi Iwaya, chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's Research Commission on Security; and Narushige Michishita, director of the Security and International Studies Program at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. Quotes have been edited and condensed.
THE ANTIWAR CONSTITUTION
KINGSTON: Article 9 was part of the U.S.-written constitution that banned Japan from maintaining armed forces and resorting to war. Over the years, Japan has actually built up a fairly large and modern defense: navy, air force, army. Also, Japan has stretched the envelope of what's possible in terms of what it can do in the security realm. But this really is not seen by Washington as enough, and certain conservatives in Japan have long advocated for Japan to develop a more assertive defense posture. So Article 9 is seen to be a constraint on Japan's desires to up its security profile, and the fact is, Japan does live in a dangerous neighborhood.
UPPING JAPAN'S ROLE
IWAYA: We seek to play a more proactive role to ensure peace and stability in the region. It must have been difficult for the U.S. to serve as lone policeman for the world, and it might have faced calls from its people to step back. But we say, "America-san, please keep your presence here for the peace, stability and prosperity for the Asia-Pacific region. Japan will help more, so let's do it together." That's what we are trying to do.
KINGSTON: A lot of analysts say, "Hey, you have North Korea lobbying missiles, China flexing its muscles, you have these disputes in the East China Sea. Why don't the Japanese people get with the program?" The thing is, pacifism is part of Japan's national identity. Postwar, the Japanese people have found in pacifism — redemption. All children, where do they go for their school trips? Hiroshima and Okinawa. Both places reinforce anti-war sentiments, which are further reinforced in Japanese textbooks. Look what happens when you go to war. Look at the devastation the Japanese people suffered during the war. Japanese people are very much aware of what happened the last time militarists were in control of their country. So there is an abiding fear of what might happen if Article 9's constitutional constraints are eased on what Japan can do militarily. They really fear that the alliance with the United States will somehow pull Japan into conflict. That's why it's so controversial.
MICHISHITA: We often see concern that Japan will take excessive military action if the country is allowed to exercise collective self-defense, but what we really should worry about is not going too far, but not being able to do anything. Collective self-defense is only a right, and whether to exercise it is a political decision. It won't be easy for Japanese lawmakers to decide to execute it while facing a risk of losing public support. Countries in the region are increasingly concerned about tension over China's high-handed approach, and showing high expectations for Japan's role. Previously, Japan could have said, "We cannot contribute to the region because we cannot exercise the right to collective self-defense." Japan now has lost that excuse, and the question is how much will Japan be able to contribute to security in the region.
THE FUTURE: AN ASIAN NATO?
IWAYA: In the long run, I think we should put a large security umbrella over the entire Asia-Pacific region, like the one in Europe. That's the direction we seek under the slogan that the Abe administration promotes: "proactive contribution to peace based on international cooperation." There will be a large free trade bloc in the region in the future, and in order to protect that I believe the establishment of a large collective security framework should be a long-term goal in the region.