Japan’s military is kept on a very short leash under a war-renouncing constitution written by U.S. officials whose main concern was keeping Japan from rearming soon after World War II. But if Japan’s soon-to-be prime minister Shinzo Abe has his way, the status quo may be in for some change.
Abe, set to take office for a second time after leading his conservative party to victory in elections last Sunday, has vowed a fundamental review of Japan’s taboo-ridden postwar security policies and proposed ideas that range from changing the name of the military – now called the Japan Self-Defense Forces – to revising the constitution itself.
Most of all, he wants to open the door to what the Japanese call “collective defense,” which would allow Japan’s troops to fight alongside their allies – especially the U.S. troops who are obliged to defend Japan – if either comes under direct attack. The United States has about 50,000 troops in Japan, including its largest air base in Asia.
Right now, if Japan’s current standoff with China over a group of disputed islands got physical, and U.S. Navy ships coming to Japan’s assistance took enemy fire, Japan wouldn’t be able to help them.
“With the U.S. defense budget facing big cuts, a collapse of the military balance of power in Asia could create instability,” Abe said in the run-up to the election, promising to address the collective defense issue quickly. “We must foster an alliance with the United States that can hold up under these circumstances.”
Japan has one of the most sophisticated military forces in the world, with a quarter million troops, a well-equipped navy and an air force that will acquire dozens of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters over the next several years, in addition to its already formidable fleet of F-15s. Japan’s annual defense budget is the world’s sixth largest.
“We should stand tall in the international community,” said Narushige Michishita, who has advised the government on defense issues and is the director of the security and international program at Tokyo’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
“These are good, well-trained conventional forces,” he said. “We are second to none in Asia. So the idea is why don’t we start using this. We don’t have to start going to war. We can use it more effectively as a deterrent. If we get rid of legal, political and psychological restraints, we can do much more. We should start playing a larger and more responsible in international security affairs.”
Full article: Japan’s next leader wants freer rein for military (My Fox DC)