Japanese Prime Minister Sinzo Abe is now looking to revive and revamp Japan’s military, and in upcoming elections this Sunday, he may be able to get the mandate to do just that. With China on the rise and the United States slowly drawing back from the world stage, the time may have come for the Japanese to again look at supporting a large standing army.

Japan

Defense budget raised by Shinzo Abe

Mr. Abe has already raised the Japanese defense budget, the first time this has occurred in 11 years. He has also taken a strong stance against China over the Senkaku Sea islands and been blunt in handling North Korea. Abe is now looking to improve the Japanese military in terms of both quantity and quality.

While it was initially the United States whom insisted that Japan abandon its military ambitious in the aftermath of World War II, America has repeatedly called for Japan to increase military spending. Initially, the United States needed Japan to counter to the Soviet threat. Now, the United States needs Japan to counter the Chinese threat. At the same time the United States is looking to slowly draw down its forces across the globe.

America – Japan relations

America is obligated under the “Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan” to defend Japan in the event of an attack. If the Japanese increase their own military capacity, however, the United States could at least reduce its military presence on the island. With over 30,000 soldiers stationed in Japan, the United States military commitment to the country is one of the highest in the world. If the military is able to reduce its footprint in the country, it could dramatically cut costs.

In the past the Japanese people have generally been against military expansion. The emotional scars of World War II and the costs of supporting a modern military remain unattractive, especially with an economy that has remained stagnant for almost 20 years. Now, with China on the move and North Korea becoming increasingly belligerent, many Japanese citizens are beginning to see the value of a full-standing military.

Many people may not realize that the Japanese constitution does not allow for a large standing army with offensive capabilities. Indeed, the Japanese military is actually called the Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF), emphasizing the defensive nature of the military. There are serious questions of the legality of a muscular Japanese military. As article 9 of the Japanese Constitution states::

(1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

This article is nothing short of wide sweeping, and legally bolstering the military would be difficult underneath the Constitution. As a result, many Japanese citizens and policy makers are calling for the Constitution to be revised. Public polls have found that 56% of Japanese citizens approve of revising the Constitution to allow for a stronger military. Prime Minister Abe  has repeatedly stated that even after any increase in military might, Japan will still maintain a defensive military.

Others, including Prime Minister Abe, have pointed out that the Japanese Constitution allows only for self defense. This means that even if one of Japan’s allies were attacked, Japan would be unable to assist. So if North Korea were to shoot a missile at the United States, Japan would be unable to intercept or stop it. As such, Abe has been calling for the Constitutional article to be expanded to allow his nation to defend allies.

Abe’s plans for military

If Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party wins comfortably in the upcoming upper house elections, look for Japan to bolster its military might. This could raise tensions in the region, especially with China already on its toes over U.S. presence and the Senkaku islands issue. Still, Japan may have no choice as the Asia Pacific is once again becoming a hot spot for potential military confrontations.

While the globalized economy would make the outbreak of a full scale war highly unlikely, having a strong military may now be essential for Japan’s geopolitical position and ability to influence regional events. The effects of an increased Japanese military presence remain to be seen, but there are risks that tensions in the region could worsen.