Japan’s defense: easing the constitutional corset

May 30, 2017: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) and then-Defense Minister Tomomi Inada (L) attend a ceremony in Tokyo honoring the Self-Defense Forces (source: dpa)
May 30, 2017: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) and then-Defense Minister Tomomi Inada (L) attend a ceremony in Tokyo honoring the Self-Defense Forces (source: dpa)
  • Japan’s current military capabilities far outstrip its constitutional commitment to pacifism
  • Nuclear armament is not a realistic option for Japan, but a bolstering of its defenses seems inevitable
  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s assertive defense policies will likely be continued by his successors

With the rise of China as the new superpower of the 21st century, Japan’s geopolitical environment is changing rapidly, with profound national defense implications. More than ever before, the government of Shinzo Abe sees the abrogation of Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution as a desirable goal.

When it comes to Japan, the legacy of World War II has two special features. Japan is – until now – the world’s only country to be subjected to a nuclear attack. It is also the only country that constitutionally committed itself to foreswearing the use of war as an instrument of national policy. Both features were the result of decisions made by the United States. By dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. hoped to avoid a bloody campaign to conquer the Japanese home islands. By writing Article 9 into Japan’s new postwar constitution, the Americans intended to prevent their former enemy, once and for all, from reacquiring offensive military capacities.

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