Japan is the only country to have experienced the horrors of nuclear war. As a result of this, it’s post-World War II constitution has a clause renouncing war and the country in large part, has embraced pacifism—over the years it has been quite common to see protesters regularly show up at American bases in Okinawa to object to the United States military presence there. However, in a move that highlights an abandonment of pacifism, by the country’s ruling class, Japan’s defense ministry has requested a record budget of 5.3tn yen (£37bn) in a bid to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and respond to growing Chinese air and naval activity in the region. If approved by the cabinet and parliament later this year, the proposed budget would be the seventh consecutive rise under Japan’s current prime minister, Shinzo Abe. It includes 424bn yen for missile defence and significant portion of that – 234.3bn yen – would go on two US-made Aegis Ashore missile defence systems that would be deployed on land specifically to track and intercept missiles from North Korea. toOn top of these purchases, Japan’s military also wants to fund the purchase of a ship-to-air SM-3 Block IIA interceptor with expanded range and accuracy, developed jointly by the US and Japan, as well as upgrades to fighter jets and destroyers to make them compatible with advanced interceptors.
This move, which is the latest effort to bolster Japan’s defense sector, comes during a week in which defense officials called for the country to retain its hardline stance against the regime in Pyongyang–despite a slight easing in tensions following the summit in June between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. This stance is reflective of the view among members of the government and military that North Korea continues to pose a “serious and imminent threat”—especially after Pyongyang’s repeated nuclear and ballistic missile tests since the start of 2016. Readers may recall how North Korea fired two ballistic missiles over northern Japan last year, triggering warnings for residents to seek shelter. Those incidents only helped to embolden hardliners in Japan who have also advocated in favor of a modification to Japan’s pacifist constitution, which forbids the use of force to settle international disputes and limits the military to a strictly defensive role (whose main functions include disaster relief).
Shinzo Abe, the country’s conservative prime minister has, throughout most of his time in power, railed hard against the restrictions imposed by the country’s constitution. In 2015, he pushed through a law allowing Japan to exercise collective self-defense, in a move that would allow Japan to come to the aid of an ally. This in theory, allows Japan’s defense forces (known as the Self-Defense forces) to fight overseas for the first time since the end of WWII. The justification for such changes comes in the form of the “severe and uncertain” security environment fuelled by North Korea’s refusal to denuclearize—at present talks between Pyongyang and Washington have stalled—and the growing assertiveness of China, which has, like Japan, significantly increased its military spending in recent years. To counter these two threats, Abe and Japan’s military leaders have sought increased investment in military equipment such as fighter jets from the United States. US President Donald Trump, in his eagerness to sell military equipment to his country’s allies in the region, has welcomed and encouraged such moves. And if, as expected, Abe were to win next month’s election for the president of the ruling the Liberal Democratic party, he is expected clarify Japan’s military’s legal status and thereby steer his country further down the path of militarization. What happens once this process is complete remains uncertain. But the pacifism which has for so long defined Japan’s approach to foreign policy (and defense policy by extension) is slowly, but surely becoming a thing of the past.
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