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Since its defeat in the Second World War and the adoption of its 1947 Constitution, Japan — the World’s third (formerly, second) largest economy, and a country with one of the longest and proudest warrior cultures in history — has essentially adopted the military policy of Switzerland. Apparently, no more:
[Prime Minister Shinzō] Abe’s coalition pushed through the legislation a day and a half after a wrestling match in a parliamentary committee, where burly ruling-coalition lawmakers warded off opposition members who swarmed around the committee chairman in an attempt to block passage. For the first time in the 70 years since World War II, the new laws will give the government power to use the military in overseas conflicts even if Japan itself isn’t under attack. Mr. Abe said that will make possible a closer alliance with the U.S. in cases such as a war on the Korean peninsula or a blockage of sea lanes that threatened Japan’s security.
A few things of note:
- The general consensus among Japanese legal scholars is that the legislation is in violation of the Japanese Constitution. I can’t claim any great knowledge here, but it’s hard both to see how this legislation would conform to famously pacifist Chapter II, Article 9. On the other hand, much the same could be said of the existing Japanese Self-Defense Forces. The topic has apparently been controversial for decades, with Japan’s judiciary having a history of being deferential on the subject.
- Though Abe’s coalition holds a majority in the Japanese Legislature, his government is unpopular, and the the legislation has sparked some of the largest protests in recent Japanese history, with rallies hosting between 10,000 and 30,000 people. More interestingly, there’s been a large contingent of student groups involved, something Japan has not seen in decades (voter turnout among young Japanese is famously low). Much of the substance of these protests concerns the potential to get dragged into American wars. The protestors seemed much less interested in the prospect of Japan potentially dragging its allies into its simmering conflicts with China and North Korea.
- Also recently, Abe’s government has lifted bans on Japanese weapon exports. Though little has come of this and related reforms so far, it has the potential to turn what has been a very safe, insulated sub-industry into something much more dynamic and potent.
So, Ricochet: a good development or a bad one? I’m cautiously optimistic — I’d imagine the weapons industry news in itself A Very Big Deal™, and one that will benefit NATO allies immensely — and I’ve generally been frustrated with “allies” acting more like protectorates than partners (at least the Japanese had been honest about it). On the other hand, it’s hard to hear this news without at least a little concern that the famous quip attributed to Admiral Yamamoto about America might one day be applied to his own country.