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JAPANS MILITARY NORMALIZATION AND ITS EFFECT TO

ASIA PACIFIC REGION

Lt Col Khairul Anwar bin Soib was commissioned into the Royal Malay Regiment
(Para) on 16 June 1994. He has served in various key appointments at unit as well as
formation levels. He holds a Diploma in Strategic and Defence Studies (UM) and
Diploma Psychology Counselling (UKM).

ABSTRACT

The military resurgence in Japan and the reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese
Constitution have elicited numerous responses from the international community
especially from the Asia Pacific region. Various factors have influenced Japan and
the Japanese government to reinterpret Article 9. External elements such as threats
and provocation from China and North Korea and internal elements from the
Japanese domestic politics have been major factors in the policy decision-making
process. The impact of the Japanese Imperial Army and its negative image during WW
II have not been overlooked by its neighbors. Countries that were invaded by Japan
are concerned with Japans military and security directions. This has invited various
responses. This paper endeavors to ascertain the main factor for Japans decision to
reinterpret Article 9 and the future direction for a normal Japan. The research
seeks to understand the influencing factors as to why Japan is pursuing military
normalization. This study also provides a coherent argument on the prospect of Japan
having a normal and active military, and the consequent reaction from the Asia
Pacific region as well as the future of the military agreement between United States
and Japan. Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abes reinterpretation of Article 9 is still
under consideration by the Japanese legal experts and lawmakers, this study focuses
on the initial phase of the reinterpretation and adopts a qualitative approach in its
research. The impact of the reinterpretation will reverberate throughout the region
and this development will inevitably effect the geostrategic and geopolitical situation
in the region. By examining all the reasons behind Japans move towards the
reinterpretation of Article 9, Tokyos response to the changes in the external security
environment are uncovered. This study asserts that the reinterpretation is not meant to
project any hostility or return Japan to the imperial ways but solely to repel and
defend itself from the threats especially from its neighbors. The threats have in return
provided an opportunity for the nationalists to intensify the level of nationalism
among the Japanese public. The political situation in Japan in which the Liberal
Democrats Party has the majority in the Diet has also assisted Abe in implementing
his plan.

INTRODUCTION
Japan is considered an economic superpower but remained as a military dwarf with
a relatively small Self Defence Force (SDF), and their reliance on the United States
for its national security. For Waltz, the country was a structural anomaly 1 and
scholars since then has attempted to explain Japans irrational security policy. In
short, Japans practices are puzzling numerous nations on the part of their security and
defence policies. More recently, this dilemma has been further complicated by
Japans shift to a more normal security posture, shown by the actions of
strengthening its international security and military roles, since the end of Cold War.
After the WW II, Japan had decided to reinterpret its Article 9 of the Constitution. The
discussions on this matter have been going for several decades internally for Japan,
and internationally with other nations. This was not the first effort of reinterpreting
Article 9. There have been three attempts prior to this. Japan may reinterpret the
article again in the future depending to their security needs at that time.

There were numerous existing literatures that delved into Japans security
policy by IR scholars either from Realist, Liberals or Constructivist perspectives. For
neo-realists such as Christopher Layne and Kenneth Waltz, they viewed Japans
disproportionate military power as relative to its renowned economic growth, which
was puzzling. Jennifer Lind contends that the conduct of Japans passive post war
security policy is consistent with the strategy of buck passing, a balancing strategy
that does a little of the required balancing possible by relying on the efforts of others. 2
On the other hand, Eric Heginbotham and Richard Samuels argued that Japans
foreign policy is consistent with mercantilist realism, which recognizes technology
based economics and its security interests as the central considerations of state
policy. This is based on the idea that technology and national wealth are as important

1
Waltz, K. 1993. The Emerging Structure of International Politics, International Security
18: p.p. 44-79.
2
Lind, J. M. 2004. Pacifism or Passing the Buck?, International Security 29: p.p. 92-121.
as military power in maintaining the states security standings as they increase the
states political leverage and independence.3 Tsuyoshi Kawasaki mentioned that
Japans security is no puzzle for realism, and explains that the state maximizes their
security without threatening others with a security dilemma. However, this has made
them susceptible to the economic costs of defence.4

FACTORS AFFECTING MILITARY NORMALIZATION AND ITS IMPACT

GEOSTRATEGIC IMPORTANCE
There were several factors involved, including that of the geostrategic importance
which had contributed towards Japans reinterpretation of Article 9. Within this
context, countries which were involved are China, North and South Korea, the United
States, and the Southeast Asian nations. The strategic security environment could
strengthen Japan's intention to become a normal country. Undoubtedly, the rise of
China and her assertive behaviour together is one of the main external reasons for
Japan to reinterpret its constitution.

DOMESTIC POLITICS
There were many internal factors which had influenced the Japanese decision makers
to support the motion by Abe. Japanese politicians believed that Japan should develop
a political profile in line with its economic strength. In 1994, Yomiuri Shimbun, one of
the biggest newspaper organization in Japan, had released the drafted constitution
showcasing the relevance of SDF in representing Japan on a global scale. In 2005,
Keidanren, Japans principal business association had published their own report,
which recommended the exercise of collective self-defense to gain recognition of
JDSF on a bigger scale. According to a June 2004 poll, prior to the elections for the
House of Councillors, sixty-two percent (62%) of all candidates favored constitutional
revision. Another poll in July 2004, 547 Diet members from both houses found that
sixty-four percent (64%) favored specifying an international security role for the JSDF
in a revised constitution, and fifty-five percent (55%) favored collective self-defense.

3
Heginbotham, E. and Samuels, R. J. 1988. Mercantile Realism and Japanese Security
Policy, International Security 22: p.p. 171-203.
4
Kawasaki, T. 2001. Postclassical Realism and Japanese Security Policy, The Pacific
Review 14: p.p. 221-240.
JAPANS SOVEREIGNTY
Although Japan's military budget is one of the highest in the world, China's military
power has surpassed Japan in many aspects. In modernizing its armed forces and
enhancing its power projection capabilities, China's defence spending has increased in
the last decade. Furthermore, Japans close geographical location to China and its
Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute has caused Japan to fear China.5 In addition to this, Japans
sovereignty was at stake due to the overlapping disputes in the East China Sea. Their
sovereignty became one of the factors as to why they sought for military
normalization. It was noted that China became a factor for Japans reinterpretation of
the Article 9. Beijing overtaking Japan to be the second largest economy in the world
did not spur them to reinterpreted Article 9. It was due to China military expansion
and signs of aggressive behaviour in the East China Sea region that had driven Japan
to have taken such daring action. The situation had influenced Japan to act to defend
their territorial rights, especially in Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Chinese leaders were
taking advantage of Japans action to increase political and public support. The
current Chinese government are mostly from the fifth generation of leaders. They
need to have the support from the younger generation to ensure CPCs survivability.

JAPAN-UNITED STATES RELATIONSHIP


The Japan-United States relationship has been a contributing factor to Japan's
intention to reinterpret its constitution. Japan has indirectly been forced by the United
States to amend its constitution.6 The United States defence policy, Pivot to Asia is
seen by Japan to not provide support to Washington. The redeployment of troops,
slow economic growth, reduction of the military budget, and the difficulty of the
United States to get out of the Middle East, are obstacles for the United States to assist
Japan should any conflict occurs in the Northeast East Asian region.7

IMPACT OF THE REINTERPRETATION OF ARTICLE 9


As for the impact, the reinterpretation of Article 9 had allowed Japan to have more
freedom in their military practices, but not as assertive as they were prior to WW II.
Through the amendments of Article 9, Japan is now able to deploy their military
forces to participate in a more extensive role, especially in supporting an allied

5
Wong Chin Wei. 12 October 2016. Desk Officer for East Asia, Analyst at DISD: Personal
Interview.
6
EmmanChanlett-Avery and Ian E. Rinehart, The US Military Presence in Okinawa and the
Futenma Base Controversy, 20 January 2016, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R42645.pdf [7 June
2016].
7
Takahashi, S. 2013. Upgrading the Japan-U.S. Defense Guidelines: Toward a new phase of
operational coordination. Project 2049 Institute.
http://project2049.net/documents/japan_us_defense_guidelines_takahashi.pdf [5 June 2016].
partner, or protecting their own country. Abe had also mentioned their intent to be a
strong force internationally, and able to contribute to the peace keeping missions such
as the UN PKO. Japan faces stern challenges in wake of their intent to be a permanent
member of the UNSC, and their current affairs do not present a favourable future for
the candidacy. If Japan can do so, it would give them better control over the council,
which may not be in favour of every other nation. To note, their relations with her
allies would be affected if Japan decided to join UN-sanctioned efforts. Rewriting
Article 9 of the Japanese constitution would be welcomed by the United States.
Without constitutional limitations, Japan can operate within a certain limit to become
an effective military sidekick for the American superpower. 8 Globally, a change could
lead to Japanese troops joining the Western coalitions in the Asia Pacific, and other
hot spots. In short, with the revision of the Article 9, Americans would perhaps expect
Japan to soon play the role that the UK does on the global stage. 9 With reference to a
2012 report, the reinterpretation would call for a greater military cooperation during
peacetime, tension, crisis and war that would deepen the United States-Japan
alliance.

EFFECT TO THE ASIA PACIFIC REGION

JAPAN-UNITED STATES RELATIONS


The defence cooperation between United States and Japan had strengthened the
relationship between both nations. The signed treaty was an assurance that incidents
related to military involvement would not take place in the region. 10 To note, Japan
still perceives their relationship with United States to be important as a counterbalance
measure for them to deter any threats from China and North Korea. The United States-
Japan alliance allows Japan to not be easily targeted by China or North Korea. 11 The
relations between China and North Korea is a factor to be considered as well. United
States President Obama had mentioned that United States will help Japan especially
when it is concerning towards their territorial sovereignty. This complements United
States pivot in Asian region, as Japan is an important ally for United States to project
their power in the Asia-Pacific region.

8
Panda, A. 2014. US, Japan overhaul mutual defense guidelines. The
Diplomat.http://thediplomat.com/2014/10/us-japan-overhaul-mutual-defense-guidelines/ [5 June 2016].
9
Takahashi, S. 2013. Upgrading the Japan-U.S. Defense Guidelines: Toward a new phase of
operational coordination. Project 2049 Institute.
http://project2049.net/documents/japan_us_defense_guidelines_takahashi.pdf [5 Jul 2016].
10
Dian, M. 2013. Japan & the US Pivot to the Asia Pacific. Strategic Updates. London: The
London School of Economics & Political Science.

11
Desker B. and Singh, B. Japans Rising Security Challenges. www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-
publication/idss/japans-rising-security-challenges/#.VtKAHH197IV accessed on 27 Feb 16.
JAPAN AND CHINA RELATIONS
Abes military ambitions have already provoked China, who accuses him of sabre-
rattling. Relations between the two countries have soured since 2010, with arguments
over disputed islands between the Chinese and Japanese, issues over maritime region,
and Japaneses air force intercepting Chinese jets amid escalating military
activities.12 How badly China would react to a remilitarized Japan is not clear, but
Beijing would not ignore such clear challenge to its dominance. Japans resurgence
would also urge North Koreas nuclear programme. The security situation in the
Korean peninsula would be tense and there is no indication of denuclearization in the
region anytime soon.

JAPAN AND NORTH/SOUTH KOREA RELATIONS


North Korea is seen to be increasingly aggressive in weapon testing, and presents
itself as a threat to Japan. As of July 2016, a total of five missiles and nuclear weapon
test had been conducted by North Korea. Japan sees North Korea's action as
provocative. Apart from Pyongyangs refusal to obey the rules of international
decisions, failure of China as a close ally to control the Pyongyang regime became a
strong factor too.13 North Koreas nuclear programs could spark other development of
nuclear weapons in the Northeast Asian region. Security became one of the prime
factors as to why Japan sought for military normalization. North Korea's aggressive
actions provided an opportunity for Japan to strengthen its relations with South Korea.
However, South Korea was very cautious in its relations with Japan. The disputes of
Dokdo/Takeshima issue will continue to be the straining issue in Japan's relations with
South Korea. South Koreas action in giving priority to China rather than Japan in its
foreign relations was expected and come as no surprise to Japan.14 Apart from seeing
China as a huge market economy, China has been an alternative to South Korea's
relations with Japan.

JAPAN AND ASEAN RELATIONS


ASEAN presents itself as an extensive market which suited Japans intent to grow
their economy through the principles of Abenomics. The likes of Philippines,
Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar, have shown their support
towards Japans military normalization. The ASEAN nations are even looking to work
together with Japan to boost their economic status. Most importantly, ASEAN nations

12
Withitwinyuchon, N. Japans New Defence Policy: Identity Change or Strategic Shift,
International Journal of Social Science and Humanity, Vol. 6, No. 3, March 2016.
13
Desker B. and Singh, B. Japans Rising Security Challenges. www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-
publication/idss/japans-rising-security-challenges/#.VtKAHH197IV accessed on 27 Feb 16.
14
Hughes, C. 1996. The North Korean Nuclear Crisis and Japanese Security, Survival. Vol.
38 (2): p. 83.
are tied to conflicts with China, such as the territorial disputes over the South China
Sea issue. The lack of unity within the ASEAN countries has placed Japan to be
among the main powers in Asia Pacific. Hence the reason Abe had made the effort to
visit ten members of ASEAN was to create a security impact in curbing Chinas rising
power.15 This allows the South East Asian region to not be overpowered by the likes
of China.

CONCLUSION
The senior demographic of Japan who was involved in wars is slowly decreasing, and
the younger generations who did not go through the challenging period of WWII are
now replacing them. History has shown them that war can incur losses to the nation in
a sense of wealth, and lives. Japan received a valuable lesson by understanding what
United States had experienced in the Iraq and Afghanistan war. Due to that, Japan
embraced self-defence in a collective manner with the intent to gain national trust, and
presenting JSDF with the foundation to gain more experience. Similarly, the growth of
Japanese nationalism regarding how Japan is sorting their territorial sovereignty in the
region of East China Sea, was one of the influencing factor as well.

The future of reinterpreting Article 9 is quite bright as recently Abe won the
Upper House election in July 2016. This would mean that; Abe will have at least 2
years to realize the reinterpretation. The result of this election shows that Abe and his
party, LDP enjoys the most solid political backing of any leader in his countrys post
war history. His party dominates the parliament, and no other politicians enjoy a
higher personnel approval rating than him. In quick order, Tokyo issued a new
Defence White Paper, which identifies the growing assertiveness of China as
Japans most serious challenge. Abe had appointed a hard-line lawmaker, Tomomi
Inada, who is famous for her revisionist views of Japans wartime actions, as his new
Defence Minister on 3 August 2016. The intensity among the Japanese public were
raised in due to the insecurity that exist in Japans security position. Abe, given the
political situation in Japan took the chance to implement his plans pertaining to the
Article 9.

Understanding that Japans sovereignty was at risk by the external factors, the
reinterpretation would allow them to position themselves better defensively. Japans
decision to pursue on the nuclear-agreements, and not turning into a nuclearized state
had showcased their intent of not turning into the offensive for the sake of their
interests. With the embracement to gain international support, the JSDF had opted for

15
Kawai, M. 2013. New Challenges for ASEAN-Japan Relation: Celebrating the 40th year of
ASEANJapan friendship and cooperation. 13 December. Asian Pathway. http://www.asiapathways-
adbi.org/2013/12/new-challenges-for-asean-japan-relations-celebrating-the-40th-year-of-asean-japan-
friendship-and-cooperation/#sthash.tRuC8Nxc.dpuf [22 June 2016].
the collective self-defence practices, which will in turn give them more experiences
abroad. They intend to focus on building their security up internally first. This can in
turn assist Japan in confronting threats from North Korea, and China.

The final research question was on how the reinterpretation of Article 9 had
affected the Japan-United States security pact, and the regional security policy in Asia
Pacific region. Japans response to allay the fears of their neigbouring nations
depicted how it had affected the other nations. This had the United States responding
on Japans reinterpretation of Article 9 to be a positive move in the direction of
bettering the United States-Japan alliance. Japans reinterpretation of the Article 9 can
be concluded to be a pivotal step for Japan to contribute progressively to the regional,
and international security. Based on the findings through this research, it was derived
that the United States-Japan security alliance was a core external factor on how the
security situation in the region was shaped. It was supported through the findings in
the research that this was one of the influencing factors that urge Japan to reinterpret
the Article 9. The treaty between United States and Japan became one of the
researched factors in this study. The reinterpretation of Article 9 was not due to an
exclusive pressure from the United States, however, the United States did urged Japan
to evaluate their commitment based on collective self-defence. The United States
facing budget cuts did not altered the relevance of their military presence in Japan.
Through the request for more commitment from Japan in sense of collective self-
defence, the importance of the alliance became apparent to Abe and LDP. By
accommodating to the demand by the United States, Japan helped them to ensure that
the United States commitment to support Japan would still be there. There were
apparent external security matters, which influenced Japan to further consider the
reinterpretation of Article 9. With their main intent being to protect the national
interests and sovereignty, the act of reinterpreting was to defend itself from external
geopolitical threats, and not to return to its imperial ways.

Based on how the ASEAN nations had responded to the benefits upon the
reinterpretation of Article 9, and Japans foreign direct investments was influenced by
it as well. With the principle of Abenomics, countries such as Myanmar, Thailand,
Malaysia, and Singapore supported Japans military normalization ideology. Whereas
with Asian Pacific region lacking unity, Japans reinterpretation of Article 9 could be
the best way for the ASEAN region to rebalance Chinas influential rise. The support
shown by the nations are suggesting that Japans remilitarization was more than
welcome. The third hypothesis was proven further after the value of investment of
Japan in 2014 in the ASEAN region was triple the amount, compared to what they had
invested in China. With an investment worth over USD 23.6 billion, potential growth,
and preferred political conditions. Japan had chosen to implement the process of
military normalization, even though the international community was comfortable
with its pacifist stance. Based on the findings in the research, Japan had opted for the
shift due to domestic politics, geo-strategic environment, and economic interests. The
findings from the literature reviews, and interviews had answered this research
question. It was supported that Abes administration responded to reinterpret the
Article 9, even though the polls from the Japanese public had voted to maintain the
current practices. Abes decision was also influenced by United States in sense of their
military contribution. This would have affected their security, and economical status.

The research had findings which showcased Japans commitment to allay the
fears of its neighbours and allies on its military normalization. This was due to the
stigma of a potential militaristic Japan in the future, based on the precedents of WWII
Japan. Vietnam, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar, were all
in support of Japans reinterpretation for their Article 9. Japan acted to restructure
their Emperors power position, emphasizing human rights value, and stepping away
from the image of inclination to wage war, to assure the other nations that the
reinterpretation of Article 9 is focused on peaceful agendas. Japans national identity,
especially with the United States was inclined towards the preservation of peace.

REFERENCES

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www.rsis.edu.sg/rsispublication/idss/japans-rising-security-
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Dian, M. 2013. Japan & the US Pivot to the Asia Pacific. Strategic Updates. London:
The London School of Economics & Political Science. EmmanChanlett-Avery and
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Controversy, 20 January 2016,

Heginbotham, E. and Samuels, R. J. 1988. Mercantile Realism and Japanese Security


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Hughes, C. 1996. The North Korean Nuclear Crisis and Japanese Security, Survival.
Vol. 38 (2): p. 83.

Kawasaki, T. 2001. Postclassical Realism and Japanese Security Policy, The Pacific
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year of ASEANJapan friendship and cooperation. 13 December. Asian Pathway.
http://www.asiapathways-adbi.org/2013/12/new-challenges-for-asean-japan-
relationscelebrating-the-40th-year-of-asean-japan-friendship-
andcooperation/#sthash.tRuC8Nxc.dpuf [22 June 2016].

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9
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2016].

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http://project2049.net/documents/japan_us_defense_guidelines_takahashi.pdf [5 June
2016].

Waltz, K. 1993. The Emerging Structure of International Politics, International


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International Journal of Social Science and Humanity, Vol. 6, No. 3, March 2016.