Home Japan’s Remilitarization: Implications in East Asia

Japan’s Remilitarization: Implications in East Asia


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s declaration that he hopes to see a revised constitution implemented by 2020 underscores  his intention to move Japan away from its post-World War II pacifist posture towards a more active one in the Asia-Pacific security environment. In retrospect, Japan’s rewritten constitution under the auspices of the allied powers, principally the United States, which came into effect in 1947, is argued to have uprooted the country’s entire political system and imposed Article 9 on the Japanese constitution.

The uniqueness of Article 9 is that it is considered explicitly pacifist.In other words, it explicitly states that Japan may never build, or maintain, a military force with war-waging capabilities.[1] Article 9 specifically states that “in order to accomplish this aim (“aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order…”) land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained and the right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized. However, the Japanese nationalist have since then argued that Japan, like any other sovereign state in international system, has the right to maintain a military.[2]

Currently, Japan has a self-defense force – the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), which has maintained an anti-piracy base in the Horn of Africa, mandated to use lethal force where necessary as part of an overseas contingent in South Sudan.[3]It is important to note here that since becoming the prime minister of Japan in 2012, Shinzo Abe has been pursuing abrogation of Japan’s pacifist position.

While Japan’s shift after over 70 years of commitment to pacifism has undeniable implications in Japan’s relations with the US and China, what counts as positive change for the US usually is perceived as a negative turn of events for China. Perception ofJapan’s remilitarization has elicited strong response from China. In this regard, the Chinese official news agency Xinhua condemned Japan’s new military stance as dangerous.

Contemporary geopolitics in Asia is determined by China’s steady rise since the 1980s, which has steadily challenged the primacy of Japan and other powers in East Asia. Present day China is seen to be challenging the existing territorial status quo in East Asia on multiple fronts. In the south it is laying claims to huge swathes of ocean thought to be rich in oil and gas but legitimately claimed by several nations.[4] Along its border with India, Chinese patrols are more aggressive, and on its official maps it shows large chunks of Indian Territory to be part of China. Additionally, while China’s claim on Taiwan is well know, to its east, China has declared a pair of small islands claimed by Japan part of its territory.

Analysts have increasingly commented that China has been flexing its military muscles and intimidating its neighbours into accepting its expanded claims. While some countries like Vietnam have actively resisted by engaging in naval maneuvering that features attempted ramming and water cannon, but no use of live ordinance so far, others like the Philippines, have attempted to take their case against China to bodies like the World Court.

As far as Japan is concerned, with China’s rise, and diminishing power of the US,  Japan, a protectee of the US is under great pressure. Though the preferred US strategy would be to fight China, analysts have pointed out that a huge stumbling block to such an idea is Japan’s constitutional pacifism. In other words, America’s plan to militarily contain China from across the whole geographic extent of East Asia will fall apart if Japan’s armed forces could not be counted to operate outside its own national territory.

In the recent past, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has stated his desire to revise the Japanese constitution, more specifically the peace clause that denounces Japan’s rights to possess the means to wage a war. With Japan’s security environment becoming ever increasingly severe with the shift in the global power balance, the emergence of new threats such as terrorism and cyber attacks, as “proactive contributor to peace” Japan feels that it needs to contribute more actively to the peace and stability of the region and the international community, while coordinating with other countries.

Japan has been an active contributor to collective security; however, after 9/11, Japan sent naval ships to the Indian Ocean to support the US military in Afghanistan, and in 2004 dispatched peacekeepers to Iraq to support the US occupation. Thereafter, there was to be seen expansions in Japan’s military role in which Japan increased its military contribution at times of elevated threat. Scholars dealing in Japanese studies have repeatedly pointed out that since the end of Cold War, the developments in the region such as North Korean efforts to develop nuclear weapons and Chinese misadventures have alarmed the Japanese state.

In the backdrop of growing threat from Chinese steady modernizing of its armed forces and acting increasingly assertive in its territorial disputes, Japan feels that the Chinese mainland is now behaving in a really aggressive way both in the South China Sea and East China Sea that reflects its intention to attack Japanese interests. Additionally, with growing uncertainty about its US ally especially whether it would defend the disputed islands has prompted Japan to increase its military build-up.

In order to manage associated external risks and internal counter-pressures, Japanese policy makers have sought to safeguard national security against a perceived range of increasingly complex regional and international security challenges. Japan, in the recent past has tended towards emphasizing a low-profile national security posture. Since the mid-2000s, the Japanese government has committed itself to go beyond technical research and embarked to introduce and procure Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) programmes.

In this regards, the 2005 Japanese National Defence Policy Outline announced a need to respond to new types of threats such as ballistic-missile attacks, guerrilla or special-operations attacks, and invasion of outlying islands. The Outline also required the development of heightened capacity to contribute to the international security environment through participation in multilateral operations overseas. As such, in 2016 Japan declared that it wouldinvest billions of dollars in new submarines, ships and stealth fighter aircraft. As a matter of fact, the Japanese Defence Ministry put out a $44 billion spending plan focus on defending the Senkaku Islands, the chain in the East China Sea administered by Japan but also claimed by China.

Compared to its defensive posture and politics in the past, Japan is said to be growing increasingly nationalistic and militarized. It is true that Japan is rebalancing its defense budget that would be useful in deterring or defeating the most likely security problem the country faces. However, it has been argued that the time has come for Japan to take a much more prominent role in East Asian security issues. Additionally, since East Asia can be considered a traditional Regional Security Complex (RSC), the main actors (Japan and China) are sensitive to each other’s movement or securitization processes.

The fact of the matter is both sides are securitizing each other. The Chinese government is believed to use the media in order to encourage civilians to act aggressively and radically against Japan; and for Japan, China’s “irresponsible” behavior is the main fuel for substantial changes and actions. Japan is seen to be slowly adjusting to conditions that require balancing Chinese influence in East Asia. Such Japanese adjustments is seen as redefining the scope of Japanese defense interest as more expansive than defending the home islands, which will have an effect on the security dilemma in East Asia. On the contrary, this new commitment is seen as a possible flash point for defensive Chinese countermeasures or probing actions that will further escalate tensions.

Japan’s remilitarization will have a major shift in the geopolitical balance in East Asia that could have significant political repercussions for Japan. There is no denying the fact that Japan’s past military aggression continues to shape public opinion in many of its neighbouring countries. However, fear of Japan’s remilitarization has not been repulsed by all in the region. Recently, Philippines has pledged its support for Japan’s full rearmament and abolishment of its pacifist constitution as a way to counter China’s looming influence. The fact remains that Japan has already taken steps towards remilitarization. The expanding role of Self Defense Forces (SDF) alone demonstrates that Japan has already increased its defense and become more militarized.




[2] Id



[4]What Japanese Remilitarization Means For Asia And The World:http://www.mintpressnews.com/japanese-remilitarization-means-asia-world/193370/

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Anushree Dutta
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