Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey and his Japanese counterpart Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano meet at a Defense Chiefs Strategy Dialogue in Washington on July 16, 2015. (Department of Defense/ Daniel Hinton)
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to alter a key provision of Japan’s constitution to lift the country’s 70-year ban on foreign deployments.
Over the last month, Japan has been shaken by the largest anti-war demonstrations since the late 1960s, when millions of students, workers, and ordinary citizens turned out to try to block their government’s collaboration with the US war in Vietnam. The issue this time is the plan by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to alter a key provision of Japan’s peace constitution to allow Japan’s “Self Defense Forces” to take part in overseas military operations for the first time since World War II.
That happened on July 16, when Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party pushed through a critical vote in the Japanese Diet to lift its 70-year ban on foreign deployments and, as The New York Times reported, give “Japan’s military limited powers to fight in foreign conflicts.” This week, the controversial legislation is being debated by Japan’s Upper House. The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, faces an uphill battle to stop the bill despite the growing number of people expressing their opposition in the streets.
Abe’s victory will transform Japan—with its surprisingly large, tech-driven military-industrial complex—into America’s new proxy army. It builds on recent changes to US-Japanese “guidelines” on strategic cooperation that, as the Times has reported, will “expand the reach of Japan’s military—now limited to its own defense—allowing it to act when the United States or countries American forces are defending are threatened.” The agreement was hammered out in April, when Abe met at the White House with President Obama, and was clearly on the administration’s mind when the LDP claimed victory in the Diet.
“We certainly welcome Japan’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the alliance and to play a more active role in regional and international security activities, as reflected in our new guidelines for US-Japan defense cooperation,” State Department spokesman Robert Kirby told reporters. And as Foreign Policy pointed out last week, the development “could be very good news for U.S. defense contractors.”
But the dramatic shift in Japan’s military posture is strongly opposed by its neighbors, particularly in Korea and China. A recent poll showed 62 percent of Japanese respondents opposed the security legislation, the Japan Times reports. And as protests by citizens, academics, constitutional scholars, and even government officials mount, some analysts believe the right-wing Abe has badly overstepped and may have even dug his own political grave by flouting Japan’s strong commitment to pacifism in overseas affairs.