Change in Tokyo

July 03, 2014 - 5:12:27 am

Japan’s decision to give its military wider powers is a welcome move.

Military policies of countries are not decided in a day. They take years to get moulded into shape, and a slew of factors are taken into consideration – a country’s military past, its involvement or lack of involvement in foreign missions and its ambitions. So we have countries which can be classified as pacifist or jingoistic or those falling in between.

Japan has been known for its pacifist military policy to which it has stuck stubbornly over the past few decades. But the country is going for a dramatic change after much deliberations. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a reinterpretation of the country’s pacifist Constitution on Tuesday, freeing its military for the first time in over 60 years to play a more assertive role in the increasingly tense region. In other words, the change will enable its military to come to the aid of friendly countries under attack. It’s a change that has been necessitated by the latest developments in the region, and one that is completely justified. As one of the superpowers, Japan needs to play a more active role. Pacifism is a great virtue, but that should not be interpreted as a weakness, and should not come in the way of helping friendly countries.

Abe had originally sought broader freedom for the country’s military but was compelled to compromise after opposition from his own Liberal Democratic Party and a coalition partner, a small Buddhist party. But even the agreed changes are considered revolutionary by the current standards because they will permit the military to use its large and technologically advanced forces in ways that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago when they were limited to defending the country. 

There is no doubt that a major reason for the current shift is the rising power of China, its threatening postures and the changing power equations in the region. Beijing is mounting a serious challenge to the regional dominance of the United States and its allies, including Japan, and making assertive claims to vast areas of two strategically important seas.  Many countries in the region are locked in territorial disputes with China, all of whom are helpless in front of China’s might. The new change in Tokyo will be welcomed by all countries which have disputes with China.  Also, a weakening of the US power globally means the allies of Washington need to devise their own mechanisms to protect their borders and interests. 

Japanese leaders for years have been taking their country away from its passive security stance. They agreed to join Western efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan by transporting cargo and refueling other navies’ ships, bought weapons that could be called offensive, and under Abe, gave military-related aid to neighbours who share Japan’s anxiety over China.