Japan’s military hasn’t had much of a regional presence, much less a global one, for about 70 years. During World War II they had one of the strongest navies and air forces in the world, to say nothing of their army. A combination of losing a nasty fight, shame over some of the atrocities they committed, and international pressure led to them gutting their military and drafting a pacifistic constitution. Ever since the war, they have relied on others for military protection and needs–primarily their previous foe, the United States.
Until now, that is. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is looking to loosen some of the restrictions on the Japanese military in the face of a changing world. With their old rivals in China growing ever more powerful and nearby North Korea run by an unpredictable madman, they may need more than just the overextended American military for protection. Additionally, Putin’s Russia has made no secret of wanting to reclaim many former territories, including those in the North Pacific. With all of this in mind, Japan really has no choice but to begin providing for its own protection.
Abe is visiting the United States this week, hoping to strengthen the already strong alliance with the American government. The plans for the stronger military presence were announced on April 27 from Washington D.C. The proposals are actually updates to previous guidelines instituted in 1997, and will include a mutual defense pact.
While they did not name any countries specifically, CNN obtained a quote from an unidentified American official. The official said that “the threat from North Korea is rising,” and mentioned that the deal could help increase stability in the region. However, the official also said that “The guidelines are not aimed at any single country other than strengthening the defense of Japan.”
The intent is pretty obvious to outside observers, though. North Korea has long been a thorn in the side of, well, pretty much everybody and could pose a very direct and real threat to Japan if they ever manage to cobble together a legitimate weapons program. And it’s not for lack of trying, they’ve launched missiles repeatedly into the sea nearby. It’s only due to incompetence that they haven’t succeeded.
Lest we forget about China as a potential rival to the United States, they could also pose a threat to Japan. The two countries have a long history of not getting along so well, and a defenseless Japan only a couple hundred miles offshore could prove too tempting for them in the future.
All of that without even getting into Russia, who have been internationally flexing their muscles. Successfully invading and annexing a portion of Ukraine could only be the beginning, with Russian officials making overtures to do the same in other parts of the world, not just in Eastern Europe either. They have even made their intentions to try to regain control of much of the Northern Pacific clear, including even parts of the United States, like Alaska. Having a much stronger ally in the area could prove a serious hindrance to any drastic actions, or even subtle ones, Putin could make.
Overall, the sins of Japan’s past have long been forgiven by the world at large, aside from China, and a stronger military for the nation could prove useful for world stability as a whole. As long as China and Russia remain rivals to both the United States and Japan, having a mutual defense agreement could be one of the best moves either country could make at this juncture.