Japanese security and peacekeeping operations - Should Japan strengthen its army?


japanese army today security peacekeeping

We discuss if the military restrictions imposed on Japan due to Japan's controversial military history are justified today. Do security challenges and the participation in peacekeeping operations justify further militarization?  Should Japan's Self-Defence Force be turned into a fully-fledged army? Vote and invite others to join the debate

Japanese Army today - Should Japan strengthen its army?

            In July 2016, Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe—who heads the political coalition between the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its smaller coalition partner Komeito—secured a supermajority in Japan’s upper house elections. This was a significant event as it bolstered Abe’s ability to change the country’s pacifist constitution, which represents a highly-charged decision given Japan’s history. The constitutional article that has to be amended with a two-thirds majority in both houses of the national Diet is Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. It prohibits war as a means to settle disputes in international politics.

            The revision could herald an era where Japan becomes a more engaged and active member of the international community. However, the interpretation of Article 9 has always been fraught with great controversy, which makes its amendment a highly significant turn in Japanese politics. But can Japan have an army? Does Japan have an Army? Japan’s current military force, the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF), represents more a de facto military than a formally institutionalized one. It has its origins in the United States’ decision to participate in the Korean War with troops stationed in Japan, which left Japan militarily vulnerable. The National Police Reserve was thus set up, which later morphed into the SDF. It is more akin to a peacekeeping operation with significant military capabilities. The constitutional ambiguity here could end with new amendments expected to be passed.

            In this debate, we invite you to contribute with your opinions on whether Japan should militarize. In the following paragraphs, we present a two-sided argument on Japan’s militarization:

Japan should strengthen its army:

  • Japan should actively participate in global peacekeeping. The shift from a unipolar hegemony by the United States has seen increasing destabilization of collective security in the Asia Pacific region.
  • According to the ‘International Policy Digest’, the combined alliance of traditional American allies such as South Korea and the Philippines are not sufficiently strong to counter the increasing Chinese aggression. The Japan vs China islands dispute could eventually trigger an escalation between the two countries and the Japanese Army today does not have enough deterrent capacity. A larger army may contribute to Japanese national securtity
  • Public opinion seems to favour constitutional revision. According to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, 49% of voters seemed to support constitutional revision, while 44% opposed.
  • Military expenditure gap: Japan has always underspent on its military operations compared to other Asia Pacific states. In 2015, it spent only 1% of its GDP  ($40 billion) on military, compared to 1.9% for China ($215 billion), 2.6% for South Korea ($36.4 bilion),  3.3% for the United States ($596 billion) and 2.6% for Russia ($66.4 billion). Its military power is not commensurate with its political standing in the world community.

Japan should not support militarization:

  • Militarization contradicts the founding constitutional principles of modern-day Japan. Some 70% of Japanese constitutional scholars concur that the SDF is a violation of Japan’s constitution. Increasing militarization will only further contradict its founding principles.
  • Wartime memories are not completely buried. There still exists significant apprehension within Japanese society towards Japan during the Meiji era and its former colonial ambitions of a pan-Asian union.
  • Further militarization will only provoke tensions in the region and endanger peace. The dark side of Japanese military history is still very much remembered and feared by neighbouring countries In response to Japan’s militarization, China will only respond with more aggressive spending. This represents a collective security challenge as states have no incentives to restraint their military spending when their neighbours do not.

Watch this video on Japan's military capabilities:

Japan peacekeeping operations

To supplement our discussion, one may also consider some of the most important Japanese peacekeeping operations since 1992

  • United Nations Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM II)
  • United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia
  • United Nations Operation in Mozambique
  • United Nations Observer Missions in El Salvador, East Timor, Nepal and Sudan (among others)
  • United Nations Missions in East Timor
  • United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor
  • United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor.
  • Anti-piracy patrolling operations Somalia
  • United Nations Mission in South Sudan
  • United Nations Mission in Haiti
  • Support to peacekeeping operations training centers in Egypt, Ghana, Mali, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Cameroon, Malaysia, Cambodia and Benin

You may also find interesting our debates Is world peace possible? and Should guns be banned in America?

Japanese army today: Militarization, security and peacekeeping - Should Japan strengthen its army? Vote and join our public discussion on the future of Japanese Armed Forces


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