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Japan Embraces Wider Strategic Horizons in New Security Postures

Introductory Observations

Japan has finally unshackled itself from its six decades old ‘Peace Constitution’ this week in response to the ever enlarging ‘China Threat’ and intensified Chinese military aggressiveness and coercive brinkmanship threatening Japan and East Asia.

Strategically ironic is the fact that it was the United States which imposed the war-renouncing ‘Peace Constitution’ limiting its defence postures to self -defence and denying it the right of ‘collective self- defence’. In mid-2014 it is the United States itself which is conspicuously noticeable in vocal support to Japan’s embracing wider strategic horizons in its new military postures.

Japan’s more assertive security policies including the right of ‘collective self-defence’ when coupled with the United States Strategic Pivot to Asia Pacific has the potential of applying brakes on China’s aggressive and wild rampage in the East China Sea and the South China Sea maritime expanses.

Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has finally taken the plunge to adopt more assertive security and military postures befitting its political status as an Asian power along with India contending China’s attempts to impose its hegemony in Asia.

China in recent years since 2009 has by its demonstrated coercive strategies generated military turbulence and strategic uncertainties in the Indo Pacific, and hence a brief over-view of Japan’s threat perceptions in 2014 would be pertinent.

In the wake of Japan’s instant strategic assertiveness, China can be expected to indulge in disruptive strategies to discredit Japan and consequently diminish Japan’s assertiveness. Japan and the United States therefore have to be vigilant and ready to cope with possible Chinese strategic disruptiveness that may follow.

Japan’s Threat Perceptions in 2014

Japan exists in a highly militarised region with nuclear weapons states with Japan and South Korea as exceptions. This makes Japan vulnerable to nuclear blackmail by China and even North Korea despite the so-called ‘nuclear umbrella’ of the United States.

In 2014 Japan’s threat perceptions can be listed as under:

China’s burgeoning military profile, both conventional and nuclear, and the constantly expanding Chinese naval capabilities and force-projection capabilities are considered as serious threats to Japanese national security.

China’s magnified maritime naval strength with Chinese submarines lurking in Japanese waters is militarily worrisome for Japan.

China’s intensified military aggressiveness and coercive brinkmanship against Japan on the Senkaku Islands sovereignty disputed by China has shaken Japan out of its strategic insomnia.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles armoury by kind courtesy of China indulging in missiles firings over Japan. China’s use of military force to wrest Vietnamese and Philippines islands in the South China Sea and ongoing strategy to establish full control over the South China Sea and this threatens Japan’s national survival as its vital lifelines traverse the South China Sea.

China’s flawed perception of the relative decline of the United States in staying embedded in the Western Pacific and the US honouring its security commitments to its Asia Pacific allies.

The ‘China Threat’ is therefore a potent threat for Japan’s national security and therefore the long delayed stimulus is now being put into operation when Japan’s security environment is becoming much more threatening.

Japan’s Response to the Looming China Threat: Reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Peace Constitution

Japan for the last couple of years had been enhancing its military profiles which stand covered in my earlier Papers on Japan. However all these initiatives stood straitjacketed under the ‘Self-Defence’ category.

Japan stood severely handicapped by Article 9 of its Peace Constitution which restricted its devising adequate deterrence strategies and force-structures against the China Threat and also as it could not enter into ‘Collective Self-Defence’ arrangements with other countries and nor could it assist regional neighbours on whose security Japan’s survival was dependent in warding off threats to their security. Japan could not provide military assistance to other countries for regional security. In the strictest interpretation Japan could not assist even the United States if threatened in Japan’s neighbourhood.

Prime Minister Abe had some months back set up an Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security of Japan which submitted its recommendations in May 2014. Notable recommendations were that Article 9 of the Constitution needs to be reinterpreted and that Japan has to be allowed the “Right of Collective Self Defence” and other initiatives to improve Japan’s conventional deterrence capabilities. Significantly, Japan would be able to assist countries militarily on whom Japan’s national security is dependent on. Implicit was also the fact that Japanese ban on arms exports would also be eliminated.

Obviating the long-drawn out process of a Constitutional Amendment requiring a two thirds majority, what now stands approved is a reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution enabling the contemporary security imperatives to be implemented. This would only require a simple majority in both Houses of the Japanese Diet, which PM Abe safely has.

The Panel however did spell out some caveats when Japan proceeds to decide on the exercise of ‘Collective Self Defence’. These include acquiring permission of the Diet, the close partner of Japan making a specific and clear request for Japan’s assistance when threatened by an attack and that a major threat to Japanese security would accrue if such a request for assistance was ignored.

Analytical Observations on Japan’s Reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Peace Constitution Briefly, the following points come to the fore:

‘Right of Collective Self-Defence’ would be an enabling provision for Japan to establish in good time a network of security partnerships and strategic cooperation arrangements with countries in the Asia Pacific similarly so threatened. Japan’s conventional deterrence capabilities against China’s military coercion could be improved on a fast- track basis Japan could indulge in more proactive security policies including UN peace-keeping and pace-building roles and logistics support for such operations.

Japan could be expected to join proactively in UN Coalitions in the future to deal with global conflictual crises. Japan in a big way could contribute to regain the US architectured ‘balance-of-power’ in the Asia Pacific which was being disturbed by China’s militarisation and brinkmanship

Expectedly, the most immediate and significant beneficiaries of Japan adopting a more assertive military posture in the region would be the Philippines and Vietnam, both at the receiving end of China’s aggression in the South China Sea. Japan can now more actively and openly assist in the military capacity- building of both these nations Coast Guards and Navies to withstand Chinese military coercion.

International Reaction to Japan’s Reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Peace Constitution The only sharp and critical reactions have expectedly emerged from China. It needs to be remembered that China all along has constantly harped on the dangers of Japan’s military revivalism conveniently forgetting that what predominates concerns in Asian capitals is the “China Threat’ and not any Japanese Threat to their security.

The United States and Western countries have welcomed Japan adopting a more normal defence posture in keeping with its political stature. The US Defense Secretary has expressed the hope that Japan would now play a proactive role in Asia Pacific security.

Amongst Asian capitals with the exception of sharp reactions from China and a muted reaction from South Korea more determined by historical reasons, no adverse references are noticeable.

Concluding Observations

Japan acquiring wider strategic horizons in face of a potent China Threat to safeguard its security and survival is commendable and is in keeping with the time-honoured principle that security strategies and force-structures of a nation necessarily have to be based on the evolving military capabilities of a nation’s military adversary and not on pious interpretations of the adversary’s intentions.

Japan’s embracing wider strategic horizons could ultimately prove to be a welcome game-changer for Asia Pacific security in that it would add strategic ballast to the US Strategic Pivot to Asia and in course of time lead Japan into credible self-reliant and independent defence postures befitting Japan’s stature as one of Asia’s major powers.

( Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group. The writer, Dr Subhash Kapila, is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email: drsubhashkapila.007@gmail.com)

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