Military Mayhem: The Decline in Japanese Pacifism

By Zhou, Peter | Harvard International Review, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Military Mayhem: The Decline in Japanese Pacifism


Zhou, Peter, Harvard International Review


The end of the Cold War hailed an era of uncertainty over Japan's political and economic future. A receding economy, coupled with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) fall from dominance in 1993, greatly dampened the pride and confidence of the Japanese people in the 1990s. Current Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is seeking to revive nationalism and strengthen the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in a country that has been staunchly pacifist since World War II. While expanding military powers may be an effective short-term distraction from Japan's economic woes, remilitarization will create fervent domestic opposition and potential long-term regional instability--aggravating rather than curing Japan's decade of economic and political turmoil.

Japan's pacifist conscience stems from the carnage of World War II. A society grounded on honor experienced total defeat and seven years of occupation. Vowing to "forever renounce war," Article 9 of Japan's constitution, passed in 1946, deters any possibility of aggression being endorsed by the public.

With a threatening North Korea and very few regional allies. Japan is beginning to rethink its rejection of military power and its passive role in foreign affairs. The SDF budget is now at an all-time high of US$1.2 billion, and with a new constitutional provision allowing weapons trade, Japan can now develop a missile defense system with the help of the United States to fend off potential short-term threats from North Korea and long-term threats from China. Hawks within the Japanese government calling for these initiatives garner political legitimacy by also calling for economic reforms and deregulation--measures that the public believes will improve Japan's standing in the global arena.

Although a nationalistic parliament may be Japan's best hope for economic recovery, the Japanese government must be wary of a potential domestic backlash against an expanding military. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has been relying on time to garner support for deploying 600 SDF troops to Iraq. From December 2003 to February 2004, public opposition to the SDF in Iraq fell from 88 percent to 46 percent. Regulation of journalists in Iraq facilitated this gradual acceptance. The Japanese Defense Agency requested that all Japanese journalists "depart immediately from Iraq" before peacekeepers arrived. …

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