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Japanese Constitutional Amendment of 2015: Logical Step or Threat?

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In 1945, Japan managed to bear the unbearable, and surrendered to the USA – thereby World War II came to an end also on the Pacific theatre. Following that, in 1946 the USA established a new Japanese Constitution in which the island state took on to distance itself from the use of military force. Thus, over the Cold War period and also after the collapse of the bipolar world order, the name “Japan” was no longer the equivalent of strict, military-like discipline, nor the fanaticism of the kamikazes. Japan became the land of peace, harmony, sakura blooming and the snow-capped Fuji – and from the end of the 20th century on also the synonym for high-technology and development. However, in 2015, Japan amended its Constitution, and thus the country can now have an army and deploy it also in other countries. What could be behind this step? What is the Japanese constitutional amendment: a logical answer to an altered geopolitical reality, or a first step towards aggressive militarism, bringing an end to an era of peace?
Source: Pexels.com

Awakening Land of the Rising Sun

Lakatos György | translated by: Baksay Boglárka | 2018. June 18. 11:00

The Japanese Constitution was established by the USA after World War II in February 1946 and it was based on the directives of General Douglas MacArthur. In this Constitution, Japan dissociated itself from any military power demonstration or the use of military force as a diplomatic tool. In order to be able to implement the aforementioned policy without any problems, all air force, navy, land army and other military corps were banned. Even though the country couldn’t possess an “army”, the exceptionally well-equipped and – due to the regularly conducted military exercises with the USA – excellently trained SDF (Self Defence Forces) still existed, but they were meant to be used for self-defence purposes only. The Constitution was amended on 19 September 2015 at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s initiative, and now Japan is allowed to possess an army and deploy it in other countries as well. In this new Constitution though, Japan still distances itself from initiating a war and thus the self-defence-centred approach, laid down in the previous pacifist Constitution, remains.

*A Constitution born from shattering defeat

During the war, Japan received from the USA not only atomic bombs but also a Constitution which prevented the country from acting on the international stage as a sovereign state. Why did thousands demonstrate against the constitutional amendment then? Many Japanese are proud of their country fully distancing itself from any military action. However, some rights of all sovereign states could be restored at the perilous time of the Islamic State’s rampage across the Middle East. Further reasons may include increased testing of nuclear weapons in North Korea which poses the greatest threat to Japan, aside from South Korea. In February 2016, North Korea launched another long-range ballistic missile above Japan thereby violating the rules of the United Nations once again. That’s another reason why Japan should play a stronger and more active military role in the region. The constitutional amendment also brings some new possibilities for resolving the aforementioned conflicts. The reason why the USA supports the changes is probably because this way it will have one more ally in the region with whom it can keep rebellious North Korea under control.

Within the region, China was against the amendment. Its attitude could be a result of its negative historical experiences with Japan. In 2016 however, such concerns are mostly unfounded.

*Japan today

Despite this minor change in the Constitution and the well-equipped SDF, Japan remains far behind greater military powers such as the USA, Russia, and China. Without the help of the US, it would not be able to protect itself from major attacks, let alone carry out more serious military action. Shinichi Kitaoka, former UN Secretary-General and the President of the International Japanese University, said about the amendment, which he himself supported: “This is only a minor change. There are only a few countries able to protect themselves on their own, including China, the USA, and Russia. Not even the British would have the ability to protect themselves on their own.”

One should not ignore the deep cultural changes either which make it nearly impossible for Japan to regress to its pre-war authoritarian rule. The cultural export of the US had a major impact on post-war Japan which resulted in a completely Western-style society. In my view, the chance that Japan would revert back to an authoritarian state is just as probable as Germany becoming a Nazi state again. Not more, not less.

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