The changing geopolitical scene in East Asia may leave Japan no choice: It is rearm or perish!
JAPAN TODAY faces a sobering reality. Japan is Asia's premier industrial nation. Its remarkable postwar economic miracle has been admired around the world. The industrious Japanese are affluent — ahead of most Europeans, and not far behind the United States. But there is one potentially fatal flaw. Japan's prosperity relies on peace. Japan has no major natural resources. It cannot feed itself. It cannot energize itself. Japan is starvable. The nation relies on international trade for its very survival. Without it, Japan's huge industrial machine would grind to a sudden halt! Were Japan to be denied food and energy — whether through war or some other form of economic disruption — the nation would face the specter of virtual overnight collapse! For years the largely pacifist Japanese public has chosen to ignore these dire possibilities, enjoying their growing affluence with little thought to protecting it. But times have changed. That ostrich-like inattention to events swirling around them is coming to an abrupt end. Japan is beginning to face up to realities.
Defense has been an understandably dirty word in Japan for most of the 35 years since the end of World War II. But Japan's strong postwar pacifist tradition is being shaken. The onrush of events is jarring the Japanese awake, stepping up pressures to remilitarize. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan more than a year ago has forced the touchy and highly controversial question of Japan's defense to the forefront of national attention. Add to this the continuing Soviet military buildup in the Far East. The Japanese public has taken these developments seriously. They are very conscious of their strategic implications. The growing vulnerability of Japan's oil import route from the Middle East is particularly disturbing. Consider the growing strength of the Soviet navy in the Indian Ocean, and the Soviet access to naval and air facilities at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. Both pose a serious new threat to the air and sea lanes to Japan. Many Japanese feel it is time to take steps toward asserting their right to maintain their economic lifeline. Also of concern is the building of Soviet air bases on three of the Kurile islands just north of Japan. These islands have been held by the Soviet Union since the end of World War II, but are claimed by Japan. In addition, some 75 Soviet submarines and 70 major surface vessels are now based in the area of the nearby Sea of Okhotsk. This is much too close to home for the Japanese to ignore. Finally, the continuing volatile situation in the Korean peninsula adds to Japan's strategic concerns. Polls taken after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan show a definite increased concern for national security among the Japanese public. Pollsters also report a growing support for a stepped-up defense capability. Public opinion is clearly changing. The pacifism spawned by the tragic experience of World War II is beginning to yield to the realities of modern geopolitics.
Article IX of Japan's postwar constitution — drawn up by the American occupation forces after the war — declares that "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes." It also states that "Japan will never maintain land, sea and air forces, as well as other potential forces of war." This ban, as interpreted, has not prevented Japan's taking steps to insure its self-defense. Japan today maintains a 260,000-man "Self-Defense Force" (SDF) — about 180,000 soldiers, 40,000 sailors and 40,000 air force men. In fact, Japan's defense budget — which totaled $8.5 billion for fiscal 1980 — is the eighth largest in the world, after the Soviet Union, United States, China, West Germany, France, Great Britain and Saudi Arabia! Proportionately, however, Japan's defense budget is one of the smallest in the world, representing less than 1 percent of the nation's gross national product (GNP). This compares to about 6 percent in the United States, nearly 14 percent in the Soviet Union, 5 percent in Britain, 3.5 percent in West Germany and 3.3 percent in France. Japan would have to more than triple its level of defense spending to bring it into line with the NATO powers of Western Europe. Japan's bare-bones Self-Defense Force is a far cry from Japan's formidable Imperial Army of 5 million men at the outset of World War II. According to a recent report by a major Japanese government defense study group, Japan could not adequately defend itself at this time against even a small-scale conventional (nonnuclear) attack! It has been estimated that Japan's small air force could hold out less than four hours were it to face a Soviet attack. "Japan's defense system," explained Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki last September, "is a two-pronged policy of meeting small-scale limited aggression with Japan's own defense capability and relying upon the deterrent strength of the United States under Japan-U.S. security arrangements to meet situations beyond our capabilities." Many Japanese are coming to realize that this plan — even if feasible — has not yet been adequately implemented.
U.S. Commitment Doubted
Japan has for four years been under steadily increasing pressure from Washington to shoulder more of the burden for its own defense. With the election of Ronald Reagan as U.S. President, some Japanese foreign ministry officials are expecting even greater American pressure on Japan to spend more on defense. Over the years, however, Japan has largely resisted this pressure to flex its military muscles. But now the force of events is succeeding where U.S. urgings have failed. As the Japanese watched the Soviets invade Afghanistan and support the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia — with Washington standing idly by — their confidence in America's ability to defend them sagged considerably. Doubts about America's commitment to their defense continue to grow. "Would Washington really risk Chicago for Osaka?" the Japanese ask. They are beginning to realize, as the Bible long ago predicted (Leviticus 26:19), that the pride of America's power has indeed been broken! (Read The United States and Britain in Prophecy for the surprising details of the English-speaking world in Bible prophecy.) Moreover, the Japanese perceive a shift in U.S. defense priorities to the Middle East and Europe. Japanese Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ito said last October that Japan would have to increase its military capability to compensate for the departure of American forces from the Western Pacific to the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. Many of the ships are from the U.S. Seventh Fleet based in Japan. The Japanese realize they are going to have to take up some of the slack created by the dilution of the American military presence in the Western Pacific. But their strategic thinking has gone beyond that point. Some are now asking whether Japan should remain dependent on the United States at all!
Japanese concern over the uncertainty of the American commitment in Asia has now begun to translate itself into tangible shifts in policy. The Japanese are increasing their military expenditures. They are attempting to improve their combat preparedness. Last July, the Japanese government approved a defense budget increase of 9.7 percent to $10.9 billion for fiscal 1981. (Japan Defense Agency Director Joji Omura had wanted a 15 percent increase.) The additional funds will be used to buy more jet fighters, patrol planes, tanks, submarines and ships in the coming year. "This is a very significant political decision," said one government source. "It reflects the change in public opinion [about defense issues] and the new circumstances surrounding Japan, including the Soviet military buildup in this area." This increase still does not breach the self-imposed ceiling of less than 1 percent of Japan's GNP. But reliable sources indicate that the Japanese government is giving serious thought to a substantial increase in the military budget in coming years — possibly to 3 or 4 percent of the GNP.
Japanese business leaders are among the most ardent supporters of an improved Japanese defense capability. A pro-defense campaign by the Japanese business community is already in evidence. A stepped-up defense program would greatly stimulate Japan's aircraft, transport and other heavy industries. Considerable amounts of government funds would undoubtedly be poured into military research and development projects. Last year, Shigeo Nagano, president of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, called for a wide-ranging debate on defense — including a review of Japan's arms export controls. Hosai Hyuga, president of the Kansai (western Japan) Economic Federation, and chairman of Sumimoto Metals Company, proposed an increase in Japan's defense spending to l.9 percent of the GNP — also intended to touch off a hot debate on the defense issue. Observers believe that, given time, Japan's weapons makers might well succeed in surpassing the West in developmental research and technological experience — just as Japanese industry has done in television, camera and automobile production. "If we have sufficient money and time," says an official of the big Mitsubishi group, "it will be possible to manufacture the next-generation jet fighter domestically." Mitsubishi Heavy Industries aircraft division was the manufacturer of the renowned Zero fighters of World War II.
In the course of his previously mentioned comments, Hosai Hyuga also dared suggest instituting some form of conscription. The idea of a general draft system has raised a storm of protest among die-hard pacifists. Some experts assert a draft would be a clear violation of Japan's no-war constitution, and could only be instituted following a constitutional revision. Already the right wing of the ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LOP) has begun to push for just such a revision. There is little doubt that the constitution would have to be amended if Japan is ever to playa meaningful role in maintaining the security of Asia. Even the once-taboo question of nuclear armaments is now being discussed in some circles. Since the end of World War II Japan has maintained three nonnuclear principles: of not possessing, manufacturing or permitting the entry into Japan of nuclear weapons. The memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still alive. But there has recently been a marked increase in public opinion in favor of Japan's abandoning these principles in the interests of national security. Japan certainly has the technology to produce its own nuclear bomb. With its vast financial and technological capacities, Japan could detonate a nuclear device within two to six months of a decision to do so.
The Soviet Union has been quick to label Japan's announced increase in military spending as "saber-rattling," charging. that Japan seeks to become a big military power in the region. Of greater concern to Japanese government officials, however, is how to reassure their friendly neighbors that any Japanese military buildup would remain purely defensive and in the name of peace. Japan must be careful not to revive dormant memories of World War II. A stepped-up military program might be viewed by past victims of Japanese aggression as the beginning of a return to an earlier militarism, causing tensions to rise throughout Asia. Late last year, Japanese Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki went out of his way to stress that Japan's ultimate goal is only to provide itself with enough military muscle to cope with small-scale, limited aggression. "Japan," he said, "will build up its defense but not to the point that its military capability would threaten its neighbors. It will n9t become either a lion or a tiger in defense but rather a porcupine, to defend ourselves should we be invaded."
In a country that still remembers the last grim days of World War II, moves toward rearmament will continue to draw heavy fire. But the momentum appears to be clearly in favor of rearming. Japan has some serious soul-searching to do in coming months. Changes in the Japanese attitude will become increasingly apparent as their reassessment focuses in on present-day political and military realities.