Japan’s New Security Policy: Normalizing or Remilitarizing?
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Japan’s New Security Policy: Normalizing or Remilitarizing?


APLN member Kim Won-soo writes on Japan’s new security policy and argues that it is time for Japan to reflect on the past in order to move forward in its quest for normal statehood. Read the original article here.

The Japanese government has announced a new security policy aimed at acquiring counter-strike capabilities and doubling its defense expenditure over the next five years. This is a significant departure from Japan’s long-held policy of limiting its security posture strictly to self-defense. It is also the second step taken by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-led government to expand the mandate of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). The first attempt came in 2015 in the form of a new security law authorizing the JSDF’s overseas deployment for U.N. peacekeeping operations and collective self-defense activities.

The latest security policy should be understood in the broader context of a rising security dilemma in East Asia. A recent opinion poll shows that the Japanese public’s support for counter-strike capabilities has risen in response to the heightening of perceived threats from its neighbors. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and North Korea’s repeated missile tests over the territorial waters of Japan have both contributed to underpinning this perception.

In the face of an increasingly uncertain and volatile security landscape, many regional states now feel less safe. This is why they are strongly motivated to take all necessary measures to enhance their security. But such measures are bound to be met with countermeasures due to a deepening mutual distrust between states. This begets a vicious cycle of chain reactions, which ultimately weaken, rather than improve, the overall security equation. A security dilemma reminiscent of the Cold War era is engulfing Northeast Asia once again.

Japan’s neighbors have so far reacted to its new policy move in a rather predictable manner. As you might have guessed, China, Russia and North Korea have shown a much more hostile attitude toward Japan’s security buildup than the U.S. and South Korea, who are in alliance with the island nation. From this, we can easily surmise that no matter what measures Japan decides to take, it will likely be met with strong opposition and countervailing measures from three out of four of its regional neighbors across the sea to its west.

Aside from how these neighbors feel about it, Tokyo’s new security policy brings back the decades-old debate over the country’s vision for its place in the global security order. Two opposing views exist.

Proponents of the first view tend to see Japan’s new security policy as an extension of the LDP government’s long-standing efforts to restore a normal Japanese state. Japan’s constitution is called the peace constitution. Through Article 9, the Japanese people renounce their sovereign right to fight war as a means of settling international disputes. They only avail themselves of the ability to defend. Ever since the constitution came into effect, successive LDP governments have tried to build public support for revising Article 9. But it appears that the time is not yet ripe for such revisions as strong opposition remains both internally and externally.

Those subscribing to the second view tend to see the new security policy as part of Japan’s renewed endeavors to arm itself just like it did before and during World War II. From this perspective, Japanese leaders’ past apologies for Imperial Japan’s wrongdoings have never been sincere or sufficient. This stands in sharp contrast to how post-World War II German leaders’ apologies were received. Germany’s neighbors took them as a clear departure from, and firm renunciation of, its Nazi past. Negative perceptions of Japan among its neighbors have long impeded its aspirations to become a normal state and a global leader by revising Article 9 and becoming a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

These opposing views clearly indicate that the Japanese government needs to work harder to reach out to both domestic and international audiences and convince them of the defensive nature of its new security policy. It also needs to develop reliable transparency and confidence-building measures. Otherwise, the new security policy will likely end up on a long list of factors fanning a security dilemma. If Tokyo is to avoid a vicious cycle of the security dilemma, it must try to alleviate the regional community’s lingering concerns about its intentions for rearmament.

To that end, the LDP government must send clear messages about its peaceful intent: it is not seeking to change the status quo by force. These messages can be further reinforced by demonstrating a clean and irreversible break from the mistakes of Imperial Japan. Japan must learn from Germany. Words do matter but deeds matter much more. The ongoing war compensation dispute with South Korea is the latest battleground. How Japan responds could change the face of Korea-Japan relations. Especially, successful handling of this case could give a strong boost to its global outreach campaign. I hope that Japanese leaders have the courage and resolve to confront an uncomfortable piece of history and make things right. It is time for Japan to reflect on the past in order to move forward in its quest for normal statehood.

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