The Trouble With Japan’s Military Buildup Runs Deeper Than We Think
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The Trouble With Japan’s Military Buildup Runs Deeper Than We Think


APLN member Cheong Wook-Sik writes on Japan’s new national security strategy, arguing that now is the time to gather strength and wisdom to publicize a roadmap for disarmament while asking what truly matters. Read the original article here.

Many of the Korean criticisms of Japan’s remilitarization miss crucial factors that could make or break support from the international community

A number of diverse views are being expressed in Korea regarding Japan’s new national security strategy, which includes plans to acquire counterattack capabilities to target enemy bases and a doubling of the country’s defense budget over the next five years.

President Yoon Suk-yeol has himself weighed in, arguing that it would be “hard to stop” the move seeing as “[North Korean] missiles are flying over their heads and nuclear strikes could come their way,” implicitly supporting Japan’s move by saying, “Nobody could take issue with it.”

On the other hand, South Korea’s center and left-wing camps are strongly criticizing both Japan’s armament as well as the Yoon administration, which they see as supporting Japan’s strategy.

According to more liberal circles, Japan nullifying its pacifist constitution and the long-held principle of defensive security to now acquire offensive capabilities are themselves problems.

We can say that it’s natural for us, South Koreans, to feel uncomfortable with Japan trying to once again become a military power. This is because we have experienced Japan’s lukewarm response concerning resolving historical issues such as its barbaric colonial rule of our country, the “comfort women” sexual slavery issue, and the forced labor problem.

Another issue is that Japan is now claiming it could attack North Korea without receiving prior consent from South Korea in the event of an emergency. This policy has become the subject of harsh rebuke for ignoring South Korea’s founding document, which specifies North Korea as part of South Korean territory.

However, there are inconveniences that are not really talked about domestically but which still have to be faced.

First of all, North Korea is a member of the United Nations and has diplomatic ties with 159 countries. As such, strictly speaking, according to international law, it is a sovereign state.

Besides this, a major prerequisite for cooperation, peaceful coexistence, and the ultimate unification of North and South Korea is to recognize each other’s governing systems.

Given these facts, it’s worth considering whether South Korea’s criticism of Japan’s counterstrike policy is truly convincing since we continue to claim North Korea, a sovereign state under international law and the subject of our own North Korea policy, as part of our own territory.

This is all the more true if we consider South Korea’s own military strategy of allowing a preemptive strike against North Korea upon detection of possible nuclear weapons use.

Realistically, there are more important issues. Most countries around the world pursue a strategy of self-defense, and the core of this principle is deterrence. In turn, the logic is that in order to strengthen one’s deterrence capacity, one must also possess offensive military capabilities.

This trend is now gathering momentum amidst the intensifying strategic competition between the US and China, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the prolongation of the war there, and North Korea’s strengthening of its nuclear forces.

South Korea is no exception to this trend, and is in fact actively moving in the same direction.

According to Global Firepower, a US site that ranks the modern military powers of the world, South Korea has been ranked as the world’s sixth-largest military power for three consecutive years, since 2021. Japan, on the other hand, fell to eighth place this year. This is yet another reason why South Korea’s criticism of Japan’s rearmament may go unheard.

Of course, these observations aren’t intended as an endorsement of Japan’s militarization or the Yoon government’s attitude, which practically supports Japan’s plans. This is simply to point out that South Korean liberal forces could end up alienated from the international community if they focus only on criticizing and pointing out the exceptional nature of the Korean Peninsula or South Korea-Japan relations. More importantly, these observations are meant to emphasize the need for a new alternative that is based on universal values.

It is often said that today’s world is facing complex crises. This is because crises concerning security, the public’s livelihood, and the climate are rearing their heads at the same time.

The starting point to finding new alternatives is to pay attention to the interconnectedness of these various crises.

For example, an extreme arms race would aggravate security dilemmas which, in turn, instigate security crises that would then waste precious resources, make people’s lives more difficult, and even worsen the climate crisis due to increasing carbon emissions and a decline in international cooperation.

As such, if we truly pay attention to the vicious cycles caused by these “complex crises,” then it becomes possible to talk openly about alternative options. The answer here is multilateral arms control and disarmament.

In fact, a useful opportunity will present itself in May, when the G7 summit is scheduled to take place in Hiroshima, Japan. Besides this, a new climate summit is also in the works for September.

Of course, the governments of the world’s leading nations are highly unlikely to voluntarily step up for the sake of disarmament. This is why civil society around the world must get involved.

Now is the time to gather strength and wisdom to publicize a roadmap for disarmament while asking what truly matters.

Image: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan gives a press briefing from his official residence in Tokyo on Dec. 16, 2022, following the passage of a national security policy enabling Japan to counterstrike enemy bases. (Yonhap)


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