|'Unsinkable aircraft carrier' steams to
By Richard Hanson
Trying to figure Japan's attitude to security these
days? You know: Can Japan fight? And what are
Self-Defense Forces doing in the Iraqi desert?
Well, then "Defense of Japan 2002 White Paper"
is a must read. Start at the beginning: "The Basis of
"The Basic Policy for National
Defense proclaims as the basis of Japan's defense
policy: (i) the promotion of efforts for peace and
establishment of the foundations for national security;
and (ii) the development of an efficient defense
capability and adherence to the Japan-United States
Read: Japan is moving in
the irreversible direction to become a global military
power, albeit nothing like the US, which has a military
presence in about 67 countries. An Asia Times Online
headline writer described it as the "Deputy Superpower".
The point is that Japan's growth as the second
or third most powerful military force has changed the
geopolitical landscape. Not a full "blue water" force
with battle groups prowling the Seven Seas. And Japan
has the world's second-largest navy, considered on a par
with the US 7th Fleet, which is deployed in the
Asia-Pacific. Japan's ground forces, which are being cut
back (to 145,000 troops plus 15,000 reservists), are 30
percent larger than Britain's army.
policies for Japan's national defense include an
exclusively defense-oriented policy; not becoming a
military power; adherence to the "Three Non-Nuclear
Principles", which state that Japan shall not possess
nuclear weapons, manufacture nuclear weapons or allow
the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan; and
ensuring civilian control of the military.
Whoa! What the heck is Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
Koizumi: most hawkish pro-US PM in
This is the most hawkish, pro-US-Japan
"alliance" politician since the 1980s, when former Prime
Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone coined the phrase "unsinkable
aircraft carrier" in describing the bilateral security
relationship. From day one after the September 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks on the US, Prime Minister Koizumi has
stood side-by-side with US President George W Bush.
To cheer on the Koizumi government's dispatch of
Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to join "alliance" forces in
Iraq, the formidable US deputy secretary of state
Richard Armitage staged a high-profile, two-day visit to
Tokyo this week. The tone of the visit was almost
congratulatory. Japan was earning points, and perhaps
respect, for contributing more than just money. (Don't
forget that Japan has pledged more money than any other
nation after the US, a total of US$5 billion over three
years in help for rebuilding Iraq following the US-lead
invasion in March 2003. During the first 1991 Gulf War,
Japan was pilloried in the public's eye for hesitantly
ponying up a large $11-12 billion or so in "check-book"
Money alone doesn't win respect.
That was the Armitage message. "It's such a historic
change at home in the life of your nation and indeed of
our alliance," Armitage said in his first speech before
the Japan National Press Club. "In this time of change
at home, in the region and around the world, Japan has
not been caught standing still. Japan is putting its
skillful hands on the tiller of the international
Armitage also praised Koizumi for
helping to build "a new era of confidence", while
placating any not-so-latent hostilities among other
countries in the region. "Those are ghosts of the past -
they have no place in the present," Armitage told the
press club audience.
Of course, what the
American diplomat may have dodged is the problem of how
fragile the current support for the Koizumi government's
policies may be at home - especially if something goes
badly wrong in Iraq. Koizumi is keenly aware of those
risks, since he is Japan's equivalent of
commander-in-chief, a role that is spelled out in the
law governing the Self-Defense Forces.
a considerable unease among people, even though there
are only a smattering of public anti-war demonstrations.
Other security issues in the past year or so have proven
more evocative. These include the problems of North
Korea's threat of nuclear weapons, and the lack of a
final resolution to the highly emotional issue of
Japanese who were abducted a couple decades ago by North
Korean agents. For many Japanese, the issue of the
abductees raises both the question of security and the
gut feelings of safety and what the army is sent forth
What may surprise some television viewers
in Japan is that the first major contingent of the
Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF), some 90 soldiers, will
look very much like a fighting army as they load up for
the trip from Kuwait to the southern Iraqi town of
Samawah. Their mission, however, is strictly
Troops tote medicine and
Earlier in January, a small
advance group of soldiers was seen as they were escorted
safely by seasoned Dutch troops, who are stationed near
where the Japanese are setting up camp. This time the
GSDF will ride in their own column of 50 armored
vehicles and trucks. Japan's mission, under the orders
of the government, is providing medical care, repairing
public facilities and providing for water supplies and
other amenities. Along with hammers and shovels, they
are described as toting heavy arms, such as anti-tank
In the next couple months, there will
be around 1,000 Japanese military (air force, maritime
and ground) personnel in and around Iraq, performing
Japan's most ambitious "humanitarian and reconstruction"
mission overseas. As has been trumpeted loud and clear,
these soldiers represent the first time since World War
II that Japan has sent troops to what all agree is a war
Only the government insists that this
piece of parched territory is located in a "non-combat"
area. So far, no one has been shot. There has been the
inevitable speculation that Japan may just try to buy
some of the security of their troops. As the advance
troops arrived, hordes of Japanese TV reporters who
descended on Samawah showed the local town fathers
assuring safety as long as the Japanese brought along
That is, of course, is a very
sensible thing to do.
Koizumi, when asked about
a report that stated Japan was willing to give $95
million to local bigwigs to protect the troops, said:
"It is rather cheap if we can buy security for our
soldiers with that amount of money."
the perspective of Japan's over-defense capabilities,
the world is also adjusting to Japan's emergence as an
armed Japan, as spelled out in the "Defense of Japan
2002 White Paper" and its basis for defense policy.
These defense capabilities were developed from
the 1970s, when the priorities reflected a much more
anti-military political atmosphere. The emphasis was on
minimum defensive capabilities to defend against an
invasion, say, from the north by the defunct USSR, hence
lots of tanks in Hokkaido.
unmatched in NE Asia
Japan's latest hardware is
unmatched in Northeast Asia and it includes the most
advanced F-15 fighters (second only in numbers to the
US) and surveillance aircraft. These are backed up by an
impressive ability to refuel in mid-air for long periods
of time. The Maritime Self-Defense Force has more than
50 advanced destroyers - more than the number deployed
by the US 7th Fleet in the Pacific - four escort
flotillas with helicopters and other missile
Most of this came out of the
original mission of supplementing the US Navy's
capabilities in such things as mine warfare and
anti-submarine work. A blue-water navy is not needed for
such tasks. Japan's current naval strength has been
demonstrated in non-combat duties taken on during and
since the Afghan war, when the most advanced of the
Maritime Self-Defense force ships were sent to the
What impresses military experts is
not only the quality of the hardware, but also the
intense training of military personnel. There is a
"spiritual" side to this. For the half century or so of
the SDF's existence, the forces have finally been given
a chance to prove their worth.
All the better if
they can do so, without having to fire a shot in anger.
Defense is allowed.
The Defense White paper is
clear about the hot issue of whether Japan needs to
change its war-averse 1947 Constitution, in which
Article 9 rules out war as a policy option.
Under the clause, "The Constitution and the
Right of Self-Defense", it says:
Constitution does not deny the inherent right of
self-defense that Japan is entitled to maintain as a
sovereign state, and it allows Japan to possess the
minimum level of armed strength to defend that right.
"The exercise of the right of self-defense is
restricted to instances in which three criteria apply.
In addition, the Government believes that the exercise
of the right of collective self-defense is not
permissible under the Constitution."
In a speech
before the troops in Hokkaido, the northern island where
much of the military is based, the prime minister
indirectly addressed the conflict between the issues of
safety and security: "The situation in Iraq is not
necessarily one hundred percent safe ... but I expect
you to do whatever you can within the scope of your
duty," he said. "You are not going to war in Iraq, nor
to exercise force, nor to engage in combat, but to help
the Iraqi people in reconstructing their country," he
"I am praying that all of you will return
(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online
Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact [email protected] for
information on our sales and syndication policies.)