Japanese military normalization and collective self-defence under a Trump Presidency. This article is the continuation of the previous article about Japan’s Security
The Curious Security Relationship with the US
The next argument concentrates on the importance of Japanese military normalisation beyond collective self-defence and beyond its security relationship with the United States. Japan has the third-biggest economy and the seventh-most effective military in the world. Yet its pacifist constitution belies this fact and creates a paradox situation for Japan. Abe Shinzo and his conservative LDP have called repeatedly for constitutional revision and a change to the pacifist Article 9. Abe echoed the fact that 70% of Japanese constitutional scholars regard the existence of the Japanese military as unconstitutional and presented an amended draft constitution in February 2016. In it, the right of self-defence and the right to maintain a standing military would be enshrined (The Japan Times).
Stronger Japanese Military
Due to the unclear and – by some accounts – illegal status of the Self-Defence Forces, their role is severely limited. Since Japan’s adoption of new military legislation in March 2016, the Japanese Self-Defence Forces are able to actively interfere in foreign conflicts. (Mie November 2016) An example of the benefits deriving from this new situation is the greater freedom with which the Japanese military can participate in UN peacekeeping missions. Up until the adoption of the military legislation Japan was unable to initiate force when taking part in UN peacekeeping missions. One of the first results of the changed legislation is the replacement of Japan’s contingent of soldiers stationed in the South Sudan as part of the United Nations UNMISS mission since 2011. Japan has taken part in five UN peacekeeping missions since 1992, yet the JSDF was never authorised to use force. The new contingent of 350 soldiers – made up of trained engineers – is tasked with aiding construction in the war-torn country. But the new mandate also authorises them to actively engage hostiles to defend civilians, UN staff or aid workers (Bearak). Beyond the implications for Japan’s ability to deploy its military for self-defence of its own territory, this example also highlights the beneficial consequences of a normalised Japan for international peacekeeping efforts.
Defend Japan’s territorial claims and deter Attackers
Japan has territorial disputes with most of its neighbours: It claims that the Russian-controlled Kuril Islands are Japanese territory and were illegally taken by the Soviet Union
The third argument focuses on the necessity of normalisation to assert and defend Japan’s territorial claims and deter attackers. Japan has territorial disputes with most of its neighbours: It claims that the Russian-controlled Kuril Islands are Japanese territory and were illegally taken by the Soviet Union right before the end of the Second World War. Both Japan and the Koreas claim sovereignty over the uninhabited Dokdo/Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan. While they are held by South Korea, both Japan and the DPRK challenge this. Japan is also embroiled in a territorial dispute with China and the Republic of China over a group of islands close to Taiwan claimed by all three contestants and controlled by Japan. They are called Senkaku by Japan, Diaoyu by China and Tiaoyutai by the ROC (Takahashi).
From Obama to Trump : What Changes for Japan?
The shift from Obama to Trump means insecurity especially regarding the Senkaku Islands.
The shift from Obama to Trump means insecurity especially regarding the Senkaku Islands. Barack Obama was the first American president who publicly stated that the Senkaku Islands were covered by the security treaty during a state visit to Japan in 2014. Although the US refused to comment on the question of sovereignty with regard to the territory, they clearly communicated their commitment to defend Japan’s claim to the islands against China (McCurry/Branigan). This commitment has not been made by Trump or any member of his future administration (Klingner). This, combined with his sharp criticism of the security treaty as a whole makes a repetition of Obama’s clear commitment to defend Japan’s claim unlikely.
So, Japan potentially needs to deter attackers from the Senkaku Islands with its own navy, a likely scenario considering Chinese incursions in Japanese-claimed territorial waters around Senkaku (Klingner). But to effectively employ and use its military, Abe’s government requires a clear constitutional mandate. Japan’s territory is contested and the military support of the new administration in Washington is shaky. Because of this, Japan’s military normalisation is a pragmatist necessity.
The security treaty between Japan and the United States has prevailed for 56 years under 10 American presidents and 24 Japanese prime ministers. Yet today its future is as uncertain as it has never been before. Japan is faced with an American president that calls many commitments and guarantees into question. Japan can no longer depend on the United States’ categorical pledge to defend Japan and to maintain a military presence there. The land of the Rising Sun is faced with three scenarios concerning the future of the security treaty: The alliance can either continue as it did before, it can change to require greater financial or military commitment from the Japanese, or it can be dissolved completely. In all of these three scenarios, military normalisation and collective self-defence is necessary. Japan is challenged by its contested territorial claims, by North Korea’s growing hostility and by the increasing regional insecurity due to China’s revisionist bids in the South China Sea. To address these challenges, Japan must be able to rely on a military that is free from constitutional shackles, especially if the unconditional support of the USA is no longer completely certain.
Marian Blok is a member of Tel Aviv University Model United Nations. A Young Diplomats Partner.