EDITORIAL: Abe's national security strategy undermines Japan's postwar pacifism

December 18, 2013

The Cabinet on Dec. 17 approved a new national security strategy that will serve as a basis for foreign and national security policy over the next 10 years. The Cabinet also approved new National Defense Program Guidelines and a Mid-Term Defense Program, which are in line with the new strategy.

Even though diplomatic policy is as vital a component of national security strategy as defense policy, the latter figures more prominently than the former in the strategy approved by the Abe administration. The strategy's unmistakable aim is to enhance Japan's "resilience in national security." As such, our impression of this strategy is that it is not balanced.


Could it be that the Abe administration, driven by its sense of rivalry with China's growing might, is poised to switch from a traditional "defense-oriented" national security policy to the use of armed force?

On the face of it, the administration is apparently no longer interested in planning any diplomatic strategy aimed at stabilizing Japan's relations with China.

The national security strategy stresses Abe's pet concept of "proactive pacifism," or "proactive contribution to peace," which, simply put, is about expanding Japan's military role by undermining war-renouncing Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution.

Seen from another angle, this concept also implies that Japan's postwar pacifism of staying out of international conflicts was "passive" by nature.

In calling for "proactive pacifism," the Abe administration is paving the way for changing the traditional interpretation of Article 9 to enable Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

Even though the administration is calling for "pacifism," this is only for show. The reality is that this national security strategy spells a major turning point in Japan's national security policy.

The Abe administration has created a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council and enacted the state secrets protection law in the face of widespread popular opposition.

With the national security strategy now in place, the "resilient" Japan that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks will be more or less fully realized, once the final piece of the puzzle--exercising the right to collective self-defense--snaps into place.

And that will be when Japan's postwar pacifism crumbles from the foundations.


Work has already begun on demolishing the nation's traditional security policy that was grounded on Article 9.

Referring to the three principles on arms exports, the new national security strategy says that the government will "set out clear principles ... which fit the new security environment." We fear that the traditional three principles of weapons exports are going to become a dead letter.

It was because of those three principles that Japan was able to contribute to building peace through nonmilitary means and gain the trust of the international community. And we believe that is precisely the sort of pacifism that deserves to be called "proactive."

The proposal to allow the Self-Defense Forces to strike enemy missile bases has alarmed Japan's neighbors and the United States. The new National Defense Program Guidelines only say that Japan will "consider" how to deal with ballistic missile attacks and "take necessary measures." But the proposal may well be revived in the future.

The security environment surrounding Japan is certainly severe. China continues to challenge the international maritime order. With the decline in U.S. influence, there are uncertainties about how to deal with the Senkaku Islands dispute and problems concerning North Korea's nuclear and missile development programs.

The Abe administration's thinking seems to be that this is where Japan should expand its military role and establish a regional balance of power. Disputes and problems with China and North Korea may not lead to war, but it is obviously necessary to prepare for unexpected developments.

Still, the appropriateness of the concept of a "dynamic joint defense force" in the new National Defense Program Guidelines and the Mid-Term Defense Program's call for the reinforcement of SDF equipment needs to be examined closely.

The Mid-Term Defense Program spells out outlays for hardware, including 99 maneuver combat vehicles, 17 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, 52 amphibious vehicles, and three Global Hawk surveillance drones. The nation's diminishing fleet of fighter planes will grow from 260 to 280.

But we wonder if the administration will be able to win the understanding of the people for equipping the SDF with amphibian vehicles, which the U.S. Marine Corps has been using for landing and recovery missions, and Osprey transport aircraft that are being deployed in Okinawa in the face of bitter popular opposition.

According to the Mid-Term Defense Program, the nation's defense outlays for the next five years will total 24.67 trillion yen ($239.7 billion), which represents an increase from the last five-year program.


Any militaristic move by Japan would be received by its neighbors as a hostile message. Once Japan falls into the "national security dilemma," it can only result in an arms race in the Asian region. Japan's military expansion may trigger this vicious cycle, and regional stability will be lost.

We see no "strategy" whatsoever in the Abe administration's move. In the absence of any plans for regional arms control, we believe it may well trigger an arms race.

To curb China's military expansion, Japan must have the diplomatic smarts to get international public opinion to side with Japan. Proper handling of problems related to history recognition and territorial rights is vital, but the new national security strategy does not propose any means for resolving these problems.

Instead, the national security strategy calls for fostering "love for the country and region." This has the dangerous potential to lead to excessive "patriotic" education.

Does the Abe administration intend to turn Japan into an oppressive country where national policies are formed by fanning misguided nationalism? It is stepping the wrong way.

Japanese politicians have repeatedly come under international criticism for remarks that suggest a desire to revive prewar values. Such remarks have hurt Japan's diplomatic position in the international community.

How should Japan define its pacifism and practice it in a way that will win the empathy of the international community? This is exactly the sort of thing that the government should spell out clearly.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 18

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Cabinet meeting on Dec. 17 (The Asahi Shimbun)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Cabinet meeting on Dec. 17 (The Asahi Shimbun)

  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Cabinet meeting on Dec. 17 (The Asahi Shimbun)

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