Japan, changing course from its post-1945 posture of pacificism, is turning toward assuming a more vigorous military posture.
After the catastrophe that World War II Japan, a society dominated by the military, had wreaked on itself and its region, its postwar constitution and leadership authorized its security forces to act only in self-defense.
Now, in the face of three phenomena, it is moving to adopt a more militarized posture. The first change is that it has been progressively asked by the rest of the world, including by the United Nations and the United States, to play an active role in foreign affairs, with aid and participation in peacekeeping. The latter obviously requires a stronger Japanese military.
The second change is a new leader, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is more aggressive in trying to strengthen Japan’s economy, more nationalistic in promoting its interests and less apologetic about some of Japan’s hideous activities in the 1930s and 1940s.
The third phenomenon prompting Japan to augment its military strength is the rise in economic and military strength of rivals China and South Korea. It is possible for countries to compete without beefing up the military, but it is hard to sustain for a country with a military tradition like Japan’s.
From the U.S. point of view, Japan’s military resurgence carries pluses and minuses. With China and Japan beefing up their militaries, Northeast Asia becomes a more dangerous place, presenting a greater possibility of military sparks flying over issues.
On the plus side, however, a stronger Japan is better able to counterbalance China, which has become a major concern to countries of the region. Japan also takes North Korea seriously, which is useful to the United States, too.
In general, a stronger Japan can take some of the load off the United States in terms of assuring Asian peace and quiet. With that, America could also consider withdrawing some of its 50,000 troops from Japan and saving money.