Japan Wants to Jettison Its Vow to “Forever Renounce War”

On December 26 Japan announced it would leave the International Whaling Commission and resume whale-hunting which was banned since 1986 when it was acknowledged (albeit reluctantly by Tokyo) that some species had been driven almost to extinction.

Irrespective of the moral aspects of the affair, and the fact that whale-killing is one of mankind’s cruelest commercial entertainments, the decision signals yet another move by Japan to assert itself on the world stage where it is demonstrating its determination to expand its military capabilities.

On December 11 Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported that “Japan plans to effectively upgrade its helicopter carriers to enable them to transport and launch fighter jets.”  Concurrently the Indian Ministry of Defence noted that in the course of a large exercise being held in India by the US and Indian air forces, “two military pilots from Japan are also taking part in the exercise as observers.”  There was also aReuter’s account of Tokyo’s plans “to boost defense spending over the next five years to help pay for new stealth fighters and other advanced US military equipment.”

Coincidentally, these developments were reported in the same week as the anniversary of the Nanking Massacre of 1937-38, which was totally unreported by the Western media but remembered in China where “over a period of six weeks, Imperial Japanese Army forces brutally murdered hundreds of thousands of people” and wreaked further death and destruction there and throughout Asia until 1945.  They killed or otherwise caused the deaths of countless millions.

There was another anniversary in early December :  that of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which killed 2,400 Americans.  President Roosevelt declared that “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

The date has not lived in infamy, or indeed in any other way so far as the New York Times or the Washington Post are concerned, because neither’s front pages mentioned Pearl Harbor on either December 7 or 8.  A few days later, however, the Post reported that “Japan will announce plans to buy 40 to 50 [Lockheed Martin] F-35s over the next five years but may ultimately purchase 100 planes [which cost about $100 million each]. That will have the added benefit of mollifying President Trump, who has complained about the US trade deficit with Japan as well as the cost of stationing tens of thousands of US troops here.”  And the NYT headlined that “Japan to Ramp Up Defense Spending to Pay for New Fighters, Radar.”

Japan is embarking on a military spending surge which is totally inconsistent with the provisions of its Constitution, but entirely in line with the anti-China alliance that is being forged by Washington with various nations.

At the end of the Second World War, Japan was devastated and reeling from US operations in the Pacific that culminated in two atomic bomb attacks. It had to be rebuilt, and the generous United States helped its former deadly enemy to rise from the ashes. As officially recorded, “Between 1945 and 1952, the US occupying forces, led by General Douglas MacArthur, enacted widespread military, political, economic, and social reforms . . . In 1947, Allied advisors essentially dictated a new constitution to Japan’s leaders. Some of the most profound changes in the document included . . .  renouncing the right to wage war, which involved eliminating all non-defensive armed forces.”

There have not as yet been any amendments to Japan’s Constitution about waging war, and the Constitution is precise in stating that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

It could not be clearer :  given its own fundamental principles, Japan cannot maintain armed forces.  Yet a recent report indicates that “According to Japan’s 2018 Defense White Paper, the total strength of the Self-Defense Forces stands at 226,789 personnel,” including 138,126 in the army, 42,289 in the navy and 46,942 in the air force — or, to use the descriptions employed to fudge the fact that these are military forces with offensive capabilities, they are the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (SDF), the Japan Maritime SDF (18 submarines, 37 destroyers; two more on the way), and the Japan Air SDF (260 advanced combat aircraft).

That is a potent military force, and under the government of Shinzo Abe it will continue to be enlarged and developed with the warm approval of the United States with which Japan has a Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.

When Abe was re-elected head of his party in September he declared “It’s time to tackle a constitutional revision,” and everyone knows what “revision” he wants to make. As reported by Asahi Shimbun “He is proposing to add a clause to Article 9, which bans the use of force in settling international disputes, to explicitly permit the existence of Japan’s military, now called the Self-Defense Force.”  And if he succeeds in having that amendment approved, the resurgence of militarism will gain speed.

Japan has territorial disputes with China and Russia, the former about sovereignty over some islands in the South China Sea, and that with Russia concerning the Kuril Island chain, which is inhabited by Russians, having been handed over to the Soviet Union a short time before the end of World War Two. The US Navy and Air Force, in Washington’s self-appointed role as Führer of the world’s oceans, continue to challenge China in the South China Sea in its confrontational “Freedom of Navigation” operations, and as recently as December 6 was involved in a similar naval fandango when, as the CNN headline had it : “US warship challenges Russia claims in Sea of Japan.”

CNN stated that the US had sent the guided missile destroyer USS McCampbell “to Peter the Great Bay to challenge Russia’s excessive maritime claims and uphold the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea enjoyed by the United States and other Nations.”

It is hardly coincidental that “Peter the Great Bay is the largest gulf in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, and home both to the Russian city of Vladivostok and the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet.”  Little wonder that the US wants to challenge Russia in that region — and of course it is entirely fortuitous that this maritime provocation comes after Ukraine’s naval incursions in the Kerch Strait, which were intended to encourage domestic and international support for Ukraine’s President Poroshenko. (Russia called a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the affair, but it descended into an insult offensive by the US.)

It is apparent that Washington intends to continue challenging China and Russia in a region where the US has a vast military presence, with the Seventh Fleet being based in Yokosuka, the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa and some 150 combat aircraft of the USAF at three major air bases.

Along their borders in the Asia-Pacific region both China and Russia face increasingly confrontational US military maneuvers which are intended to provoke them to take action. For the moment, Japan’s “self-defense” forces are constitutionally forbidden to get involved in anything that would involve the “threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes”. But after Shinzo Abe succeeds in having Japan’s constitution amended, just watch developments, because Washington will encourage Tokyo to join in its military provocations.

It’ll be just like the old days in Nanking and Pearl Harbor. And don’t forget the whales that are going to be slaughtered.


Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.