Japan, which demilitarized on the terms of unconditional surrender post World War II enjoyed decades of economic prosperity, foreign relations, and innovation. Despite the decades of growth and peace, geopolitical rivals have become emboldened by the perceived stagnation of Tokyo.
China continues to build up its navy and aggressively uses it to create manmade isles, threatening the security of several Asia-Pacific nations. North Korea continues to provoke South Korea and Japan with its internationally condemned missile tests across the sea, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced nations to consider remilitarization not seen since WWII; Japan, being one of them.
These existential threats have led to years of talks within the Japanese parliament to officially remilitarize, breaking years of the pacifist constitution to combat growing threats from regional foes. With a renewed militaristic show of force from Tokyo, America will now have another ally in Asia that can respond immediately if U.S. Forces need to be bolstered in a future conflict.
Since Japan’s unconditional surrender at the end of the Second World War, the country has been led by a pacifist constitution, drafted by the Americans to prevent renewed imperial ambitions by the country as many of its wartime leaders were not prosecuted.
Some Asian nations, such as China and North Korea have feared a potentially re-armed Japan, due to its fierceness and brutality in the past against them. Nonetheless, these nations have played their part in Japan’s renewed security apparatus due to their provocations.
China has laid claims to the disputed Senkaku islands, which are parts of the Ryukyu islands under Japanese administration. China’s navy potentially cutting off major Japanese trade routes and hampering its EEZ has become a growing national security issue. With Beijing playing a tit for tat/cat and mouse game with Tokyo over the isles, this has heightened a need for a stronger Japanese navy.
Kim Jong-un of North Korea has been the most provocative as of late. In October, the DPRK fired a nuclear capable missile directly over Japan in a test to see how far it could potentially hit American targets in a war. This came with international condemnation and a sense of urgency from the Japanese parliament as many of the missile tests conducted by Pyongyang were without informing the UNSC and neighboring states, heightening the potential of escalation if they continue.
The Japanese parliament has recently pushed towards allocating 2% of their GDP to defense, mirroring a common standard expected of NATO members of the West. Recently Tokyo presented a five-year plan to build up its forces, allocating $320 billion off the task. This would put Japan third in military spending in this decade, only behind America and China, the former being its closest ally and the latter, its biggest geopolitical rival.
Japan’s remilitarization benefits U.S. national security in the Asia-Pacific, as along with South Korea, Japan is also poised to become a top ten global military power. Tokyo has studied the war in Ukraine frequently and has helped Kyiv by taking in Ukrainian refugees — a rare policy, and sanctioning Russia.
Russia has also played a role in convincing Japan to remilitarize by withdrawing from the WWII era treaty over the Kuril Islands, which are historically part of Japan. With growing Japanese military capabilities, Moscow can no longer concentrate its naval forces in the Baltics and Black Sea in a confrontation with NATO, as Tokyo will be capable of opening another front if the Kremlin forces hostilities.
With an ever-expanding Chinese military, in which Xi is preparing for a forcible annexation of Taiwan, not only will Beijing face off against the Taiwanese and U.S. Seventh Fleet, but also a potential intervention by the Japanese navy. Facing a country considered to be a fortress along with historically two of the world’s most powerful navies would put a dent in current plans for Beijing and a potential deterrence on forcible annexation of Taiwan.
Japan’s remilitarization is a step forward for the Asia-Pacific nation to not only guarantee its own security in the future, but also alleviates full American military buildup in the region if China and North Korea continue its aggressive posture. The Sun has finally awakened from its slumber and this time it is beneficial for both Tokyo and Washington’s security to have a strengthened ally in Japan.