Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, passed in the wake of World War II, states 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,” and, as a result, “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.”
The reasoning behind that language was clear at a time when Imperial Japan surrendered to the United States aboard the USS Missouri. The Allied Forces wanted to ensure that the Axis Powers would not rise up and threaten the world as they had in the largest and most destructive war the world had ever seen.
But that was then, and this is now. And now, Japan is one of America’s most loyal and prosperous allies. It’s mandatory pacifism has outlived its usefulness.
Japan is first in the line of fire from North Korea
Japan is first in the line of fire of North Korea, which has lobbed several missiles near its shores. With President Trump increasing the bellicose rhetoric, increasing tensions along the Korean peninsula, it makes little sense that Japan be forced to rely on a nation across the ocean for its defense.
And both Japanese and American leaders agree on this point. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced that he wants to revise Article 9 by 2020 in order to strengthen and accommodate Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.
This past May, Abe said:
I believe that we must establish the status of the SDF explicitly in the constitution during our generation’s lifetime and leave no room for contending the SDF could be unconstitutional. I strongly wish to make 2020 the year that the reborn Japan will make a new start.
For his part, President Trump doesn’t seem to realize that Japan’s self-defense is constitutionally limited.
Trump as a seasoned American travelling salesman
On his trip through Asia, the president is trying to sell Japan on a costly missile defense made in the United States. If Kim Jong-Un were to launch a missile at Japan, Trump predicted that Japan would be able to “shoot them out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the United States.”
And, with the flourish of a seasoned travelling salesman, he added that in America, “we make the best military equipment by far.”
It’s unclear if the president presumed that Japan was entertaining competing bids for missile defense systems, but he ought to be aware of the fact that Japan’s paucity of military options isn’t due to their unwillingness to drive off the lot with a new car today.
Trump should be at the forefront of negotiations to modify Article 9, if only to reassure Japan that today’s America isn’t holding a pre-World War II grudge. It will take the united efforts of all those in the Pacific region to counter North Korean aggression, and it’s encouraging that the Japanese Prime minister fully understands that, even if the American president does not.
(Photo of President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Washington on February 10, 2017, by 内閣官房内閣広報室 used with permission.)