Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Japan Steps Up to Military Power

Yesterday's New York Times reported that Japan's security policies are increasingly shifting away from the nation's post-WWII pacifist tradition. The latest indicators of Japan's move to great power military status are found in U.S.-Japanese live-bombing training on Farallon de Medinilla, a small Western Pacific island, about 150 miles north of Guam:

The exercise would have been unremarkable for almost any other military, but it was highly significant for Japan, a country still restrained by a Constitution that renounces war and allows forces only for its defense. Dropping live bombs on land had long been considered too offensive, so much so that Japan does not have a single live-bombing range.

Flying directly from Japan and practicing live-bombing runs on distant foreign soil would have been regarded as unacceptably provocative because the implicit message was clear: these fighter jets could perhaps fly to North Korea and take out some targets before returning home safely.

But from here in Micronesia to Iraq, Japan’s military has been rapidly crossing out items from its list of can’t-dos. The incremental changes, especially since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, amount to the most significant transformation in Japan’s military since World War II, one that has brought it ever closer operationally to America’s military while rattling nerves throughout northeast Asia.

In a little over half a decade, Japan’s military has carried out changes considered unthinkable a few years back. In the Indian Ocean, Japanese destroyers and refueling ships are helping American and other militaries fight in Afghanistan. In Iraq, Japanese planes are transporting cargo and American troops to Baghdad from Kuwait.

Japan is acquiring weapons that blur the lines between defensive and offensive. For the Guam bombing run, Japan deployed its newest fighter jets, the F-2’s, the first developed jointly by Japan and the United States, on their maiden trip here. Unlike its older jets, the F-2’s were able to fly the 1,700 miles from northern Japan to Guam without refueling — a “straight shot,” as the Japanese said with unconcealed pride.

Japan recently indicated strongly its desire to buy the F-22 Raptor, a stealth fighter known mainly for its offensive abilities such as penetrating contested airspace and destroying enemy targets, whose export is prohibited by United States law.

At home, the Defense Agency, whose profile had been intentionally kept low, became a full ministry this year. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used the parliamentary majority he inherited from his wildly popular predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, to ram through a law that could lead to a revision of the pacifist Constitution.

Japan’s 241,000-member military, though smaller than those of its neighbors, is considered Asia’s most sophisticated. Though flat, its $40 billion military budget has ranked among the world’s top five in recent years. Japan has also tapped nonmilitary budgets to launch spy satellites and strengthen its coast guard recently.
Read the whole thing. Japanese politics and security policies demonstrate a near-astonishing degree of pro-Americanism. At a time when America-bashers routinely cite international polling data to show how far America's prestige has collapsed under the Bush administration, Japan - a key power in the international system - has firmly allied its interests to those of the United States.

(Pro-Americanism is a more profound trend than media outlets report, and in fact countries said to be decisively anti-U.S.
have strong demographics showing natural affinity to American world leadership.)

Japan is inclined to see its regional neighborhood as a threatening environment, with rising challengers (China) and rogue regimes (North Korea) providing the systemic impetus pushing the Japanese state to greater strategic independence.

Globally, as the article points out, Japan is a key U.S. ally in Iraq and the war on terror. The Japanese state's transformation from pacifist power to top strategic partner to the U.S. is an encouraging sign.
Great power politics has returned to the international system, with Japan's moves reflecting a policy of bandwagon with the preponderant power in the international realm.

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