Scene & Herd - Is the Iraq War hastening the remilitarization of Japan?

Don't Panic ... Your War Questions Answered

In addition to all that death, destruction and mayhem stuff, wars inevitably have weird side effects that almost nobody can anticipate.

For example, when the United States entered World War I, it's doubtful that many people listed "mass migration of Southern African-Americans to factory jobs in Northern industrial cities such Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland, forever changing American culture" among their war predictions.

When the United States entered World War II, I don't think many people reacted by thinking, "Gee, this war not only will vanquish fascism, but will lead to a five-decade Cold War with the Soviet Union and an arms race in space that will put a man on the moon and give us the technology to mass-produce pens that can write upside-down."

And, seriously, who'd have thunk that one of the most prominent results of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 would be that rappers and soccer moms alike would start buying luxury civilian versions of the military Humvee?

In 2002 and 2003, when people were arguing for or against invading Iraq to topple Saddam, I don't recall anyone (myself included) pondering what effect the war would have on Japanese military policy. Nearly three years into the conflict, however, it's easy to see that the war in Iraq is indeed exerting influence on Japan's military strategy.

In a nutshell, Japan is creeping in the direction of remilitarization. It's a process that's been going on for decades. The Iraq War is simply speeding it up. Let me 'splain.

After World War II, pacifism was enshrined in the Japanese Constitution. Article 9 of the constitution declares that Japan will forever renounce the right to wage war or maintain a military. Although Japan does maintain a military-style security force known as the Self-Defense Force, the country is the least militarized of the world's economic powers. For decades, Japan's military budget has hovered around 1 percent of its gross domestic product. By comparison, annual U.S. military spending is 3.3 percent of its GDP. The United Kingdom's military spending equals 2.4 percent of its GDP.

While 1 percent of Japan's GDP is a lot of money, Japan's security force lacks basic military capabilities that Americans and Europeans take for granted. For example, if North Korea's Kim Jong-Il said that he was going to launch a missile at Japan from the roof of one of his palaces in exactly one week, Japan couldn't do anything about it but watch and worry. They have no military first-strike capability.

Japan has been able to survive while spending so little on its military because of its alliance with the United States. The U.S. bases nearly 50,000 of its soldiers in Japan and patrols the sea lanes around the country with the U.S. Navy. The United States also keeps Japan under what's called a "nuclear umbrella." The policy is, "If you attack Japan, you're attacking the U.S., too." In essence, the U.S. military is Japan's military.

But the economic and military rise of China and the emergence of North Korea as a nuclear power have started to make Japan feel insecure. Right now, Japan is rewriting its constitution. Though there is no chance that Japan will turn into the militarily aggressive monster that it was in the early 20th century, it's likely that the revised constitution will allow Japan's military to grow, both in size and scope of mission.

What does that have to do with Iraq? Well, it's simple. China and North Korea look at Iraq and think, "We have to make sure that we're well-armed enough to deal with an aggressive U.S. military." Japan, in turn, looks at North Korean and Chinese military buildups and starts to feel a bit under-gunned. The Japanese also know that, while their military alliance with the United States is in no danger of collapsing, the U.S. is interested in pulling some of its military manpower out of Japan so that it can better man its War on TerrorTM-related missions.

Add that all up and voilà — you've got a Japan that over the next couple of decades will probably re-emerge as a regional military power. And because we're more scared of an aggressive China than we are an aggressive Japan, its a process we're actively encouraging.

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