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The Expansion of Japan's Military Presence

As the modern world presents ever-pressing security concerns for Japan, it has become increasingly necessary for the island nation to shed its seventy-year-old pacifistic doctrine and foster military capabilities of its own. To this end, the Japanese government now seeks to reinvent its stance on its military involvement on the global stage.

Japan has not had a formal standing military since the end of World War II, when U.S. occupation forces wrote a new national constitution to govern the war-battered country. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution eviscerated the former Imperial Japanese military, effectively turning Japan into a pacifist state that was completely reliant on the United States for its own national defense. [1] Soon afterwards, however, Cold War threats and the raging war in nearby Korea caused the United States to consider restoring some of Japan’s defensive autonomy. [2] In 1950, U.S. authorities encouraged Japan to create a national security force (the National Police Reserve), which evolved into the modern-day Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) by 1954. [3] The mission of the JSDF was limited to the defense of Japan, and it was therefore denied the right to maintain offensive capabilities. [4]

This idealistic arrangement, however, did not confine the JSDF to the shores of the Japanese islands. The increasing globalization of Japanese foreign relations saw the deployment of the JSDF around the world, involving itself in humanitarian relief efforts following armed conflicts or natural disasters. [5] Some of the more controversial deployments have placed the JSDF in situations precariously similar to warfighting, such as the involvement of the JSDF in supporting U.S. invasion forces in Iraq in 2003. [6] While deployments such as these have led to questions about the constitutionality of the JSDF and its operations, the Japanese government has written off the liberal application of the JSDF by coining and subsequently citing such doctrines as “pro-active pacifism” and “collective self-defense.” [7]

Still facing the ongoing threat of Chinese territorial aggression in the disputed Senkaku island chain and rocked by the brutal murders of two Japanese citizens by the Islamic State (IS) in January 2015, the Japanese government has pushed yet again to expand the scope of Japan’s military presence. [8] In mid-2015, the Japanese legislature passed a series of bills that reinterpret the Article 9 prohibition of Japanese military involvement, permitting the JSDF to be offensively deployed in support of Japan’s allies in conflicts around the world. [9]

The relaxation of strict constitutional guidelines on the deployment of the JSDF is a strategic boon for the United States and its East Asian allies, which seek to counter the emerging threat of China. Despite the benign narrative adopted by the Chinese government to paint China as a nation that promotes peace and goodwill, its backdoor belligerence continually poses a threat to its neighbors. Its territorial claims do not end with Japan; it aggressively lays claim to large swathes of the South China Sea and its islands, coming at odds with several countries including the Philippines and Vietnam. [10] It has constructed numerous military facilities on contested islands and deployed naval forces into those regions, creating significant unrest and causing nations such as the Philippines to turn to the United States for intervention. [11]

The establishment of the JSDF as a deployable armed force could potentially have far-reaching political ramifications in the long run. As military buildup continues among East Asian nations to ward off Chinese aggression, increased flexibility in the use of the JSDF will certainly contribute to that end. However, this is entirely dependent on the continued expansion of the JSDF; it remains to be seen whether it will continue to grow to become a major force in East Asia.


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