The Power of Japan: Does it lie in military strength or in its unique witness for peace?
First it was Little Boy, then Fat Man. Sixty-two years ago, in August 1945, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, each a Japanese city of roughly 250,000. According to estimates, a total of 150,000 Japanese were killed immediately in the two cities, and thousands more were injured or made ill by the radiation and nuclear fallout. What few people outside Japan realize is that the death toll continues to climb. In summer 2007, when Tomihisa Taue, the Mayor of Nagasaki, led the annual commemoration of the bombing at the Nagasaki Peace Park, he added more than 3,000 deaths from bomb-related radiation illness during the previous 12 months, which brought the official death toll as of 2007 to 143,124 for Nagasaki alone.
There were, of course, survivors, the hibakusha (literally explosion-affected people) and among them the tainai hibakusha, those nestled in their mothers womb when the atomic bombs exploded. It is not inconsequential that the current Archbishop of Nagasaki, the Most Reverend Joseph M. Takami, is himself one of the tainai hibakusha. Speaking at Georgetown University in March 2007, Archbishop Takami noted that he had grown up personally affected by the suffering. A week after the blast, he said, four members of my immediate family, including my grandmother and two aunts, died. He acknowledged that Japan was not merely a victim of the war, but a willing aggressor against its Asian neighbors. Yet, speaking for many Japanese people, the archbishop said that direct experience of the atomic bomb taught us a precious lesson of nonviolence as a way of life, a conviction, a belief and a non-negotiable commitment.
Nonviolence as a way of life needs to be recast or revitalized for the current generation of Japanese, however, for Japans non-negotiable commitment to peace is being tested by developments within Asia itself, on the larger world scene and by the United States government. Since the year 2000, the U.S.-Japan relationship has been changing radically in ways that have alarmed some Japanese voters, Japans Catholic bishops and some of the countrys political leaders, like the mayor of Nagasaki. As Archbishop Takami put it in his Georgetown address, Japan is a willing partner in the U.S. global war on terror, increasingly allowing the U.S. military to use its land, air and naval facilities as Japan itself takes on an ever larger military role. Such a role stands in direct contradiction to Japans postwar Constitution, self-understanding and foreign policy.
Post-World War II Developments
Nonviolence as a way of life, as Archbishop Takami expressed it, is relatively new in Japans long militant history. It took root in postwar Japan, defeated and occupied for six years by the Allies, mainly the United States. As a nation, Japan was (and still is) unique in the world in having experienced the horror of a nuclear attack. Yet the Japanese transition to nonviolence developed gradually. As a war-torn world began to realize the extent of the Holocaust and the immense number of Stalins victims, the Japanese started to acknowledge their aggression toward other Asians in the Pacific and their own war crimes. This intense period was also one of enormous flux as leaders set up a new government and rewrote the 1890 Meiji Constitution. That constitution had been promulgated under Emperor Hirohitos grandfather, who was considered a deity (as was his son and grandson until after World War II, when the emperors religious role was recast). In 1947 the Japanese Diet (parliament) debated a draft constitution for 114 days, made revisions and accepted the final version, which included Article 9, a controversial prohibition against Japans maintaining an offensive military or using force internationally for any reason. In its entirety Article 9 reads:
1. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, 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.
2. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, 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.
Scholars have advanced several reasons to explain why Japan, acting in contrast to its highly militarized past, so readily agreed to limit its military. It is said that Japan envisioned itself becoming a neutral nation like Sweden or Switzerland and that by not having to rebuild its military, while under the protection of the United States, Japan could focus on rebuilding its economy. Meanwhile, as the Japanese public embraced a new Constitution, a new government and a new understanding of their emperor, it also began to internalize the pacifist ethic that still characterizes a majority today, particularly regarding nuclear arms and proliferation.
During those same years the U.S.S.R. united its postwar land gains and pursued Communist world domination, emerging as the new threat to world peace. Japans proximity to both Communist Russia and China was particularly advantageous to Americas anti-Communist strategy. As early as the Eisenhower administration, the U.S. government had second thoughts about having urged institutionalized pacifism on Japan, which weakened it as an ally. On the other hand, some scholars argue that Japanese leaders saw Article 9 as a potential defense, shielding Japan from being caught between the two cold war superpowers.
In signing the 1951 Mutual Security Treaty and the 1954 Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement, the United States promised to protect Japan, and Japan allowed the United States to use its territory for permanent military bases. The latter agreement also permitted Japan to maintain a limited Self-Defense Force to protect its mainland.
Since the end of the cold war, three unlikely streams continued to run alongside one another in Japan. First, nonaggression and nuclear pacifism have become a part of Japanese culture and identity. The signs are various. Not only did Japan sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and refrain from building or trading in nuclear arms; but according to polls conducted over the last few decades, more than 70 percent of Japanese have consistently opposed nuclear weapons. As a nation Japan did not intervene during the Vietnam War, after a citizen campaign of protest, and rejected U.S. pressure to send members of the Japanese Self-Defense Force to support the United States during the first Persian Gulf war.
Second, Japans S.D.F. has grown substantially in size and strength. Its navy, air force and army together employ 240,000 people (according to 2006 data). And Japans $50 billion annual defense budget is the worlds third largest after those of the United States and Russia, though Chinas (which is not publicly known) might be larger.
Third, the U.S. troops and weapons on Japanese soil have increased in number, size and power. Some 50,000 U.S. troops currently reside on more than 130 military installations, mostly on Okinawaall at Japanese expense, the troop salaries excepted.
In addition to these three streams, Japan has breached its own self-defense policy on a number of occasions, beginning in Cambodia in 1992, when Japan sent some 2,000 peacekeepers, including members of its military, to Cambodia under the auspices of the U.N. to monitor a ceasefire, train civilian police and engineer the repair of roads and bridges. Japans role in world peacekeeping has grown since then.
By the time the Soviet Union split up in the early 1990s, Japan and the United States had become strong allies with social, cultural, political and economic ties. Japans economy boomed, and Japan became one of the worlds richest nations. The cold war era ended and another era began.
Changing Role on the World Stage
Enter China. Asias sleeping giant has awakened. As the behemoth labors to develop its economy and shape its new international role, Japan is being forced to adjust its self-image, regional strategy and position in the world. North Koreas nuclear testing and posturing and Pakistans interest in nuclear arms, heightened by its role in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, have scarcely gone unnoticed in Japan. Add to the picture a newly aggressive Russia, flush with oil profits, looming to the northwest over Japans shoulder and it becomes apparent that Japan cannot remain unaffected or indifferent. A nuclear Asia is at hand. What does that prospect mean for Japan? This is a matter for significant public thought and conversation, which should be reflected in the kind of leaders Japan chooses to govern it.
But that is not all. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has become engulfed in a war on terror and is mired in the Middle East, its troops stretched thin. How secure is Japan now with the United States as its protector? Does Japans protectorate position promote regional peace or work against it? The Bush administration has urged Japanese leaders to remove its constitutional restraint and take on more responsibility for regional defense. Given such increasing pressures, it is not surprising that two Japanese prime ministers, Junichiro Koizumi and after him Shinzo Abe, have pushed for a referendum to amend the Constitution, particularly the clause on international collective defense in Article 9. This seems to be in abeyance under the new prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, who is thought to be more cautious in military matters. But the issues will not simply fade away.
The choice facing the Japanese is not a new one, since Japan has already leaned away from its Constitution. It has broken precedent (Archbishop Takami says it has violated its Constitution) by using military force beyond its borders. In 2001 the S.D.F. sank a North Korean spy ship; recently Japan has sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the coalition of the willing. Technically Japanese troops do not engage in combat there but provide logistical support. Japan is also aware that its Self-Defense Force is ill-equipped for offensive actions: its navy has no nuclear submarines or aircraft carriers and its three military branches lack both coordination and efficient communication. In 2006, the Diet introduced a bill to consolidate oversight of these operations and change the name of the ministry.
At Georgetown Archbishop Takami cited bilateral agreements of 2005 (the U.S.-Japan Alliance) and 2006 (the Roadmap for Realignment Implementation), by which, he said, Japan has been made a major hub for American military operations all over the world, transforming the Japanese military forces into part of the globally deployed U.S. military forces. The archbishop questioned the legality of the process, intimating that it may require formal treaty revisions through democratic procedures. He also said that Japan has committed itself to full participation in ballistic missile defense, counterterrorism, search and destroy operations, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, through response to attacks by weapons of mass destruction and joint use of bases and facilities in Japan with the Self-Defense Force to the U.S. use of seaport and airport facilities, roads, water spaces, airspaces, and frequency bands. The complete list is cumulatively more troubling. These agreements violate Japans Constitution, yet they have been agreed to by the two governments, even as constitutional change is being discussed without strong support for change among Japanese voters.
Political leaders have also sidestepped Japans popular no-nuclear policy. According to Archbishop Takami, 546 Tomahawk missiles are already in place on U.S. warships at Yokosuka, and the nuclear submarine George Washington will be deployed there next year. A citizens movement against its deployment collected 500,000 signatures, and the city council passed a resolution opposing it in 2005; but the mayor now defends the Yokosuka base as the forefront of the ballistic missile defense, the archbishop reported. He added that Okinawa has the biggest arsenal in Asia that can store more than 50,000 tons of ammunition in 500 installations.
The Japanese peoples post-World War II commitment to nonviolence and against nuclear weapons must be updated in light of such recent developments. And Japans relationship to the United States needs to be publicly aired and assessed. The questions facing Japan are serious. Can Japan remain dependent upon the United States and willfully unable to protect itself, even as more large or unstable nations nearby acquire nuclear weapons? Is that prudent? Does Japanapart from the promptings of the United Stateswish to address the worldwide war on terror? If so, how? How can Japan strengthen and balance its relationships to China, North Korea, India and Pakistan, among others? If Japan amended its peace constitution, shed its military dependency and became a major military power in the region, would that increase Japans security and stability and the peace of Asia?
Japan could make a firm recommitment to peace and renegotiate its military agreements with the United States. Or Japan could amend its Constitution and existing treaties so that these reflect its current policy. Or Japan could take a whole new direction in terms of national goals and policies, take over its own military affairs and require the U.S. troops to leave.
The direction Japanese voters will prefer is difficult to predict. While there seems to be no current groundswell of support for a full militarization of Japan, support is growing on the margins. In an upper-house election in July, the people voted in a landslide election for members of the Democratic Party, the party in opposition to that of the prime minister (the Liberal Democratic Party). Commentators interpreted the vote as displeasure with Abes domestic scandals and policy blunders, which later brought about his downfall.
Unwittingly, the voters have bought some time for those who oppose efforts to revise the pacifist Constitution. Opponents may well redouble their efforts to make a persuasive case for peace. Opponents include the Japanese Catholic Bishops Conference, which prefers to keep Article 9 as it is and to fortify the nations commitment to nonviolence as a world witness to peace, and the current mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue. In his remarks at Nagasakis Peace Park, Mayor Taue warned against the perils of nuclear proliferation and proposed that Japans three non-nuclear principles, which ban the possession, production and importation of nuclear armaments, be enacted into law. The use of nuclear weapons can never be permitted or considered acceptable for any reason whatsoever, Taue said. What the Japanese people as a whole must decide is whether they, as victims of atomic weapons, will become potential perpetrators.