The Japanese government is too busy buying US missile defense systems and building their own cruise missiles to worry about whether or not they get their way on the constitutional debate.
Last month, while everyone was distracted by other events, the Japanese government did something rather remarkable: They activated a marine unit. Specifically, the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force activated a 1,500 man unit known as the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade. The occasion was marked by a ceremony at Sasebo military base on the island of Kyushu.
This may not seem particularly newsworthy. After all, the activation of a single marine brigade would not be a remarkable event in virtually any other nation on the planet. But in Japan, where there has not been such a marine activation since WWII, it is extraordinary.
Well, extraordinary but not unexpected. To anyone who has been paying attention, Japan's definitely-not-an-offensive-military "Self-Defence Force" is, for all intents and purposes, an offensive military in disguise.
For those not in the know, Article 9 of the Japanese post-war constitution explicitly forbids the country from maintaining "land, sea and air forces." Or, in its full context:
"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. 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."
That's a pretty bold clause to include in a national constitution. It's also why the average Japanese citizen has come to think of Japan as a peaceful nation since the downfall of the old Imperial Army. But most importantly, it's a giant thorn in the side of those politicians like current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who desperately want to re-militarize the nation.
Not that Article 9 has ever really stopped Japan from possessing "land, sea, and air forces," of course. The government just re-branded those forces as "Self-Defense Forces" and said they were exclusively for self-defense and peacekeeping. But riddle me this: If Japan really is a pacifist nation that has forever renounced war, why is it ranked eighth in the world in terms of military expenditures?
The answer, of course, is that the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) is a stealth army. Just flip a switch and the "pacifist" nation of Japan would be one of the world's largest military powers overnight. Consider that the JSDF is ranked as the 18th largest military in the world with 247,150 active personnel. Not bad for a country with "no military," hey?
Still don't believe me? Just look at the Izumo-class destroyer unveiled by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force in 2013. Go on, look at it. You would be forgiven for thinking that you are looking at an aircraft carrier, a.k.a. the centerpiece of any modern combat fleet and a prerequisite for any nation looking to claim a place in the pantheon of world military powers. But you are officially looking at a "helicopter destroyer." Oh, sure, it happens to look and function exactly like an aircraft carrier, and, yes, it could be used to launch fixed-wing aircraft exactly like an aircraft carrier, but it's totally not an aircraft carrier. It's just for launching helicopters. You know, for peacekeeping missions. Honest.
Or look at Japan's Epsilon solid-fuel rockets. Used to launch scientific satellites, the rockets can deliver a 1.2 ton payload to low earth orbit. But, as is always pointed out whenever the US or their partners in crime are looking to demonize the boogeyman-de-jour, a rocket for delivering scientific satellites is just an intercontinental ballistic missile in disguise.
Far and away the most telling (and alarming) aspect of the Japanese stealth army, however, is its covert nuclear program. As I discussed with Joseph Trento in 2012, the Japanese government has colluded with the US government for decades in a secret, illegal program to amass tons of weapons-grade plutonium. Trento exposed the program in an investigation for the National Security News Service six years ago.
As the article explained:
"The United States deliberately allowed Japan access to the United States’ most secret nuclear weapons facilities while it transferred tens of billions of dollars worth of American tax paid research that has allowed Japan to amass 70 tons of weapons grade plutonium since the 1980s, a National Security News Service investigation reveals. These activities repeatedly violated U.S. laws regarding controls of sensitive nuclear materials that could be diverted to weapons programs in Japan. The NSNS investigation found that the United States has known about a secret nuclear weapons program in Japan since the 1960s, according to CIA reports."
As outrageous as this story is, it is all the more outrageous that Japan is not just an ostensibly non-nuclear nation, but even pretends to adhere to the Three Non-Nuclear Principles of "non-production, non-possession, and non-introduction" of nuclear weapons set out by former Prime Minister Eisaku Satō in 1967. Given the insane hysteria that has surrounded Iran's own nuclear program over the last decade, the discovery that the Japanese government has been colluding to amass weapons-grade plutonium for a secret nuclear weapons program should have been the political scandal of the century in Japan and a major international news story. But since Japan is a US ally (and since the US government was itself illegally colluding in the scandal) the entire story became a minor footnote barely even mentioned in the mainstream (and even then, only to downplay the scandal).
But all of this is not enough for the Abes and the Koizumis and the other misleaders of Japan who have been chomping at the bit for decades to take off the Article 9 fig leaf and expose Japan's military might. Article 9 has been under attack at least since former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi committed Japanese forces to aid in the occupation of Iraq. This was not a combat deployment, of course. The JSDF was confined to digging trenches and handing out lollipops (or some such codswallop) but it was an important test of Japan's "Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law," enacted in the wake of 9/11, which granted the government the leeway to provide "cooperation and support" to "Foreign Forces" (read: the US) on foreign soil without it being taken as an abrogation of Article 9.
More recently, the Abe administration infamously pushed through a "reinterpretation" of Article 9 that allows the government to participate in "collective self-defense" missions (read: killing boogeymen wherever and whenever Uncle Sam comes a-callin') without breaching the whole "we renounce war forever" platitudes. And the debate continues as the hardliners continue to push for not just reinterpretation but wholesale revision of the pesky constitutional clause. (But here's some #GoodNewsNextWeek: Abe's recent domestic political scandals have hampered plans to revise Article 9.)
Regardless of whether the constitution is amended or not, though, the writing is on the wall. The Japanese government is too busy buying US missile defense systems and building their own cruise missiles to worry about whether or not they get their way on the constitutional debate. At this particular moment in time they're using the "threat" from North Korea to justify the military build up. The smart money is betting that if peace on the Korean peninsula really does come about then the "threat" used to justify the build up will just switch to China. And if China suddenly became the US' best buddies, it would be another imaginary bogey somewhere else in the world. Just like in 1984, it doesn't really matter who the enemy is, or even if the enemy actually exists; all that matters is that the public goes along with the story.
So for the time being we still live in a world where Japan "doesn't have a military" (nudge nudge, wink wink). In the very near future we may be living in a world where (well, waddaya know?) Japan does have a military, and a pretty sizable one at that! And in reality, nothing will have changed.