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Our maxim: “understanding before action”
Our purpose is to encourage the knowledge and the debate of issues connected with art and military science. Selection of articles attempts to reflect different opinions. Beyond any ideological ascription. In order to impulse critical thought amongst our readers.

miércoles, 13 de mayo de 2015

La reforma de las fuerzas de defensa japonesas.

Defining Defense: Japan’s Military Identity Crisis.

By Sheila A. Smith, May 12, 2015, Feature 

Japan’s postwar constitution, promulgated in 1947 under U.S. occupation, has shaped the country’s international role ever since. But now that may be changing. Since assuming office for the second time in December 2012, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has implemented a rapid succession of security policy reforms. Abe’s efforts to refocus Japan’s attention on its defense needs and adopt policies that have long been seen as taboo have drawn global attention.

Japan’s immediate neighbors have decried these reforms, citing their still sensitive World War II-era memories of a very different Japanese military. South Korea has been especially critical of Abe’s reinterpretation of Japan’s postwar constitution to allow the military to work alongside other national militaries, but China also worries that Abe may be leading his country in a new, dangerous direction. In contrast, U.S. policymakers, who have long hoped to see Japan take a more active regional security role, have welcomed many of Abe’s reforms. Last month, during the prime minister’s visit to Washington, the U.S. and Japan announced a set of military guidelines that will initiate a new level of strategic cooperation.

Japan’s willingness to amp up its defenses is driven by concerns about a shifting military balance in Northeast Asia. Since the end of the Cold War, North Korea’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons and the missile capability to deliver them further and further from its shores have alarmed the Japanese public. Incidents with North Korean ships off the Japanese coast have also drawn serious concern.

But more immediately, rising tensions with China have had a conspicuous influence on Japanese policymakers’ thinking about security. Confrontations between the Chinese and Japanese coast guards over the disputed Senkaku Islands, claimed by China as the Diaoyu, in the East China Sea, as well as China’s rapid rise as an economic and military power more generally, have had a particularly conspicuous influence on Japanese policymakers’ thinking about security. Two incidents—the first when a Chinese fishing trawler rammed Japan Coast Guard vessels in the waters near the islands, and the second when the Chinese government itself deployed law enforcement vessels to patrol them—raised the stakes.

Yet the Japanese public remains skeptical and cautious about Abe’s security reforms, especially those that go against the post-WWII understanding of the constitution. This caution comes even as the Japanese public has grown increasingly aware of the value of its military, known as the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), and as more and more Japanese express an interest in taking another look at their pacifist constitution. When it comes to changing military policy, however, public opinion polling reveals deep ambivalence.

In recent years, two issues in particular have stoked criticism. The first was the passage of a national secrecy law in late 2013, which had long been seen as vital to U.S.-Japan cooperation, but which for many Japanese signaled an unwanted expansion of government authority. Second, in July 2014, Abe’s Cabinet announced that it would reinterpret the constitution to allow for the right of collective self-defense, thereby allowing operations in defense of allies when Japan’s security is threatened, which drew popular resistance. Revamping the laws related to SDF operations to allow Japan’s military to work alongside other militaries is controversial within Japan, and the parliamentary debate in the coming months will likely place new limits on the SDF just as Abe’s government seeks to give it more latitude abroad.

Constitutional Constraints

For Japan’s security planners, public opinion on the military has been the most consistent hurdle to designing defense policy. In the 70 years since the end of WWII, Japanese attitudes toward the military have slowly changed. Annual government polling on the public’s views of the SDF dates back to the early years after its creation in 1954, when sensitivities to this new postwar military were still running high.

For many decades, most Japanese valued their military’s role in disaster relief far more than they did its role in defending the nation. Consistently over the years, around 70 percent of Japanese have associated the SDF with responding to natural disasters like earthquakes and floods. Even today, the SDF continues to earn the public’s respect and admiration for its role in disaster relief. It has been deployed abroad repeatedly to help other nations cope with disaster, including stints in China, Haiti, the Philippines and now Nepal.

On March 11, 2011, Japan itself suffered from the “triple disasters” caused by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power station. The Japanese emperor described it at the time as the most severe national crisis since WWII, and the SDF were widely praised for their role in search and rescue, cleanup operations, the provision of local services to devastated communities and the attempt to prevent the rupture of the nuclear reactors. For many younger Japanese, the March 11 disasters were the first time they saw their military cope with a national crisis, and many credited the SDF as the most reliable government agency in coping with the tremendous challenge.

Japanese attitudes today are also changing over the postwar constitution, although there are mixed views over the changing role of the military. Article 9 of the constitution limits the military to a self-defense mission, and despite the 2014 reinterpretation of the article, this emphasis on defense continues to be the frame for debating Japan’s security needs. Few advocate for a nuclear-armed Japan, for example, or a Japan that seeks to use its military to demonstrate its national power. Rather, government polling reveals that the alliance with the U.S. is still widely seen as the primary vehicle for ensuring Japan’s security, rather than Japan’s own military might.

Nonetheless, there is growing interest in revising or amending the constitution. Advocates often differ on what needs to be revised, but conservatives hope to reduce Japan’s hesitation over how it uses its military. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has campaigned for constitutional revision, put forward a draft constitution that would change the name of the SDF to Japan’s National Defense Force, but would retain the idea of defense as the force’s primary mission. The success or failure of that potential revision will depend on whether the public shares the LDP’s sense of a growing regional threat.

A Growing Sense of Danger

Japanese public opinion polls have revealed growing concern about regional security since the end of the Cold War. Northeast Asia’s balance of power has been shifting, and the behavior of Japan’s neighbors has been particularly worrisome.

Over the past decade or more, three developments have prompted debate over how to manage new risks to Japan: first, the military behavior of North Korea and China since the mid-1990s; second, the island dispute with China in the East China Sea since 2010; and, most recently, the threat issued by the so-called Islamic State (IS) against Japan, including the murder of two Japanese hostages in January.

The most widely noted signal of Japan’s changing security environment was North Korea’s launch of a Taepodong missile over Japanese territory in 1998. Pyongyang had already developed missiles capable of hitting Japan, but the launch of a new, intermediate-range missile into Japanese airspace brought massive international media attention and pressure on the Ministry of Defense to discuss how it would respond. The U.S.-Japan alliance also became the subject of media scrutiny. Politicians in the Japanese parliament, the Diet, called for stronger measures for tracking missile launches, and members of the legislature’s security committee traveled to Washington to argue for an independent Japanese satellite capability.

Years before Japan’s public became aware of the North Korean missile threat, Japanese security experts had begun to focus on what they saw as a new threat environment. Indeed, the North Korean shift toward both nuclear and missile proliferation had been noted in Washington, and a crisis in 1993-1994 had prompted serious deliberations with Tokyo about a possible military response to Pyongyang’s proliferation efforts.

Since that time, alliance managers in both Japan and the U.S. have updated the 1978 guidelines for a military division of labor between the two countries. But Japan ultimately responded to the enhanced North Korean missile threat through the introduction of a ballistic missile defense (BMD) program, with shared research and development with the U.S. Popular sentiment at the time widely accepted this response, in part because the BMD was seen as a defensive system, and moreover because it would be integrated with the U.S. military response.

In 1996, another crisis, this time between Beijing and Taipei, raised the specter of significant regional tensions. A new political party in Taiwan, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), began to openly advocate independence from the People’s Republic of China. In response, Beijing began to threaten the use of military force in the event of the DPP winning power. By March 1996, with tensions rapidly growing as the Taiwanese election approached, the U.S. decided to send an aircraft carrier to the area in an attempt to calm tensions.

Japan’s security planners had already begun to see a significant shift in their security environment, as China began to signal its willingness to use its growing military power in and around Taiwan if the politics on the island became less acceptable to Beijing. In the years leading up to the crisis, the Japanese Ministry of Defense had noted with some concern China’s nuclear tests prior to signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Yet China’s moves seemed to have less impact on Japanese popular security perceptions than North Korea’s behavior, and there was far greater reluctance in Japan to overtly registering China as a military threat. It took another decade before the U.S. and Japan could openly articulate “new strategic goals” for their alliance and begin to address how their two militaries could be reorganized to contend with China.

Public sentiment shifted noticeably with regard to China in the 2000s, as political tensions grew, although this did not have an immediate impact on Japan’s domestic debate over national defense. The Japanese media focused public attention on the growing number of Chinese maritime missions in and around Japan’s territorial waters. In November 2004, a Chinese submarine attempted to transit the Miyako Straits in southern Japan without surfacing, thus compelling the Japanese maritime forces to respond. Media crews hovered in the air above as the Chinese sub finally surfaced within Japan’s waters. Later, when a Chinese fishing trawler captain challenged the Japanese Coast Guard near the Senkakus in September 2010, the Japanese public became far more concerned over Chinese intentions. Activism over the sovereignty of these islands had been growing, but this was the first time that a Chinese vessel had openly rammed coast guard ships.

Ever since concluding a peace treaty in 1978, the Chinese and Japanese governments had cooperated to keep these activist incidents quiet and to manage their own citizens without much public fuss. However, in this case the Japanese media, along with the opposition parties in the Diet, clamored for a harsher response to the unruly captain. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) government of then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan ordered his arrest and threatened him with prosecution under Japanese law. For Chinese authorities, this overt attempt to assert Japanese sovereignty was unacceptable and prompted a harsh protest.

Advocates of a stronger Japanese defense of the islands became more vocal after the trawler incident, and China’s subsequent decision in September 2012 to begin maritime patrols of the islands prompted more anxiety in Japan over how to manage the growing antagonism with Beijing. Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, an outspoken anti-China nationalist, tried to raise funds to support the purchase of the privately owned islands by the Tokyo metropolitan government, tapping into a well of popular frustration over the central government’s handling of the crisis. Then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, pressured by Ishihara, finally purchased the islands, setting off a new wave of Chinese protests and prompting Beijing to send ships to “defend” the islands. In the months before Abe returned to the prime minister’s office, Japanese politicians aligned themselves fully in support of the Senkaku cause, sensing that the public was moving ahead of them on the issue.

A month into Abe’s new term, the Japanese and Chinese militaries had an even more dangerous encounter. This time, a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) ship was targeted with the fire-control radar of a Chinese naval vessel. When Beijing announced an Air Defense Identification Zone across the East China Sea in November 2013, which would include the islands, the potential danger again increased as Japanese and Chinese air forces came into ever-greater contact.

Despite the growing popular call for defending the islands against China, as well as polling revealing that many Japanese wanted a stronger “attitude” toward Beijing, this did not seem to translate into calls for a military buildup. Newspaper polling differed in the questions asked, but sentiment seemed to coalesce around the question of what kind of attitude Japan should demonstrate rather than what policy options should be considered. Neither the Japanese public nor the government seemed to consider using the military to up the ante against Beijing.

Finally, and most recently, the execution of two Japanese hostages by the Islamic State has drawn some attention to the problems of terrorism and extremism beyond the Asia-Pacific region. Abe had announced $200 million in humanitarian aid to Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing IS, and this speech was specifically referenced in the IS video threatening the execution of the hostages. Addressed to “The Government and the People of Japan,” the video called on the Japanese people to stop their government from supporting the U.S.-led campaign against IS, specifically referencing postwar Japanese pacifism.

Before the executions, some in Japan had criticized Abe for delivering a speech supporting the U.S.-led coalition while Japanese citizens were being held hostage. But the prime minister stated he would not negotiate with terrorists, and after the murders, he vowed to continue Japan’s policy of providing humanitarian assistance to those fleeing from IS. Polls taken after the event showed the public largely supported Abe’s handling of the crisis.

Outside of Japan, media began to suggest that the hostage crisis would make the Japanese public more likely to support changes in military policy, but this seems to have misread Japanese sentiment. Despite IS’ focus on Japan’s contributions to the coalition, few Japanese concluded after the deaths of the two hostages that their military should play a larger role in the Middle East.

For all of the changes in Japan’s security environment since the end of the Cold War, public attitudes remain consistently cautious when it comes to changing the way Tokyo deploys and uses its military. While there is a growing sense that Japan’s security has been affected by North Korea, China and, to a lesser extent, IS, the Japanese are still hesitant about allowing their government to use the military as a foreign policy tool. The public’s commitment to limiting Japan’s military to the role of self-defense remains strong.

Abe’s Reform Efforts and the Public Response

Abe returned to the prime minister’s office right in the middle of the escalating tensions with Beijing over the Senkakus, and popular opinion reflecting concern over the growing tensions with China gave him far greater latitude for implementing his defense reforms. Abe quickly set out to demonstrate that his government would ensure that Japan was adequately protected. He began a review of the National Defense Program Outline, Japan’s long-term defense planning document, and added a new layer of upgrades to its five-year military procurement plan. He also announced institutional reforms that would centralize strategic planning, including a National Security Council (NSC) and a new National Security Strategy. There seemed to be little opposition to these new initiatives.

Abe did draw fire, however, over a new national secrecy law—passed alongside the law creating the NSC—that would allow for greater government discretion in identifying what information should be classified and how to enforce secrecy protections. Overwhelmingly, polls showed deep popular disapproval of the law, and after his ruling coalition pushed it through the Diet in late 2013, Abe’s approval rating dipped precipitously. This was the first of two signs that the public was not willing to accept all of his efforts to strengthen national security decision-making.

The second sign came in the summer of 2014, when the LDP and its coalition partner, the Komeito, sought to find common ground on reinterpreting the constitution to allow for collective self-defense. For months, the two parties debated their differences over this reinterpretation. The Komeito argued for explicitly stating what missions would be possible, while retaining the principle that the SDF would be restricted to missions related to Japan’s own defense, rather than allowing an open-ended lifting of constraints on SDF operations. The LDP, on the other hand, wanted to see a much broader shift away from the postwar habit of defining new “hadome,” or brakes, on SDF operations. Some in the LDP wanted to free the SDF to work with other countries in coalition military operations, and even to embrace the notion of collective security as outlined in the U.N. Charter. But for the Komeito, that was too much change, too fast.

The idea of continuing to exercise limits bothered some in the security planning community, who wanted a broader scope of cooperation between the SDF and the U.S. military in particular. But the Komeito was not fully persuaded, in large part due to the Japanese public’s deep skepticism over allowing the SDF to fight on behalf of other nations, and much of the public debate focused on defining appropriate missions for working with other militaries.

In the end, the political compromise reached by the LDP and the Komeito was that the right of collective self-defense would be exercised—and Japan’s military would fight on behalf of the U.S. or any other security partner—only if Tokyo determined the security of the Japanese people was threatened. On July 1, Abe announced the decision to move forward in revising Japan’s laws so that the SDF could effectively cooperate with other militaries under certain limited conditions. The legislation under consideration in the current Diet session will painstakingly outline the missions deemed appropriate for collective military action, and opposition parties will continue to try to whittle away at this expanded role for the SDF.


Popular attitudes in Japan about the use of force have been remarkably consistent over time. Periodic efforts to loosen the constraints on the SDF, however, have resulted in greater exposure to cooperation with other militaries. From U.N. peacekeeping missions to the coalition effort during the Iraq War and today’s multilateral anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, Japan’s military has gained experience in international missions abroad. The debate today in Japan reflects what the SDF has learned on these missions, and is much less concerned with considering new kinds of missions.

What is new is the debate over Japan’s changing security environment and what this means for the postwar notion of limiting the use of the military as an instrument of national power. Polling data thus far demonstrates that the Japanese public, while concerned about the growing military capability of its neighbors, will not readily remove the constraints on the way its government deploys the SDF. There is no interest in sending the SDF to cope with IS, for example, and very little appetite for responding to the rising military capability of China with even greater Japanese military capability. The Japanese response to the missile and nuclear threat from North Korea has been to invest heavily in ballistic missile defense rather than to turn to developing its own strike capability.  Defense, rather than offense, remains Japan’s preferred approach to coping with a transforming Asia.

Only a sustained demonstration that this approach is inadequate to protect the Japanese people would be sufficient to change this popular conviction. Should the U.S.-Japan alliance no longer effectively deter aggression, or should the U.S. decide to diminish its military support for Japan, this could open the door for a discussion of new options in Tokyo. Those options, however, remain hard to predict. Independent military power would be one, of course, but so too would alliance with another power. Finally, popular sentiment would likely shift if there was a use-of-force incident against Japan, and here the worry is that some kind of military interaction with China could escalate into a serious clash. In that event, the Japanese public could call for greater effort at confidence-building with Beijing or it could sense that the old formula for providing Japanese security was no longer appropriate.

Today, however, the Japanese people remain convinced that their best bet is the U.S.-Japan alliance coupled with Japan’s own military self-restraint. Japanese policymakers see the benefit in building military ties through cooperation with other national militaries, but the Japanese public remains deeply cautious about loosening the reins on the SDF.

Sheila A. Smith is the senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is the director of the project on Northeast Asian Nationalisms and Alliance Management and author of “Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China” and the CFR publication “A Japan-China Clash in the East China Sea.”

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