Can a militarized Japan counter North Korea? » Manila Bulletin News

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By Getsy Tiglao

Getsy Tiglao

Japan, one of the Philippines’ closest allies, is considering revising its post-war, US-drafted constitution to return its sovereign right to wage war against an enemy and use its military forces for this purpose.

Under Article 9 of Japan’s current constitution – imposed by the US when it defeated and occupied the country – war is outlawed and the state has no right of “belligerency,” which means the country must maintain its neutrality and cannot undertake any aggressive acts.

But in today’s world where terrorism has crossed national borders and “belligerent” nations such as North Korea still exist, Japan is seemingly left with limited options. North Korea has exploited this weakness in the Japanese constitution as it continues to provoke the nation that is on the frontline of its nuclear arsenal.

The strong victory of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party in the recent elections is widely seen as providing him with enough political capital to initiate constitutional amendments. Abe has so far not issued any categorical statements despite earlier floating the idea of changes by 2020.

“First, I want to deepen debate and have as many people as possible agree. We should put priority on that,” he said in television interview.

Chapter II (Renunciation of War), Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan is very specific in stating that “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”.

It also says that “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.”

Japan’s constitution was drafted in the wake of its defeat in World War II and overseen by the victorious U.S. officials led by Allied Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur.

The charter was enacted on May 1947 and was welcomed worldwide, especially by countries that Japan had attacked and colonized before and during the war, including Korea, China and Taiwan, the Philippines, and islands in the Asia-Pacific.

But while Japan debates changes in its post-war constitution, it is worth noting that all this is largely symbolic.

Japan already has its Self Defense Forces (SDF), and while innocously named, it is actually a very large and capable military force. On paper they are extensions of the defense and police organization. But if North Korea attacks Japan, the SDF will be the one functioning as country’s armed forces.

With 6,852 islands, Japan is an archipelago like the Philippines but unlike the latter it has one of the best navies in the world that can patrol and defend its maritime borders. It has close ties with the U.S. Navy – especially with the closure of the Subic Naval Base – and has acquired all the latest U.S. technology.

Japan’s Maritime SDF reportedly has the hi-tech Aegis anti-missile system which is capable of shooting down any ballistic missiles that North Korea will throw Japan’s way. It has several helicopter carriers, missile destroyers, frigates, attack submarines, and other auxiliary vessels.

For its ground forces, Japan has a relatively small number of 151,050 soldiers compared to North Korea’s almost one million active soldiers and several millions more of reservists and para-military. But knowing Japan’s organizational skills, once they decide to militarize this number can increase quickly and significantly.

The country is also starting to boost its Air SDF, although quietly. It has a few hundred combat capable aircraft, F-15 fighter jets, and transport aircraft. But last year, it was revealed that Japan with the help of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries had built a stealth fighter jet, the X-2 Shinshin.

Japan is now part of the elite group of countries, U.S., China, and Russia included, that have stealth fighters, which are practically invisible to detection by radar. The air force upgrading partly explains why Japan has been increasing its defense budget in the past four years, to its present level of $44 billion.

Critics of Japan’s revision of its pacifist constitution say that Japan’s SDF may be used by the U.S. and Europe in its various armed conflicts. It’s too late for that thought. The Japanese government has already “reinterpreted” its constitution precisely to serve this cause.

On September 2015, Prime Minister Abe and his party passed legislation that allows the SDF to join foreign conflicts abroad, calling it “collective self-defense” for its allies. This is the first time that Japanese troops will be allowed to fight in other countries since World War II.

With China appearing reluctant to rein in North Korea, Japan may just emerge as the military superpower that could ultimately trounce the hermit kingdom’s Kim Jong-un.

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