By William Tucker
Chief Correspondent for In Homeland Security
In move that has been legally in the works since May of this year, Japan formally approved changes to its security policy. More specifically, Japan’s security environment has evolved to the point that strict pacifism as embodied in article 9 of the constitution was too limiting in protecting Japan’s interests by prohibiting collective security.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a staunch endorser of the recent change, made clear that “There is a misunderstanding that Japan will be involved in war in an effort to defend a foreign country, but this is out of the question. Abe would further state, “No matter what the circumstances, I will protect Japanese people’s lives and peaceful existence.”
This means that while Japan will still abstain from offensive military action, it still maintains the universal right to assist nations with which it is allied. As the BBC correctly reported regarding Japan’s involvement in the Iraq War, “For example in Samawah [in Iraq], Dutch, British and Australian forces who shared responsibility for the area pledged to help the Self-Defense Force in case of an emergency but not vice versa.”
The recent reinterpretation of article 9 is mainly meant to correct this imbalance, but it is also a profound recognition of the complicated security environment in East Asia.
Despite the recent change in policy, Japan is unlikely to fully shed its dedication to pacifism. Tokyo now realizes that it is a prime military player in the East Asia region, but it cannot protect its interests, or its territory for that matter, independently of other players in the region.
As Beijing becomes increasingly aggressive in the region, Japan, along with its neighbors, must work together to better balance the challenge posed by China. This is easier said than done, however. Japan may be creating a policy that allows for more maneuverability, but it will hardly suffice on its own to manage the issues Tokyo faces. Furthermore, nations such as South Korea and the Philippines, though opposed to Chinese maritime activities, would be hard pressed to jump into a collective security agreement with Japan because of historical animosity.
For its part, the U.S. has done what it can to begin organizing East Asian nations that are weary of China and Washington will welcome the Japanese move as following in this vein.
Essentially, this is a major development in a contentious region, but it simply one move. There is much more that needs to be done.