On 6 June 2003, Japan’s Parliament passed three war contingency bills. These were the Law regarding Response to Armed Attacks, the Law on the Establishment of the Security Council of Japan and the Law to amend the Self-Defence Force (SDF).
These bills increased the government’s powers in military emergencies.
Under the contingency laws, the government will draft a plan of action when there is an attack against Japan or when the government determines that the danger of an attack is imminent. The plan, following the Cabinet approval, must be endorsed by the Diet.
In situations deemed particularly urgent, the government is empowered to mobilise the SDF before drawing up a plan, but has to halt the deployment of forces if the eventual plan is rejected by the Diet.
The law also allows the government to put the SDF on standby when it determines that a military attack is ‘anticipated’.
The amendment to the SDF law enables military personnel to seize land and other property for operations and exempts the SDF from a range of peace time legal procedures, such as those concerning road traffic, medical activities and constructing facilities for their use.
The war contingency bills have bipartisan support. Earlier, the public opinion poll of 2 April 2003, conducted by Japan’s biggest newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, suggested the majority of the public (54%) were for the amendment to the Constitution.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has also indicated that his country would be prepared to launch a pre-emptive strike against a foreign threat, adopting the most strident position by a Japanese leader since World War II.
His comments reflect the change occurring in Japan’s defence policy from pacifism to a more robust, deterrent-oriented posture.
The shift has been prompted by threats from terrorism and a hostile North Korea, which is locked in a confrontation with the US over its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea revealed the possession of nuclear weapons on 24 April 2003 in the bilateral talks with the US and China in Beijing.
In the talks, North Korean negotiators threatened Assistant Secretary of State, James A. Kelly, and his delegations that they would export nuclear weapons or conduct a ‘physical demonstration’, indicating that they may conduct a test of a nuclear weapon.
This North Korean revelation is a problem for Japan. Pyongyang is thought to have enough material to make two or three nuclear bombs and about 50 missiles.
Its ballistic missile program has the capacity to strike Japan which is only 8.5 minutes flying time from North Korea.
If North Korea were to so develop this capacity, Japan would become completely dependent on America’s nuclear umbrella.
This would weaken Japan’s commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its own declared non-nuclear principles.
The principles were first announced by then Prime Minister Eisaku Sato in December 1967, and successive governments have adhered to this policy.
However, the principles have been challenged in a new circumstance of the post-Cold War era, especially by nuclear threats of North Korea or by the rising power of nuclear China.
In fact, Mr Yasuo Fukuda, the chief Cabinet Secretary of the Koizumi Government, told reporters on 31 May 2002, “the [non-nuclear] principles are just like the Constitution. But in the face of calls to amend the Constitution, amendment of the principles is also likely”.
Furthermore, an influential opposition leader of the Liberal Party, Mr Ichiro Ozawa, criticised China’s rapid military build-up in his speech on 6 April 2002, and referred to the potentiality of Japan’s becoming a nuclear power.
He said, “If China gets too inflated, the Japanese people will become hysterical in response. We have plenty of plutonium in our nuclear power plants, so it is possible for us to produce 3000 to 4000 nuclear warheads”.
The remarks were apparently provoked by the rising power of China and Pyongyang’s unpredictable nuclear threats and anxiety about the effectiveness of security guarantees from the US.
There are various contrary perceptions of Chinese policies in Japan. Public opinion has of late rapidly switched toward viewing China as a threat.
A Yomiuri/Gallop poll shows that the percentage of Japanese respondents who named China as a potential threat increased from 18 percent in 1994 to 39.1 percent in 1997 (Yomiuri Shimbun 17 March, 1997).
Many Japanese scholars, however, do not perceive China as posing a direct security threat but, at the same time, a few scholars still suggest that the Chinese security policies contain underlying threatening factors.
They point out that the lack of transparency in Chinese military expenditure is the source of suspicion and worry for the concerned countries.
Others explain the rising perception of the China threat in Japan in terms of China’s expanding military expenditure and equipment, Chinese policy in the South China Sea, its nuclear tests, and the increasing influence of the military in Chinese politics.
Even though these scholars do not accept an immediate China threat thesis, they agree with the long-term potential threat from China.
The public, scholars and politicians in Japan assume that, since China is a revisionist state, it has an intention of filling up the power vacuum in the region left behind by the end of the Cold War.
Other scholars who take the opposite position emphasise the fact that China, in respect to military capability and economic resources, does not have the power to pose a threat to Japan.
It is true that China has a belligerent image due to its efforts to modernise the military and its high growth-rate of military expenditure and numerous missile tests, but in reality, Chinese military expenditure is only 10-20% of Japanese defence spending.
These scholars claim that the phrase “China as a threat” is an exaggeration and insist that the Japanese Government should induce China to participate in a multilateral security order and help them to improve transparency.
In response to “China as a potential threat” and the intensified threats by North Korea, Japan has transformed its security policy in terms of strengthening Japan-US security cooperation in regional security, and smoothing operations of the SDF.
Already ranked second in the world, Japan’s defence spending may enable it to establish cutting-edge military capability, especially in navy and air power.
If the Bush Administration tries to consolidate US military hegemony by establishing a missile defence system, Japan will plan to magnify its influence in the Northeast region by obtaining advanced missile technology.
In fact, Japan is now seriously thinking to acquire a sophisticated missile defence system. This capacity will protect her against incoming missiles.
- Dr Sharif Shuja