• Wed
  • Aug 20, 2014
  • Updated: 9:23pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 August, 2013, 3:08am

Honesty is best policy for Japan's military

Japan's deputy prime minister, Taro Aso, has been forced to apologise for remarks he made before ultra-conservative groups about learning from the way Nazi Germany changed its constitution and built its armed forces.

Aso, who is also finance minister, has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth, such as musing publicly about wishing the country's elderly would "hurry up and die" to resolve the ageing- population problem.

But political gaffes are just impolite or embarrassing instances in which a public figure either tells the truth or speaks his or her mind too freely. There have always been complaints among Japan's conservative ruling elite that the country's pacifist constitution, imposed by the US after the second world war, prohibits a standing army.

In reality, Japan has little to learn from the Nazis. The constitutional ban has, in fact, given Japan a perfect cover in the past three decades to quietly build up one of the world's most advanced military forces without calling it that.

Called the Self-Defence Forces, it is technically part of the national police force. But according to Jane's Defence Weekly, the SDF is among the world's best-equipped military forces, with a US$60 billion budget last year. Its maritime force is larger than the British navy. Many military experts believe Japan has the sophisticated equipment in place to go nuclear; their disagreements are over whether that would take months or a year to do so.

So why is this open secret not more openly discussed and debated?

One reason is surely that Washington has been happy to turn a blind eye to its allies developing military capabilities even when it is illegal or in breach of international pacts such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Israel, for example, has long been one of the world's great nuclear powers without admitting to it. And so Japan's militarisation has gone under the radar. When Washington wants to support an ally, you can be sure its much ballyhooed "independent" mainstream news media will not be overly critical.

There is, in one sense, a real constitutional barrier that irks Japan's ruling elite and the Americans. America's renewed pivot to Asia to counter China will require Japan to take an overtly aggressive stance. At some point, Japan's military will have to come out - and come clean.

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lokuohsiung
Over the last century or so, how many conflicts were initiated by China, and how many by Japan? Historically China has been at the mercy of foreign powers time and time again, whereas Japan's history is replete with acts of aggression against its neighbors.
At present, China has one aircraft carrier to Japan's three. They can call them "helicopter destroyers" if they like but these vessels have similar capabilities to those used by the British during the Falklands War. At the height of its naval powers during WWII, Japan's carriers were the scourge of the Pacific, laying waste to much of Asia and even bringing the mighty American navy to its knees.
Japan has been held in check this last half century by its American-inflicted pacifist constitution, one which its own government has stated its intention to amend. This is a country which has never taken responsibility for its actions during the Second World War and continues to deny history to this day. So why not have a little more transparency? Japan spends 1% of its GDP on self defense, but remember it also has a sizable contingent of US forces defending it too.
impala
Yes, and Japan pays the costs of those US forces. Out of the 1% defence budget. Did you also know that Japan's defence spending has been going down for almost every year in the past decade, and that it is at a level last seen in the mid-1990s? Do you know what the China (official) defence spending graph looks like for the past decade? Hint: you could mistake it for the launch path of a JL-2 missile.

Japan's budget is around the same as the UK's, a country with roughly the same territorial size. Note that the UK has no territorial disputes to speak of, except perhaps the Falklands, halfway around the world. The UK is a key member of NATO and has had no potentially hostile nation anywhere remotely near it since 1989. To top it all up, the UK is nuclear-armed, which, if anything, should reduce the need for military expenditure on conventional forces.

Contrast this with Japan, with an openly hostile North Korea on its doorstep, and a giant Chinese neighbour that is -at best- ambiguous about its aspirations and territorial claims. Yet, Japan defends double the population with less money than the UK, and without nuclear capacities. Sure, it is under the US' nuclear umbrella, but so is all of NATO.

So you can mutter on forever about the absolutely horrific things Japan did some 70~90 years ago, and about the outrageous aggression it displayed pre-1945. But to paint modern post-war Japan with its humble defence budget as the potential aggressor is absurd.
bolshoi
A fine article, Mr Lo!
And my guess is that the US will ultimately pay the price for creating and nurturing this monster of a country known as Japan.
honkiepanky
As jve pointed $60bn is around 1% of Japan's GDP. Why is this amount considered excessive for self-defense of a country with large and often-hostile neighbors (and not just China)?
impala
[So why is this open secret not more openly discussed and debated?]

Apart from the fact that Mr Lo already has answered that question himself (Japan's constitution), I wonder if it might have something to do with the cloak and dagger game China plays when it comes to its own military build-up? Nah, of course not, that is probably not relevant at all.

The PLA's official budget is over USD 120 billion per year. That is double that of Japan. Oh, and that is just the official figure... let's not even begin to estimate the true amount China spends on increasing its military capacity. Also please note that this is about 1.7% of China's GDP (Japan: <1%).

Despite its indeed misleading name, the Japanese SDF is actually extremely open about what equipment it has, and what it is planning to develop/buy. This is partly because it has -constitutionally- very strict civilian oversight. On this count too, 'openness,' 'transparency' or 'accountability' are not values associated with the PLA. Any attempt to gain information about the latter's equipment beyond what they like to show off in parades and such is likely to land you in jail for espionage, or worse.

So there we have it - if Mr Lo is so terribly troubled by military build-up and being hush-hush about it, there is plenty of material for a whole series of columns about the indisputable world champion in that field: our 'very own' PLA. Looking forward to reading about it Mr Lo!
chaz_hen
To be fair, the PLA has a LOT of singers and dancers on salary as well as factoring in a large percentage of their budget to skimming on property developments, luxury cars, sending princelings to Western universities and so forth...
babyhenry
o please how could you forget about Moutai, which used to cost THOUSANDS for a bottle.
mh0908
The Glorious Dead
1914 - 1918
1939 - 1945
pslhk
In the wake of clichéd narratives
superficial deliberations
and subsequent moral persuasions
there remain only two constants
-
(1) What’s common
between WTC and Abbottabad
between the Britz and Dresden
between Izumo and Hiroshima?
read the class of HMV Royal Oak
-
(2) What’s quintessentially just
retribution or absolution?
Alleged disrespect of the Union Jack by barbarians
incensed the indignation of a young British officer *
in the expedition to seek "justice"
and burn down YMY Palace
-
Developed countries preach globalization
and practice protectionism, whichever suits them better
thus reaping both moral and material advantages
That’s how developed countries define justice
-
In modern conflicts, hundreds developing mortals perished
for every casualty from the model civilization
Post modernism deconstructs and rebalances
Nippen and Britain the two most China fearing nations
are doing what they can
to redefine justice or divert retribution
-
* name of memoir forgotten
caractacus
Pierce Lam again. Japan's forces behaved appallingly in WWII and should issue an apology, but this is not the issue today. All countries have shameful acts in their histories, none more so than China. Japan and other countries are building up their armed forces only in reaction to China's massive build military modernization and its resurgent aggression in the region. Lam writes as if China is ruled by saints and the Chinese are all innocent victims, a favourite theme of Chinese chauvinists and the PRC's polished propaganda machine. The Yuen Ming Yuen (Summer Palace) was sacked in 1860 as a punishment on the arrogant Ching aristocrats who, in flagrant breach of international law and civilised standards of behaviour, treacherously kidnapped two envoys under a flag of truce and had them tortured at the Board of Punishments. The Summer Palace was a huge pleasure ground for the aristocracy where the only common people admitted were servants. During the sack and burning of the Summer Palace it is recorded from Western and Chinese sources that the local people entered and looted much more than the foreign soldiers. It is an amazingly lie when China today distorts the truth, portraying the act as an affront to the dignity of the Chinese people.
China today is out for itself and has no morality, in contrast to the British Empire which for all its faults, generally ruled with an honest and liberal hand. It does not have the blood of 1 million Tibetans on its hands.
 
 
 
 
 

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