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Japan Revisits Its Official Pacifist Policy

Dec 24, 2013
Originally published on December 25, 2013 5:24 am



On the morning of Christmas Eve, this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

One legacy of World War II is found in Japan's constitution. It bans that country from having a military force. But now Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has proposed a tough new national security strategy which is raising some questions about Japan's intentions.

Tamzin Booth, the Tokyo bureau chief for The Economist, explained to us what's behind the new plan.

TAMZIN BOOTH: This new strategy names China, it names North Korea, as imminent threats. Talks about recapturing remote islands in case of invasion, and that's squarely aimed at the Senkaku Islands.

GREENE: These are the islands that China and Japan have been really loudly disputing for some time now.

BOOTH: That's right, exactly. So this national security strategy also promises that Japan will expand its own roles in terms of defense. Of course, at the moment the U.S. is responsible chiefly for defending Japan in the case of attack. But Japan clearly wants to shoulder more of the responsibility for that itself.

GREENE: Is the constitution going to be changed as part of this?

BOOTH: What we're seeing is the first move towards Japan really shedding that pacifist post-war stance and taking a much more proactive defensive posture. The other crucial thing that happened in December was a new secrecy law, which increases punishments to 10 years for civil servants, politicians leaking confidential military defense information.

Then next year, a series of steps are very likely to happen. The first is that there'll be a revision of the interpretation of the constitution to allow collective self defense. Japanese forces would be allowed to come to the aid of allies - i.e., the U.S., Britain, et cetera. Also, there's likely to be a move towards having a first strike capability, which Japan currently does not have. This would be extremely controversial.

And then beyond that, the real target is the constitution and to change Article 9, which is where the pacifist position is enshrined. That, I think, will be quite difficult. Pacifism is very popular in Japan.

GREENE: You said that this first strike capability is something that could be controversial. What exactly does that mean?

BOOTH: It means that instead of merely defending, Japan would launch a strike if it expected an attack upon itself. This is really about North Korea, which has obviously made a number of very belligerent threats to its neighbors in the last year or so.

GREENE: Well, what has been the reaction to all of this among people in Japan?

BOOTH: Well, the opposition to the secrecy bill has been extremely strong. About 80 percent of people either want it rescinded or revised. But ironically, the fact that China is taking a more assertive role, the fact that North Korea is so belligerent, is actually providing great cover, I think, for this move away from the post-war pacifism.

GREENE: And let me just ask you, could these announcements about the military and this new national security strategy change the relationship between the United States and Japan in some way?

BOOTH: I think that the U.S. is very supportive of a Japan which is a more proactive contributor to peace, if you like. They've certainly welcomed the secrecy law because I think for many decades there's been a concern that military defense information gets leaked too easily from Tokyo. The U.S. is clearly quite concerned that a prime minister as nationalist and controversial in the region as Abe, that this could make tensions worse rather than better.

GREENE: We've been speaking to Tamzin Booth, who's the Tokyo bureau chief for The Economist about the new national security strategy announced by the government in Japan. Tamzin, thanks so much.

BOOTH: You're welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.