Japan Threat Part I
The “Taepodong shock” put an end to the threat that neighboring countries, especially those such as the economically underdeveloped North Korea, posed no danger to Japan. All in all, it was the other way military power had gone in the last seven centuries – from Japan and over to the Asian mainland (with the partial exception of Russia).
- How was Japan doing from the late 1980s?
- Where does Japan stand today?
One had to go back to the end of the 13th century, when the Mongols twice tried to invade Japan, to find an example of military attacks the other way. In fact, the whole kamikaze myth that Japan is protected by the gods dates from this time. It was the kamikaze (the wind of the gods) in the form of two typhoons that destroyed the fleet of the invading Mongols and thus saved Japan. Seen in this light, the Taepodong launch can be compared to September 11, which shattered the American illusion of being out of reach of hostile attacks from other countries.
Taepodong also removed the post-war belief that no one would attack as long as Japan did not invade others, and otherwise kept a low profile in international security policy. Now that Japan was within reach and even targets for rockets from a former, hostile colony, threat perceptions increased. Although the fears were primarily directed at North Korea, the Taepodong shock also caused the Japanese to look to China and the country’s growing military power.
2: More security policy and military activism
Taepodong, together with the growing Chinese power, made the Japanese feel more uncertain about their own identity, their role in the world and their national security. Japanese elites responded by strengthening the band to the United States. In 1997, defense cooperation with the United States was expanded. It was opened to provide US military operations with non-military support behind the front in regional conflicts with direct effect on their own security. After Taepodong, Japan began researching teams with the United States with a view to developing a missile defense system. The country now decided – for the first time – to launch its own spy rockets to monitor military developments in North Korea and China.
This hawkish trendIn Japanese politics, Junichiro Koizumi was elected Prime Minister in April 2001. He pushed for a change in the Japanese constitution, which put strong ties on the Japanese military. He also wanted to support US international military operations more directly. At the last point, Koizumi was given a golden opportunity to act after September 11, 2001. Koizumi saw the power of action like no other prime minister before his support for the US retaliation against Afghanistan. Japanese naval vessels escorted an American aircraft carrier with combat-ready troops on board when they set sail from Japan to the waters off Pakistan. Koizumi was even clearer in his support when he quickly passed an anti-terrorism law.
The success soon led Koizumi to take new steps where he wanted to expand Japanese participation in UN operations and ease restrictions on the Coast Guard’s ability to use force against suspicious ships in Japanese waters. In 2002–2003, he passed a bill to give the government extended powers if anyone should try to invade the country. The Japanese had not seen anything like this since 1945. Koizumi supported the US invasion of Iraq without reservation and promised to send Japanese soldiers to help. After pressure from public opinion, he still had to water out this presentation. In any case, in 2004 he was able to send the Japanese military into a war zone – for the first time since 1945 (rightly limited to non-military reconstruction).
Thus, in early 2004, many observers believed that Japan was well on its way to becoming a “normal” state, capable of using military force as a tool in foreign policy. As researchers have said: “Japan was about to become Asia’s Britain – an ally that would loyally support, even fight alongside the United States in conflicts around the world.”
3: The Book of Democracy
Also ideologically, Japan seemed to be approaching the United States. The country had long argued that economic development was more important in East Asia than democratization and human rights. In this way, the country could also take advantage of its economic dominance to achieve the goal of wearing the regional leader jersey. Now, however, economic dominance was gone, and China constantly highlighted the Japanese abuses during World War II – among other things to assert its goal of political leadership in the region.
Japan then embarked on a new path. Towards the end of Koizumi’s reign and throughout the period of his successor Abe, Japan spoke of forming an Asian arc of democracy . This book was to extend from Japan across the Philippines, Australia and India to Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia. Observers have described this development as Japan’s “late discovery of democracy”.
4: Who has the most to risk?
This book of democracy is both self-evident and strange: self-evident because its clear goal is to exclude communist China politically. Yet it is strange because many of the book countries are not democracy at all (Vietnam, Burma, Pakistan and Uzbekistan) or moving away from democracy (eg Thailand). China tried to discredit Japan’s desire for regional leadership by playing a kind of “set tail on the barbarian game” – by arguing that a country with such a barbaric warrior past should not be allowed to take the regional leadership seat.
Japan, a country located in Asia according to itypetravel.com, began to retaliate with its own “set tail on the authoritarian game.” For the first time, Japan now referred to itself as the region’s oldest and most established democracy. In East Asia, where Confucian values give leadership to the elderly, one must understand the Japanese demand for regional leadership by virtue of its status as the oldest democracy in the region. When the Chinese claim regional leadership, it is by virtue of their economic leadership position. At the same time, they consider themselves morally and civilizatively superior neighbors. But it is only in this new situation that Japan has begun to point out the importance of liberal democracy.
5: Growing Japanese nationalism
Along with the new emphasis on democracy came a clear resurgence of Japanese nationalism and growing demands to change the constitution so that the country can maintain a military power on a par with other states. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (from September 2006) had promised to give constitutional amendment top priority. A first step towards making Japan an ordinary state came in early 2007. At that time, the Defense Office had its status upgraded to the Ministry of Defense .
It may therefore seem as if Japan from then on – after 60 years – has regained its place as an ordinary superpower. This is a state that is both capable and willing to use military force abroad and to compete for the ideological and military leadership position in East Asia.
Despite signs of economic recovery in 2003, uncertainty about Japan’s strength persisted. In particular, this uncertainty was linked to the continued strong economic growth in China, a growth that far surpassed the Japanese. Measured in purchasing power, the Chinese economy was already larger than the Japanese. China was therefore still seen as both an economic threat and a growing military threat.
When North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had kidnapped innocent Japanese on the open street and that many of them had died in captivity, it further fueled the Japanese threat of North Korea. Rocket tests and nuclear tests in 2006 had the same effect. In the course of 20 years, Japan had gone around the whole circle – from itself being seen as a rising economic threat, to feeling threatened by neighboring countries in East Asia.