The Pacifist War

The territorial row over Senkaku or Diaoyutai Islands continues between Japan and China.  With China’s expansion of its military power and nuclear missile threats from North Korea, Japan’s newly-elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vows to strengthen the country’s military power to defend the territory.  He proposes that Japan should establish a proper military to address the threats against the nation’s sovereignty.

Japan does not exactly possess a military.  Instead, it has a unique entity called the Self-Defense Force, which comprises of ground, maritime, and air units.  Following the defeat in WWII and during the subsequent US occupation, Japan forever renounced war and prohibited the nation from maintaining military force in its pacifist constitution.  So how did Japan come to maintain the Self-Defense Force?

The US has been Japan’s sworn protector since the end of war, but US defense policy has urged Japan to make its own contribution in exchange for US help.  That is how Self-Defense Force came into being in 1954 in spite of the constitution.  The expert interviewed in this documentary calls it an “interpretation acrobatics”.

Unlike the conventional military, the Self-Defense Force or the SDF is meant to be defensive and not offensive.  It can only exercise its force in case the nation is under attack.  By stressing that SDF is not an offensive force, the political leaders have maintained that there is no contradiction with its pacifist constitution.

However, with the rise of military powers in East Asia and the increase of tensions between nations such as China, North Korea, and also Russia, Japan yet again faces a decision of how to defend itself in the changing political climate.  The situation became a major public interest when a nationalistic Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came into power in December 2012.   He advocates that Japan should make SDF more robust.  He argues that SDF should be recognized as military and given a new name, the National Defense Military.

The documentary by Aljazeera’s 101 East beings with unraveling the security situations Japan faces today.  It explores the efforts by the SDF to respond to provocations from neighboring nations as well as its self-imposed limits as a defense-only force.  The programme investigates opposing views over revising the pacifist constitution in order to introduce a full-fledged military.  And the program asks what decision Japan is going to make in the changing tide of times.


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