Featured photo courtesy of: http://archive.defense.gov/photos/newsphoto.aspx?newsphotoid=14593
Over the past few weeks, the Japanese military has been reevaluating its role as a self- defense force. Prime Minister Abe, who’s power has recently grown due to his control of the parliament, is pushing forward a policy to revise the Japanese constitution and give the Japanese military a larger offensive role that it has not seen since the Second World War. A large part of Abe’s policy emphasizes Japan reliance on its allies to help its military establish legitimacy. For instance, Japan participated in joint exercises with the 31st expeditionary unit of the U.S. marines. The exercises took place in the Philippines in order to showcase U.S. and Japanese unity against China’s continuing expansion into the South China Sea.
A large proportion of the Japanese public remains skeptical of an offensive remilitarization policy. To many Japanese people, protecting 3.5 million square miles of the South China sea with less than 50,000 men as a starting force in the self-defense unit does not seem feasible. The U.S. military forces have 23 bases in Japan, so as long as Japan continues to foster positive relations with the U.S., it can continue to rely on the U.S. military instead of its own. Furthermore, the U.S. paying helps build up the Japanese military without using Japanese tax payer dollars. In the Japanese city of Sasebo, the U.S. assists the Japanese self- defense forces to repair their ships and as well as their own. Moreover, the U.S. military serves as a deterrent to the emerging threat of North Korea.
Still, there are positives to an offensive Japanese military. Japan can stop the practice of checkbook diplomacy (furthering military goals through financing other state’s militaries) and use the finances sent abroad to fund the creation of its own destroyers and equipment. Moreover, in the event of an attack, there is no guarantee of a rapid U.S. response for Japan if it will cost American lives. Having the American forces in Japan has also taken a toll on Japan’s economy.
Japan is currently paying over 550 billion yen to maintain the ports where U.S. battleships are stationed. In fact, the costs for U.S. troops in Japan are minimal compared to what the Japanese are having to pay. The highest cost for the U.S. in Japan is to pay for its troop’s salaries. So, it is cheaper for the U.S. to keep its forces in Japan where it is not paying to keep its ships in its own ports.
In the end, Prime Minister Abe is taking baby steps with such a controversial issue in Japan. For instance, his first move to sync up the U.S. and Japan in Afghanistan (Japanese ships would refuel US battleships carrying troops), was met with harsh resistance from the public. So, until the Japanese public gives Abe the seal of approval for an offensive military force, Abe will continue to build up the Japanese military and promote joint- military drills by just working with Japan’s allies.