Updated: Aug 3
The Dec. 16 announcement by Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of a new defense strategy, while doubling military spending by 2027 to implement it, is the largest defense shake-up in decades and a wake-up call to the antiwar movement.
The decision includes openly acquiring offensive weapons and reshaping its military command structure for its expanded armed forces. On Dec. 23, the draft budget was approved by Kishida’s cabinet.
Japan’s dangerous military expansion should set off international alarm bells. This major escalation is taking place based on intense U.S. imperialist pressure. It is the next step in the “Pivot to Asia,” aimed at threatening and surrounding China and attempting to reassert U.S. dominance in the Asia Pacific.
The movements opposing endless U.S. wars must begin to prepare material and draw mass attention to this ominous threat.
The plan to double military spending will add $315 billion to Japan’s defense budget over the next five years and make Japan’s military the world’s third largest, after the U.S. and China. Defense spending will escalate to 2% of gross domestic product, equal to the goal the U.S. sets for its NATO allies. Japan’s economy is the world’s third largest.
The Japanese government plans to buy up to 500 Lockheed Martin Tomahawk missiles and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM), procure more naval vessels and fighter aircraft, increase cyber warfare capabilities, manufacture its own hypersonic guided missiles and produce its own advanced fighter jets, along with other weapons. The plan shifts from relying solely on missile defense to also embracing “counterstrike” capabilities.
Three key security documents — the National Security Strategy (NSS), as well as the National Defense Strategy (NDS) and the Defense Buildup Program (DBP) — shed some of the postwar constraints on the Japanese military.
Article 9 – a class struggle against military rearmament
Although the U.S. occupation force, after defeating Japan’s military in World War II, imposed a “pacifist” constitution on Japan, for decades now U.S. strategists have pressured Japan’s government to aggressively rearm, and especially to buy U.S.-made weapons, to act as a junior partner to U.S. efforts to dominate the Asia-Pacific region.
Article 9 of the imposed Japanese constitution prohibits Japan from maintaining an army, navy and air force. To get around this, the “Japanese Self-Defense Forces” (JSDF) have since 1952 been treated as a legal extension of the police and prison system. The U.S. occupiers considered the JSDF an essential repressive tool defending capitalist property relations against the workers’ movement.
The decision for aggressive military expansion is in open violation of Japan’s supposedly pacifist constitution.
The effort to “reinterpret” Article 9 has been a continuing political struggle inside Japan. Mass rallies of hundreds of thousands have mobilized many times in defense of Article 9, which offers a clear prohibition of Japan’s maintaining a military force. The widespread opposition to the Japanese military and to constitutional change comes from working people, mobilized by the unions and the communist and socialist movements.
This movement pointed out to everyone how the wartime militarist regime of the 1930s and 1940s carried out brutal repression and led Japan into WWII. The people know from bitter experience that these ultrarightist forces, whose roots are in historic Japanese colonialism, are the real threat to their rights and the social gains they have made.
The present doubling of the defense budget will be funded by raising taxes. A huge military budget will inevitably mean severe cuts to the country’s limited social spending. The Liberal Democratic Party, which has held power almost continually since the 1950s, is right-wing, pro-military and allied to U.S. imperialism, especially against China and the DPRK. They have been pushing for an end to the constitutional and legal restrictions on the country’s military.
The assassination of retired President Shinzo Abe on July 8, 2022, just two days before Japan’s election, brought additional votes to the LDP. It was able to win the two-thirds supermajority in Parliament, needed to move forward aggressively with its military plans.
Japan’s military expansion fits in with Washington’s aggression aimed at China, the DPRK and Russia. U.S. strategists’ goal is to use the U.S. alliance with Japan, South Korea and Australia, just as it uses the U.S.-led NATO alliance in Europe.
The doubling of NATO’s membership and NATO’s targeting of Russia have led to war in Ukraine, when the U.S. government imposed thousands of new sanctions against Russia, and the U.S. has ruptured the European Union’s mutually beneficial trade with Russia.
China is Japan’s largest trading partner in both imports and exports. Previous National Strategy Documents said Japan was seeking a “mutually beneficial strategic partnership” with China. Suddenly Japanese strategists started labeling China “the greatest strategic challenge in ensuring the peace and security of Japan.” (U.S. Institute of Peace, Dec. 19)
Japan had expanded trade with Russia in gas, oil, autos and machinery. Previously Japan’s Dec. 17, 2013, National Security Strategy document called for “enhanced ties and cooperation with Russia.” Now Japan considers Russia a “strong security concern.” (USIP, Dec. 19)
A U.S.-Japan alliance is now defined as a “cornerstone” of Japan’s security policy. (Japan Times, Dec. 17)
U.S. praise of Japan’s rising militarism
The U.S. media praised Japan’s new security strategy document as a “bold and historic step.” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan praised the defense spending hike, which “will strengthen and modernize the U.S.-Japan alliance.” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Japan an “indispensable partner” and cheered that the changed security documents reshape the ability to “protect the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world.” (quotes, whitehouse.gov, Dec. 16)
U.S. corporate power is the immediate beneficiary of this sharp turn in policy, built on military threats and economic sanctions.
Foreign Affairs Magazine calls the announcement “a profound transformation” and states: “The new national security strategy, however, represents a stunning change. … [T]he government is enacting policies that have been debated for decades but were always blocked. Until now … Japan’s new national security strategy should be applauded. ” (Foreign Affairs, Dec. 23)
U.S. needs collaborators
U.S. policy toward the defeated capitalist class in Germany, Italy and Japan was remarkably similar. At the end of WWII, many of the industrial leaders who had backed these fascist regimes were quietly protected and rehabilitated in Japan, Germany and Italy, along with the fascist collaborators who fled from workers’ control in Eastern Europe.
The U.S. and later NATO used the rehabilitated fascists against a rising workers movement in West Europe and against socialist construction in Eastern Europe. U.S. corporations, who had aggressively moved into the defeated Axis countries, needed insurance that their investments would be protected from the strike waves.
By 1950 the U.S. was at war on the Korean peninsula and, while using U.S. troops in Korea, needed a military force for “peacekeeping and self-defense” of capitalist property relations in Japan. Germany, Italy and Japan began to rearm during that period.