Japan Can Now Send Its Military Abroad, But Will It? | KERA News

Japan Can Now Send Its Military Abroad, But Will It?

Oct 14, 2015
Originally published on October 16, 2015 1:59 pm

For the first time since World War II, Japan can use its military beyond its own borders. This change in interpretation of the nation's Constitution proved highly unpopular, sparking weeks of demonstrations in Tokyo.

"I didn't even care about what democracy looks like. I didn't even care. But now I realize, it actually matters," said Wakako Fukuda, a 20-year-old college student who demonstrated for days against controversial security bills eventually passed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling party.

The bills allow for Japan's armed forces to help defend its allies, like America, even if Japan itself isn't under attack. The Japanese Constitution — following devastation from the war — previously limited Japan's forces to self-defense within its own borders.

"That's the thing which has been protecting us from not killing us or doing anything that could be harmful for other countries. That's the proof that we actually learned from our mistakes," Fukuda said.

While the measures brought Fukuda and tens of thousands of other protesters to the streets, the likelihood that Japan will actually send troops into combat overseas is probably quite small.

"It was portrayed both by supporters and opponents of the legislation as being a major transformation of Japanese national security policy, which it isn't," says Robert Dujarric, head of the Contemporary Asian Studies Institute at Tokyo's Temple University.

Strong Public Opposition To Foreign Wars

It's true the legislation drew passion from both sides. Legal scholars, like former Japanese Supreme Court Justice Kunio Hanada, don't like the way leaders pushed the changes through the process, since 70 percent of Japanese voters polled said they saw no need to pass the security bills this session.

"This abnormal action was taken at the Cabinet level of the government itself without the full explanation or understanding or support of the nation as a whole," Hanada said.

But Prime Minister Abe argues that giving Japanese forces more flexibility would help deter war.

"We need to be prepared to meet every possible security challenge," Abe said, suggesting as examples threats from North Korea.

Dujarric says the controversy is much ado about very little. He argues that just because Japan now has the option to militarily protect allies abroad doesn't mean leaders have the will. Furthermore, the Japanese population is gray and getting grayer, and, if you follow the money, it's clear Japanese defense spending is still small.

"Even though the security environment in East Asia, from a Japanese point of view, is considerably worse than it was 15 years ago, Japan is not devoting significantly larger proportions of its national income to defending the country," Dujarric says.

Opponents, like Fukuda, pledge to keep up their demonstrations, despite the passage of the security bills.

"Democracy matters," she says.

Chie Kobayashi contributed reporting for this story. For a behind-the-scenes look at our Japan and Korea coverage, check out our East Asia Tumblr, Elise Goes East.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For the first time since the second world war, Japan can use its military beyond its own borders. It's the result of a change to this pacifistic nation's constitution, and it's not popular. But as NPR's Elise Hu reports, the effects of the controversial measures may actually be quite small.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Japanese).

ELISE HU, BYLINE: They were the largest protests Japan had seen in years. Tens of thousands crowded outside the Parliament in Tokyo, and those crowds cut a wide swath of Japanese society - seniors, moms and, perhaps the most vocal of all, previously apathetic college students.

WAKAKO FUKUDA: I didn't even care about what democracy looks like. I didn't even care, but now it actually - I realize it actually matters.

HU: Wakako Fukuda is a 20-year-old student who demonstrated for days against controversial security bills passed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling party. Following Japan's defeat in World War II, the Japanese constitution previously limited Japan's forces to self-defense within its own borders.

FUKUDA: That's the thing which has been protecting us, you know, from not killing anyone or doing anything to be harmful for other countries or anything. And that's the proof that we actually learned from our mistakes.

HU: But with passage of the security reforms, Japan's armed forces can help defend its allies, like America, overseas even if Japan itself isn't under attack. The demonstrators don't like the substance of the change.

FUKUDA: Why do we have to break the peace we have right now, like...

HU: Legal scholars like former Japanese Supreme Court justice Kunio Hanada don't like the way leaders push the changes through the process. Seventy percent of Japanese voters polled said they saw no need to pass the security bills this session.

KUNIO HANADA: This abnormal action was taken at the cabinet level, the government itself, without the full explanation or understanding or support of the nation as a whole.

HU: But Prime Minister Abe argues giving Japanese forces more flexibility would help deter war.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SHINZO ABE: (Speaking Japanese).

HU: "We need to be prepared to meet every possible security challenge, like threats from North Korea," the prime minister said in a recent press conference. But ask Robert Dujarric, the head of the Contemporary Asian Studies Institute at Tokyo's Temple University, and he says all of the controversy is much ado about very little.

ROBERT DUJARRIC: There was nothing else to cover in the news. It was portrayed by supporters and opponents of the legislation as being a major transformation of Japanese national security policy, which it isn't.

HU: Instead, he argues that just because Japan now has the option to protect allies abroad doesn't mean leaders have the will. The population is gray and getting grayer, and even as China has dramatically increased its own military spending, Japanese defense spending is still small.

DUJARRIC: Even though the security environment in East Asia, from a Japanese point of view, is considerably worse than it was 15 years ago, Japan is now devoting significantly larger proportions of its national income to defending the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Tell me what democracy looks like.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: This is what democracy looks like.

HU: Opponent like students outside Parliament in Tokyo pledge to keep up their demonstrations despite the security bill's passage. But whether such civic action can translate to policy change remains unclear. Again, Dujarric.

DUJARRIC: So far, opposition politicians have been among the most incompetent politicians in the region for a very long time, and until they manage to create a credible opposition, that's not going to happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Abe (unintelligible).

HU: A reignited Japanese democracy sounds substantial, but so far, it has yet to prove political strength. Elise Hu, NPR News, Tokyo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.