Comment: Japan flexing military muscle
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of Japan's Self Defence Forces (SDF).
On July 1, 1954, Japan established SDF which was divided into three branches: Ground Self Defence Forces (GSDF), Maritime Self Defence Forces (MSDF) and Air Self Defence Forces (ASDF).
Over the past half-century these forces have evolved into one of the best-equipped militaries in the world.
After the Cold War, with Japan's politics becoming increasingly rightist, the nation's security policy and the nature and functions of the SDF have changed dramatically. This has caused great concern in neighbouring countries, and the direction the SDF is now charting has drawn widespread attention.
In May 1957 the Japanese Government published the Basic Policy for National Defence that defined the purpose of national defence and responsibilities of SDF.
The Basic Policy stipulated "the objective of national defence is to prevent direct and indirect aggression, but once invaded, to repel such aggression thereby preserving the independence and peace of Japan founded on democratic principles."
Based on the terrible experience of the Second World War and the spirit of its pacifist constitution, Japan strictly limited SDF to defending Japan in the Basic Policy for National Defence.
Generally speaking, the functions of the SDF include preserving the independence and security of Japan, maintaining public order, and disaster relief. The SDF performed its duties according to exclusively defence-oriented principle during the Cold War.
In this sense, the SDF could be largely regarded as a strictly defensive force -- at least during the Cold War.
After the Cold War, to realize the ambition of becoming a normal state, namely a political and military power in line with its status as an economic giant, Japan expedited the transformation of the SDF.
However, any assertive change in the role of the SDF is illegal under Japan's pacifist constitution. To rationalize its constitutionally- problematic overseas mission of the SDF in Iraq without radical revision of its constitution, the Japanese Government has taken a series of measures, including contingency legislation.
In June 1992, the Japan Diet (parliament) pushed through a Peacekeeping Operations bill, which granted Japan the right to send SDF troops abroad.
In August 1999 the Diet rammed through the Law Concerning Measures to Ensure the Peace and Security of Japan in Situations in Areas Surrounding Japan, under which Taiwan was included as part of "situations in areas surrounding Japan."
In October 2001 the Diet approved three bills concerning terrorism, including the Anti-terrorism Special Measures Law, which further expanded the scope of SDF activities, loosened the restriction on use of weapons and set the precedent for sending troops overseas at the time of war.
To co-operate with the United States in Iraq, the Japanese Government hastily enacted the Iraq Reconstruction Assistance Special Measures law last year. It was this law that was used to "legally" permit SDF to play a role in wartime Iraq without UN authorization or a request from the host country.
On May 20, 2004, Japan's House of Representatives passed seven contingency bills to supplement the three existing laws.
Before these laws came into effect, Japan's SDF could resort to force only when invaded. But now SDF can initiate attacks as long as they feel threatened and even launch pre-emptive strikes. Meanwhile, the SDF operation area has expanded from Japanese territory to the surrounding areas and even far beyond.
Observers believe the speedy legislation is actually aimed at nullification of Japan's pacifist constitution.
The future direction of the SDF was foreshadowed in the 2004 Defence White Paper. Endorsed by the Japanese Cabinet on July 6, the White Paper provides a telling clue about Japan's future defence policy and SDF.
To institutionalize overseas dispatch of the SDF, the report stresses that SDF participation in international operations should be listed as one of its basic tasks. It also makes two concrete suggestions: preserve the specialized force of GSDF and heighten the flexibility of the organization of MSDF.
The White Paper highlights the importance of sending the SDF to Iraq. In its opinion, from the perspective of Japan's national interest and responsibility or from the lofty ideas enshrined in the constitution, overseas SDF deployment is reasonable.
By this logic, more participation in US-led Coalition activities and the revision, or at least reinterpretation of the pacifist constitution under which SDF has no right to provide support for friendly forces under attack, is imperative.
Additionally, the White Paper clearly states that Japan will accelerate construction of a missile defence system.
According to the Japanese Defence Agency's plan, the nation will develop the missile defence system in stages. To begin with, Japan will enhance the interception capability of its Aegis destroyers by 2007.
Japan will complete an overall missile defence system by 2011, thus becoming the first Asian country capable of intercepting medium-range missiles.
In fact, the deployment of a missile defence system by Japan is intended to contain China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and lay the foundation for sharing Northeast Asia dominance with the United States.
Also, the White Paper mentions that Japan-US co-operative technology research on missile defence might potentially go against the principle of no exports of weapons, and therefore suggests the Japanese Government revise this principle to lift the ban.
Furthermore, the White Paper gives special attention to China. In its assessment of the international military situation, China is at the top of the list of countries to watch.
The report emphatically points out that the Chinese military is shifting its focus from quantity to quality and repeatedly reminds the Japanese Government that it should monitor whether China's increasingly high-tech military exceeds the need for the defence of China.
Obviously, Japan is again trying to justify its own unconstitutional military buildup through exaggerating the military threats posed by neighbouring countries.
This is not in the least wise, and will not achieve its desired object.
(The author is a researcher with the Institute of Japan Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.)