Japan recently constructed a small military base in Djibouti, ostensibly to protect Japanese cargo ships from Somali pirates. This is the first military base that Japan has constructed outside of Japan since the end of World War II.
The news didn’t even register on the major American news outlets, but how could it? The common American has all but forgotten World War II and is blissfully ignorant as to exactly how conservative the Japanese government really is. Most outside of Japan are unaware as to how Japanese domestic policy creates conditions ripe for organized violence against other countries (I don’t make that statement lightly).
Japan’s press has, to my knowledge, even downplayed the significance of the event, not surprising in a country with as castrated a press as Japan.
The significance of this event is this: In 1947, Japan amended its young Constitution to include the following:
“第九条 日本国民は、正義と秩序を基調とする国際平和を誠実に希求し、国権の発動たる戦争と、武力による威嚇又は武力の行使は、国際紛争を解決する手段としては、永久にこれを放棄する。 二 前項の目的を達するため、陸海空軍その他の戦力は、これを保持しない。国の交戦権は、これを認めない。”
“ARTICLE 9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”
Japan, following a terrible history of violent expansionism into Eastern Asia, officially renounced warfare and gave up violence as a means of settling international conflicts. This marks one of the most progressive political actions in history. Its significance cannot be downplayed.
Despite wide public support for Article 9 (that continues to this day), conservative politicians, in collusion with a self interested and militaristic United States, have slowly chipped away at the core message of Article 9. Certain rightist politicians find the clause unnecessarily restrictive on Japanese sovereignty, and regularly discharge heated rhetoric implying Japan’s divine right to become a major world military power.
Of course, these hard-liners, which make up a considerable percentage of the Japanese Congress, forget what led Japan to create Article 9 in the first place. Selective memory, though, is not atypical of rightists in any country.
The base in Djibouti is simply part of a pattern. First, the Japanese established the Japan Self Defense Force, which, despite the name, is one of the most powerful national militaries in the world. They developed the de facto capacity for nuclear weapons by providing technological support to the Americans, despite being the only country to have experienced that horror firsthand. More recently, Japan bowed to US pressure and deployed troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, rightist have gotten exactly what they sought, and officially shredded the Constitution itself by creating an overseas base, which most certainly does aim to settle international disputes by means of force.
Obviously, this is a complicated issue. Japan must protect its economic interests and cargo ships that pass through the horn of Africa. However, it must also weigh out the costs of deploying its military overseas. It must insure that extreme voices who wish to once again assert an economically declining Japan in the world through displays of military might be held at bay, or history is well doomed to repeat itself.
Update: Apparently, there is some controversy over whether the base in Djibouti is actually the first of its kind or not. The Japanese military has established other bases of operations on foreign soil in the past, though they were intended to be temporary. This issue is up for debate, though it does not change my view that Japan violates the most important provision of its Constitution by sending its military overseas.