Japan Moves Away From Its Traditional Pacifism

Japan Moves Away From Its Traditional Pacifism
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo Tuesday, July 1, 2014 (AP photo by Koji Sasahara).

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today announced a major shift in the posture of Japan’s military, known as the Self-Defense Force, that could allow it to engage in combat on foreign soil six decades after it was founded. Japan’s military has for decades maintained a defensive mission under Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, which states that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.”

The move was greeted with protests both at home and abroad. Local polls showed at least half of Japanese citizens opposed to the change; in advance of Abe’s announcement, thousands of protesters marched through Tokyo, and one set himself on fire. China’s official newspaper, People’s Daily, accused Abe of staging “a dangerous coup to overturn [Japan’s] post-war pacifism and democratic ideals” and noted ominously: “One can only hope that the dusk of Japan's pacifist constitution will not lead to the entire collapse of the postwar international system.”

The shift announced today had been widely expected, however. During his first term as Japan’s prime minister from 2006 to 2007, Abe tried and failed to amend the constitution to ease restrictions on Japan’s military. This time, rather than attempting to amend the constitution, Abe announced that he would interpret it differently than previous governments had: “collective self-defense”—using the military to help allies under attack defend themselves—would for the first time be permissible for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, even if Japan itself was not directly under attack.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.