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Debate: Should Japan remove limitations on its military?

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Should Japan’s constitution be amended to allow her a normal military role in world affairs?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Alex Deane. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

In the aftermath of the Second World War, a constitution was imposed on Japan by the victorious Allied powers that prevented it from developing offensive military capabilities and turned its back on violence. Article 9 (in its entirety) states: “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. In order 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.” So the debate is whether Article 9 be cancelled, thus allowing Japan to have a normal military role. The popular term for this debate, i.e. whether Japan should be ‘rearmed,’ is something of a simplification. Japan’s current military expenditure is second only to that of the USA, but it is spent on a ‘defensive capacity’ and Japan does not usually send her defence forces abroad. Some Japanese troops have participated in peacekeeping operations since 1992, this is still constitutionally controversial and they are so restricted in the duties they can perform - typically humanitarian and infrastructure work - that they are effectively unable to defend themselves from attack. For example, Japanese forces in Iraq are only able to operate in the quietest corner of that troubled country, and must rely upon nearby Dutch soldiers for protection.

Wikipedia: Japan Self-Defense Forces

WWII dues paid?: Has Japan "paid her dues" on the Second World War?


Japan has ‘paid her dues’ on the Second World War. The principle of fault no longer applies.

Countries should be able to govern their own affairs and house a military capability. Amending Article 9 of the Constitution would signal that Japan was a normal country, ready and able to play a normal part in world affairs.


Many within Japan deny that much of what she did during the Second World War even happened at all. Kamikazi pilots are widely revered. The Yasukuni shrine, home to many war criminals, is frequently visited by leading Japanese politicians including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. A recently approved textbook allows a version of history which skips over shameful aspects of World War II to be taught in schools. All this causes great offense to those that suffered under Japanese aggression, such as her neighbours South Korea and China – on whose soil and to whose citizens the terrible atrocities of the Rape of Nanjing were visited by the Japanese army. Japan has not really come to terms with its terrible past. This restriction must remain in place until she does so.

Self-defense: Does Japan have a legitimate self-defense interest that demands that it build-up its military forces?


Japan needs to be able to protect itself in an unstable region. Prominent politician Shintaro Ishihara urges rearmament to guard against North Korean aggression. Given the erratic and repressive Kim Jong Il regime, with its boasts of atomic weaponry and missile tests over Japanese airspace, who can blame him? Chinese expansion is threatening, too and there are territorial disputes with South Korea over islands in the sea between the two states.


Japan’s environment will immediately become more dangerous if her neighbours see her re-arming and taking a more aggressive military position. China openly opposes rearmament and would see it as a threatening act. This is partly because of Japan's history of imperialist aggression, but also because of its close alliance with the USA and the suspicion that Japan will support any future American action in defence of Taiwan. As Japan’s safety is in any case guaranteed by the USA, why needlessly provoke traditional enemies by tooling up?

Dependency: Is Japan overly dependent on other countries?


Japan has unfairly benefited from its post-war non-military status, which has allowed her to flourish economically whilst her defense is provided for by another country. Without changing the constitution, Japan can’t pull her weight in peacekeeping missions and international task forces, since the constitution has been interpreted to prevent troops serving abroad except under such restrictive conditions their usefulness is purely symbolic. As well as changing the mandate under which Japanese forces could participate in international efforts, revising Article 9 would also make it possible for Japan to invest in the kinds military transport planes and other equipment needed for rapid-response units in time of global crisis.


The international community willingly accepts the burden of having to defend Japan: Historically speaking, Japan has undoubtedly benefited economically from the USA’s protection and the consequent lack of need for expense on military materiel. But the USA knew this very well at the time, and accepted it as part of the benefit of building up an economically strong ally on the other side of the Soviet bloc.

Japan actually spends a great deal on her defence now: Japan’s involvement in providing support vessels – and now, ground troops – in Iraq shows that her participation in international ventures is a matter of a change in the national psyche rather than a constitutional issue.

Japan’s people oppose militarism. It is important to them that the restriction remains. This is admirable, and displays that they have indeed come to terms with their past. Japan is able nevertheless to assist in peacekeeping etc – so why force the issue of the constitution unnecessarily?

Japan's case: Is Japan exceptional in the way that it committed atrocities?


Many other countries have offended against humanitarian concerns more recently – Rwanda and Cambodia, to name but two – and have no such constraint imposed upon them. Furthermore, there’s no such restriction on Germany, surely the foremost aggressor in the Second World War! In the past ten years Germany has begun to send its forces abroad, e.g. to Kosovo and Afghanistan, as a new generation puts past wrongs behind it. Why shouldn't Japan do the same?


The constitutional restriction springs from the circumstances that led to the governance of Japan being administered by Western powers. That has not been the case with other countries that have committed atrocities, such as Cambodia: if it did, perhaps they would have this restriction too. Such a restriction not existing elsewhere is hardly an argument for abandoning it where it does exist.

Status quo: Would an amendment simply clarify the reality that Japan's "defensive" military force is no different than an "offensive" military force?


The distinction between defensive and offensive capabilities is an absurd one: All weaponry is capable of both. Japan is, in reality, heavily armed, albeit in the form of a national ‘Self Defense Force’ (SDF). She maintains land, sea and air forces, which would seem to be contrary to the constitution but every attempt to deploy them against anything other than an attack on Japanese soil requires endless delay and constitutional debate. A Constitutional revision would bring welcome clarity to the situation.


Japan feels herself constrained by the constitutional rule against "offensive" militarism. Her forces have not participated in major international taskforces like that which mounted the first Gulf War. Whilst having a small supportive role in the second, it is evident that the forces she has are for defensive purposes and this is legitimate under the constitution. Instead of Japan changing, it would be better if more countries adopted this approach, seeking influence through diplomacy rather than the threat of force.


  • This House would rearm Japan
  • This House believes that Japan should be allowed to rearm
  • This House believes that Japan has a responsibility to rearm
  • That Japan should amend its constitution


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