How Military Should Japan Be?

Is it time for Japan to prime its weapons and sail out into the world in defense of peace? The very idea still incites howls of protest in Asia - not least in Japan, where popular attachment to the country's postwar "peace" constitution remains powerful. Yet Japan's modestly named Self-Defense Forces are involved in many regional hot spots (no combat duty, of course) and seek to play a more active part in UN peacekeeping. If a shooting war ever breaks out in Asia, Japan is nowadays prepared to do a lot more than fill the petrol tanks.

It is past time for these modest changes, because the Asia/Pacific region's many fault lines affect the interests of the world's great and emerging powers in fundamental ways. Northeast Asia contains the last remnants of the Cold War: the divided Korean Peninsula and hostile glares across the Taiwan Straits. Southeast Asia forms its own unique geo-political environment, with a wide variety of ethnic groups, cultures, and religions in tension - as the current Islamic unrest in Thailand attests.

Beyond these conventional strategic concerns, the emergence of global terrorism and the Iraq War re-enforce Japan's sense that the strategic environment has changed profoundly. The roles and obligations of the Self-Defense Forces must gradually shift and diversify, and their zone of action broadened.

Neat binary concepts like "peacetime" and "wartime" are no longer viable. The world must get used to a twilight security environment of sudden and peripheral emergencies. Japan's laws are primed for this change, because the obligations of the Self-Defense Forces are relatively clear in these circumstances. The "Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law" allows the Self-Defense Forces to participate in the fight against international terrorism, although the form of participation is limited to logistical support.