For generations now the United States has implemented policies limiting the armament of Japan and South Korea. Each is now an ally, but limited by military weakness. What good is having an ally that’s so weak they can’t contribute to their own defenses? Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, has written in The National Interest that it is time for America to stop subsidizing the defense of these countries. Instead, America should encourage South Korea and Japan to defend themselves. Doug writes:
The United States has been complicit in limiting its allies’ armament. Indeed, the “Peace Constitution” imposed on Tokyo formally bans a military. Thus, Japan deploys “self-defense forces,” a quaint interpretative subterfuge that America’s Supreme Court justices would appreciate. Only after much torturous debate did the Japanese government decide to contribute to peace-keeping operations and offer aid to American ships under attack. Still, Tokyo has studiously avoided acquiring weapons that theoretically have “offensive” uses.
The ROK’s constitution does not bar the government from arming itself, but Seoul agreed to treaty limitations on the range of its missiles and granted Washington formal control over its military through the Combined Forces Command. Moreover, threats from the Nixon administration caused South Korean president Park Chung-hee to shut down the country’s nuclear-weapons program a half century ago.
However, an increasing number of people in both Japan and South Korea have grown uncomfortable with the presumption that they should remain militarily vulnerable, if not quite helpless, and rely upon the United States. In recent years North Korea’s weapons development and China’s greater assertiveness have increased Japanese and South Korean support for doing more militarily. Voices have been raised in both nations even favoring development of a countervailing nuclear deterrent. Polls suggest that a majority of South Koreans support doing so….
Now, both the ROK and Japan appear determined to abandon past military constraints imposed by the United States. With Washington’s support, Tokyo has revised its guidelines to expand allowable Syrian Democratic Forces operations. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe backs revising Article Nine of the constitution, which formally bans possession of a military, though the political complications of doing so are many. And newly installed Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera expressed his interest in studying “if our current missile defense is sufficient.”
Before his appointment, Minister Onodera led a parliamentary committee from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which recommended developing the capability to launch preemptive attacks, most importantly against North Korea, if necessary. Prime Minister Abe said that Japan was not “planning any specific deliberations about possessing” such weapons, but that Tokyo needed to improve its defenses “given that the security situation surrounding Japan is becoming increasingly severe.”
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