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Japan's new pacifism

The Japanese military is today at its most active since World War II. But you don't like to talk about this.


If you meet Tsutomu Mori in Tokyo city center on your way to work, you will hardly be able to guess what profession this 58-year-old has.

It is not until he has entered the separated, and well-guarded, Ichigaya district that he changes into the four-star olive green uniform. He can then be recognized as General Mori, the Chief of Staff of the Ground Self Defense Force (GSDF).

This man who, over a 40-year career, has moved up to the top job of one of the world's most modern military forces, can't move in public with his uniform on. Many Japanese show strong disgust at the military even to this day. Nor can he call the strength he heads for an army. Tokyo is more likely to see US troops (out of a force of 47.000) in uniform than Japanese (out of a force of 240.000).

Self-defense Forces

The Japanese self-defense force was formed in 1954. After World War II, the Americans had denied Japan the ability to have armed land, sea or air forces at all. This is in fact part of the Japanese constitution. After the Cold War intensified, it no longer seemed as sensible. However, no one wanted to change the constitution. This was bypassed by the conciliatory and somewhat strange name of "self-defense force".

Japanese society divides into two in the debate over the country's military system: On the one hand, there are the pacifists, who react with the mind and disbelief that the Japanese military system is starting to take on international roles, as well as starting to make their mark in the Japanese public debate.

On the other hand, we find a number of different groups that want the Japanese military to take on the same role that military in other countries have. Here we find everything from globalization supporters who want Japan to take on the role of a local superpower and fulfill international obligations to people who might have belonged to the World War II party. Apart from the disagreement with the peace activists, there is little to unite these.

Nationalism scares

In particular, it is the rise of nationalist forces that is fueling the pacifists, as well as nationalism creating turmoil and terror in neighboring countries that experienced Japanese occupation. There were strong reactions in Japan when a military parade in the city of Sasebo last year opened guns and bayonets. Pacific organizations regarded this as a deliberate provocation and objected to it as a matter of principle.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, a close ally of the US president, wants the country to strengthen its military profile in the world. Japan has sent 600 soldiers to southern Iraq to rebuild the country after the war. This decision was very unpopular. According to a survey in the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, the government had support from 18 per cent of the respondents, while 77 per cent were against. However, this has not hurt Koizumi politically, and his popularity has increased since the election. In the same survey, he received support from 56 percent of those polled.

The curse of the oil

Parliament has also discussed changes to the pacifist constitution in Japan. A special committee has been appointed to review procedures for amending the Constitution. Both the ruling parties and the opposition in Japan want amendments to Article 9 of the Constitution, which prohibits the use of the military to resolve international conflicts. This has further alarmed both Japanese peace activists and neighboring countries, which are concerned about the revitalization of Japanese militarism.

Particularly bad is the relationship with China, an already strained relationship due to a number of other issues. One is the accusation that Japanese school books are smoothing out war crimes. The second and more down-to-earth disagreement is about oil. Oil and gas deposits have been found in the East China Sea. Japan and China have had several meetings to try and find a solution, but so far no solution has been reached. The conflict peaked when China recently decided to extract gas from the Tianwaitian field, which Japan has strongly objected to.

The Tianwaitian field, as well as other gas and oil fields in the East China Sea, are in areas that both of these countries can technically claim, under the United Nations Maritime Law. The area is within 200 nautical miles from both countries, which means that they can claim this as an exclusive economic zone.

The case has been sent to the UN for consideration, but a ruling is not expected until May 2009. International conflicts such as the Iraq war, as well as conflicts between Japan and neighboring countries, will help shape the future of General Tsutomu Mori and his men.

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