Would Japan Go to War?

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The news today that Japan is “considering whether a pre-emptive strike on North Korea would violate its constitution” strikes me as significant. In half-century since World War II ended, Japan’s pacifist constitution has forbidden the country from having an offensive military; only a defensive force is allowed. Under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Tokyo has been pushing against that limit for quite some time; not least in the unpopular decision to send troops to Iraq—to provide, in Koizumi’s words “humanitarian assistance.” So now the question is whether “pre-emptive strikes” fall in that gray area.

On the other hand, it sure seems like Japan’s only talking about launching a pre-emptive strike on North Korea not because it would be a good idea—it wouldn’t be—but because it just wants to scare China into handling North Korea. China presumably doesn’t want to spend a lot of money on a costly arms race with Japan, and would rather calm down Kim Jong-Il than see Japan freak out and start gearing up for a pre-emptive strike. That’s my guess, anyway. All a political gambit.

But then, who knows? Chalmers Johnson wrote a good article a while back about Japan’s struggle with rearmament, and noted that a number of U.S. government types have been pushing Japan to revise article nine of the constitution and become a significant military force in the Far East, all in order to “counterbalance” China—proving once again that the so-called “China hawks” are probably a greater threat to world peace than most of the tinpot dictators we seem to spend so much time obsessing over.

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