Election victory threatens Japanese pacifism

Duty calls: Despite the constitutional ban on military, Japan has over 225,000 troops. © Getty

Should Japan finally have an official army? Prime Minister Abe is on track to win another “supermajority”. Now he plans to change his country’s constitution, which banned the military in 1947.

Voters battled through a powerful storm yesterday to grant a huge mandate to Japan’s ruling coalition.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government will continue to dominate Japan’s House of Representatives, which he dissolved last month to trigger a snap election.

At the time of writing, he and his allies are expected to win two-thirds of seats, solidifying a “supermajority” that allows him to change the country’s constitution. He hopes to use this power to turn Japan’s self-defence force into a fully-fledged military.

Mr Abe said he needed a new mandate to tackle the “national crises” facing Japan, the most alarming of which is the threat from North Korea. Just ten days before he called the election, Pyongyang fired its second ballistic missile across Japan.

“When North Korea is purposefully threatening us and increasing tension, we must not waver,” he proclaimed at his final campaign rally.

In an ominous statement, last month Pyongyang had threatened to “sink” Japan and return the USA to “ashes and darkness”.

The Japanese constitution, written by US army officers and enacted in 1947, prevents the country from having a military.

However, under pressure from the US government to stop the spread of communism in Asia, Japan’s Self-Defence Forces (SDF) were introduced in 1954. Since then, they have expanded into a highly-trained force.

But the troops are hampered by one crucial element: their operations are limited by the constitution, which does not recognise them as a legitimate army. The Forces have never fired a single shot in anger.

According to Grant Newsham, a research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, the country’s “faux pacifism” has been based “on the perspective that Japan faces no threats”. But for Japanese people living in the shadow of North Korea and an increasingly powerful China, self-defence is now high on the agenda.

Abe has long dreamed of changing the constitution. As he storms to power once again, should Japan leave its pacifism behind?

Pax Japonica?

“Japanese ‘pacifism’ is in for an update,” argues journalist Pallavi Aiyar. The constitution is a product of another era, when the rest of the world wanted to punish Japan for its role in the second world war. But we cannot expect Japan to follow the rules of this outdated document when its very existence is under threat from its unpredictable neighbours.

But Miyuki Nakayama, student leader of the group Public for the Future, says that people are forgetting the lessons of the war. Who can say how those neighbours will react to Japan suspending its pacifism? The move may well worsen tensions in Asia. If anything, we need more countries to disarm so we can avoid a third world war.

You Decide

  1. Should Japan get a proper military?
  2. Is pacifism as bad as fighting for the enemy?


  1. Design a campaign poster either for or against the introduction of a Japanese army.
  2. Research some other countries which do not have armies. Think about their reasons for not having a military. Do you think they should? Why (not)? Present your findings to the class.

Some People Say...

“Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist.”

George Orwell, writing about the fight against Nazi Germany

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Shinzo Abe has been trying to boost his popularity after his approval ratings fell to 30% in July. Abe has faced limited opposition, as various parties fell apart after he announced his snap election. Equally important to Abe is securing a renewed supermajority, of over two thirds of the seats in parliament. Only a government this large can make changes to the constitution.
What do we not know?
How a change in policy to allow an army will affect the relationships between different countries in the region. Abe's victory could result in a growing friendship between Japan and the USA, as the two countries work to apply pressure on Beijing to restrain Kim Jong-un. At the same time, China is a vital trading partner for Japan, so the election may strengthen that relationship.

Word Watch

Japan was hit by Typhoon Lam yesterday, a category four storm.
House of Representatives
The Japanese parliament consists of two houses, Representatives and Councillors. The House of Representatives is more powerful and can be dissolved by the prime minister at any time.
Japan was under American occupation between 1945 and 1951, in order to establish a democracy and to ensure that its potential to wage war again was removed.
Communism in Asia
The USA feared the spread of communism over the world in the 1950s and was concerned that this takeover would begin in Asia, under the influence of China.
Japan’s SDF has traditionally adopted a non-fighting role, providing relief in the wake of disasters like the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident. However, the forces appear increasingly like a fully-fledged army. Legislation passed in 2015 allows the SDF to come to the aid of an ally under certain conditions, including if the survival of Japan is at stake.
North Korea
A CNN survey showed that 61% of Japanese people want to see increased economic sanctions against North Korea.


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