Japan Gets Ready to Fight

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by Brian Bremner,

from Bloomberg Businessweek,

Abe wants to unshackle Japan from its postwar pacifism.

Japan’s shock, grief, and anger over the recent beheadings of two of its citizens by Islamic State has drawn into sharp focus the country’s ambivalence about the use of its military to protect its citizens and its interests. For decades, Japan was bound by its 1947 constitution to mobilize troops solely for self-defense. The country didn’t have the legal right to send armed troops abroad to protect its own people or back up allies who come under attack.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is determined to change this Cold War arrangement, which was imposed by the U.S. during its postwar occupation of Japan. Today the country faces a far more complex set of threats than the Soviet invasion that it feared 70 years ago. Islamic State has pledged more attacks to punish Japan’s decision to extend $200 million in humanitarian aid to countries battling the extremists who hold sway over large sections of Syria and Iraq.

Japan has also verbally clashed with China in a territorial dispute over islands in the East China Sea. And on Feb. 7, North Korea announced it had tested an “ultraprecision” antiship rocket near Japan’s maritime border. “The world is now a pretty complicated place, and denying yourself a reasonable defense and cooperative logistics with your allies is placing yourself at greater risk,” says Lance Gatling, president of Nexial Research, an aerospace consultant in Tokyo.

Abe, a defense hawk and the scion of a prominent political family, has embarked on an overhaul of national security strategy. In an historic step, his cabinet last year approved the exports of military equipment and conducted a legal review that concluded Japan had the right to deploy its military power abroad to protect its citizens and back up allies under attack.

The U.S. and Japan have collaborated on sophisticated antimissile defense systems, including one that features a 21-inch projectile called the SM-3 Block IIA. It’s bigger and faster than current antimissile projectiles and is also designed to take out low-orbiting satellites.

Last May, Washington and Tokyo discussed coordinating their GPS systems to better track what’s going on in space and in the oceans. Japan has four spy satellites, and a group of Japanese companies led by Sky Perfect Jsat Holdings and NEC is building two communications satellites that will transmit encrypted data.

If Abe’s national security makeover succeeds, Japan’s evolution into a “normal state,” as LDP strategists say, will get a big boost.

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