Once upon a time, there was an end to war. In 1929 when the French and Americans were on better terms than they are today, the two nations sponsored a radical new idea: the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Its 62 signatories, which included Russia, the U.S., Japan, China, and most of Europe, agreed to renounce war as a tool of national policy. For about a year it seemed to work. Whereupon, in 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria; in 1935, the Italians attacked Ethiopia; and in 1938, Germany occupied Austria, heralding a drive for global dominance that would soon plunge the world back into war.
The Pact evaporated, but it lived on in the mind of one man: General MacArthur. In 1945, at the end of World War II, he wrote the pact's provisions into Article 9 of Japan's new constitution. It decreed that the Japanese people would "forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation" and would abandon their right to maintain "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential."
"An ill-fitting suit of clothes," one Japanese politician called it. Yet the people of Japan took pride in Article 9, cherishing it as a real contribution to world peace that had grown out of their devastating defeat. Almost immediately the General regretted it. In 1947 America began pushing Japan to rearm, and by the time the Korean War broke out in 1952, the process was more or less complete. Japan called its military "Self-Defense Forces" to get around Article 9, and today Japan is once again a great military power. With $40.4 billion in annual military expenditure, Japan ranks fourth in the world.
Meanwhile, starting in the 1990s, Japan made a series of small but critical steps to assert itself abroad. At first, Japan only provided money for the Gulf War; then it sent peacekeeping forces to Cambodia and Afghanistan; finally, in 2001, it sank a North Korean spy ship. The debate over whether Japan should rearm is moot: Japan has long since rearmed and is capable of striking far beyond its borders. Indeed, Japan has enough plutonium and the technology to produce nuclear weapons in a matter of months.
And yet, nearly 60 years after World War II ended, Japan is still strapped tightly into the ill-fitting suit of official pacifism. Hence the surprise when Defense Agency director General Shigeru Ishiba declared on Feb. 13 that Japan would "use military force as a self-defense measure if [North Korea] starts to resort to arms against Japan." In the last few years North Korea has steadily increased its menace, firing a ballistic missile over Japan in 1998, and reigniting its nuclear program early this year. Yet Ishiba's words still shock because war is, quite simply, against the constitution.
Not that it should matter. Article 9 has been so diluted by doublespeak as to become virtually meaningless. An early strike against Korea, Ishiba explains, would be "defensive", not "pre-emptive." Likewise, in May 2002, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe declared that Japan could have nuclear weapons so long as they were "small." In fact, he added, "in legal theory Japan could have intercontinental ballistic missiles and atomic bombs."
Yet anti-war psychology in Japan runs deep. The lesson of the disaster of World War II remains strong. Millions of people visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki each year, which remain holy shrines against the evil of nuclear weapons. Japan associates war with horror, not valor. There is also a deep fear of things getting out of hand. The public realizes that Japan's political system has no brakesonce a policy has started, politicians and bureaucrats tend to carry it to incredible extremes. Former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew once said, "To let an armed Japan participate in [peacekeeping operations] is like giving a chocolate filled with whiskey to an alcoholic." For years, leading politicians and pundits have called for revision of the constitutionyet nobody dares begin a process that might open Pandora's Box.
As Lee's comment shows, other Asian countries still view Japan with mistrust, and the Japanese recognize that for good neighborly relations they must never appear to wield military power. So Article 9 is a convenient disguisethe face Japan needs to show Asia. Meanwhile, it's easy, and cheap, to continue under America's "nuclear umbrella." So despite occasional squawks from Tokyo's hawks, Japan still sleeps in what Liberal Democratic Party stalwart Shizuka Kamei calls a "stupor of peace." Although they can hear the sound of North Korean drumbeats growing louder, most Japanese don't feel threatened. Life is comfortable. War and terror seem far away, an anachronism of little interest in today's Japan. Is this state of indifference what MacArthur really wanted?