- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2005

TOKYO — Japan’s lowly regarded defense agency is on track to be upgraded this year to a full-fledged ministry as the nation finally turns away from the strict anti-military stance wrought from the ashes of its defeat in World War II.

For most of its postwar history, “military” and “defense” have been dirty words in Japan, which officially has no standing army; it maintains instead “Self-Defense Forces.”

Japan currently has 600 troops stationed in Iraq doing reconstruction work and another unit in Kuwait ferrying nonmilitary supplies into Iraq.

But the security allergy runs so deep that the department responsible for security matters has been relegated to the level of a mere agency, on a par with the offices dealing with cultural affairs, patents and tax collection.

That rankles Defense Agency Chief Yoshinori Ono, who addressed reporters recently at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo.

“The mission of defense is devoted to the total security and safety of Japan. This should not be an agency, but a ministry. We couldn’t submit laws to the Diet [parliament]” as an agency, he said.

That wish appears likely to be fulfilled this year, Mr. Ono said. Matake Kamiya of Japan’s National Defense Academy said that a rigid anti-war mentality is giving way to pragmatism, or what he prefers to call “active pacifism.”

“The vast majority of Japanese seem to desire that this country should remain pacifist in some sense. But the Gulf war and other developments during the last 12 years have gradually convinced the Japanese people, the majority, that in order to maintain the spirit of pacifism, it has to be at least modified,” Mr. Kamiya said.

Japan’s new defense guidelines for the first time single out North Korea and China as trouble spots.

“I have to say this very clear that we don’t think China is a threat,” Mr. Ono said.

But he warned about a Chinese military buildup and an escalation of tensions in the East China Sea.

“We have to be very watchful on the movement of China — that is what the mentioning of China really means,” he said.

Mr. Ono said estimates that Chinese military expenditures are rising by 10 percent annually, and an incident last November when a Chinese nuclear sub intruded into Japanese waters, raised concerns.

The new defense guidelines, abandoning the usual vague prescriptions, partially relax a 40-year-old ban on weapons exports. American defense consultant Lance Gatling said the export curb has outlived its usefulness.

“The ban itself is a self-imposed ban that was originally intended to help increase Japan’s security. Forty years after the fact, it’s probably in many ways decreased Japan’s security,” he said. “The modern weapons systems are so advanced in technology, and they require so much of an effort that Japan has effectively restricted itself from cooperating in the international weapons-development programs.”

This year Japan will spend nearly $50 billion on its defense — an amount exceeded only by the United States and a few other countries.

And yet, despite its giant budget, Japan’s military-industrial complex remains small, producing exclusively for its tiny domestic market.

Japanese defense contractors, who have long chafed at being unable to achieve economies of scale by exporting, now argue they are being left behind as military arms development goes increasingly global.

“Japan possesses advanced technology of its own in the defense field. And yet we aren’t allowed to export our own advanced weapons abroad,” said Keiichi Nagamatsu, managing director for Keidanren, the powerful Japan Business Federation.

Washington has bolstered the hand of Japanese hawks, demanding that Japan allow at least limited components exports in order to jointly develop the SM-3, a system of interceptor missiles launched from Aegis-equipped warships.

Japan’s bolder defense stance has set off alarms in Asia, especially in Beijing, said Akiko Fukushima, senior fellow at the National Institute for Research Advancement, an independent Japanese think tank.

“How are you going to explain to Japanese neighbors, who are very, very nervous about Japanese militarism or anything that may have implications for Japanese expanded military activities?” Miss Fukushima said.

While the new assertiveness on security hardly constitutes a full-fledged arms buildup, Japan has done a poor job of getting that message across, she said.

“So we have to do something about these perceptions… They have this fixed mind-set from 60 years ago. And unless we communicate better, they just don’t understand,” she said.

Japan insists arms exports will be tightly controlled, limited to components for the U.S.-Japan missile program and certain products such as helmets, bulletproof vests and warships for anti-terrorist patrols.

Japan is not leaping guns blazing, so to speak, into the $900 billion global arms trade. But if Japanese defense contractors ever are given broader access to foreign markets, the industry reckons it eventually could grab market shares in naval ships, tanks and hardware, not to mention military-use electronics.

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