- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

Last week the U.S. announced that it was preparing to shoot down any missile launched by Kim Jong Il’s erratic North Korean regime. The week before, Japan’s 64-year-old prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, told The Washington Times that the American-imposed Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, nicknamed the “peace clause,” is morally, politically and militarily obsolete. These two news items are inextricably related.

Japan’s increasing cooperation with the U.S. in keeping peace in a war-prone region makes the constitutional constraint increasingly bizarre.

Article 9 is unique in the annals of statecraft. For the first time in history, a major power was prohibited by its own constitution from having its own military establishment. Ironically, this albatross was imposed by General Douglas MacArthur, who commanded the postwar occupation of Japan. This strange device has forced the United States to station substantial military forces in Japan since 1945 and in South Korea since 1950 to defend a major ally in an increasingly dangerous region.

Recent polls, said Mr. Koizumi, show that more than 60 percent of Japanese voters favor constitutional revisions to transform the so-called Self-Defense Forces into a genuine “Defense Force.” This change, he emphasized, is supported by most Japanese in their 20s and about half those in their 50s and 60s.

He insisted that the “Peace Clause” be removed from the constitution so that Japan, an acknowledged superpower, can fulfill its responsibility for regional peace. He cited the resurgence of China as a dynamic military power and said it was vital that the U.S. and Japan cooperate militarily and diplomatically to contain Beijing’s expansionist ambitions. He could also have mentioned the threat posed by a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Efforts to ditch the “peace clause” are still stoutly opposed by Japanese pacifists, many influenced by the trauma of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the “peace clause” itself.

Since its sovereignty was restored in 1952, Japan has been a steadfast U.S. ally. In loyalty it ranks with Britain and Germany. Japan is strategically located in the vortex of the potentially most dangerous and most likely big-power confrontation ? where the vital interests of the three top nuclear powers — the United States, China and Russia — converge. The potential for open conflict is exacerbated by the threats of a near-nuclear North Korea. If World War III erupts, this is the likely place.

Despite the hobbling impact of the “peace clause,” Japan has played an increasingly constructive role in world affairs. In 1991, after a bitter internal controversy, Tokyo sent 500 of its Self-Defense members to the Middle East to serve in a United Nations force. In the following year, it deployed army engineers to Cambodia to join another U.N. force — the first Japanese soldiers in 47 years to set foot in Southeast Asia. And in 1991, Japan contributed $13 billion to support the U.S.-led Gulf war to liberate Kuwait. Two years later, Japan sent 600 noncombat troops to engage in reconstruction work in Iraq, its riskiest deployment since World War II.

Encouraged by its growing political-military role abroad and with quiet U.S. support, Japan last year launched a diplomatic effort to win a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and to transform its Self-Defense Forces into a full-fledged military establishment. To these ends, Japan participated openly in an anti-terrorist exercise with U.S., French and Australian forces off Tokyo Bay. A crack Japanese commando unit searched a docked vessel for a mock stash of sarin gas in the full glare of TV cameras.

An especially bold example of Japan’s recent political assertiveness was its open protest in November 2004 to the Chinese government after Tokyo determined an “unidentified” nuclear submarine that had entered its territorial waters belonged to China. Two days before the protest, Japan’s “self-defense” navy went on a rare alert when the sub was spotted in Japanese waters between Okinawa and Taiwan. Mr. Koizumi called the incident “extremely regrettable” and lodged a protest. In a rare act, Beijing offered a public apology.

For over half a century, the Japanese have earned their right to establish a genuine national defense force and, I would, add a seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Ernest W. Lefever is a senior researcher and founding president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

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