- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2006

Shinzo Abe, who became Japan’s youngest postwar prime minister last week and the first to have been born after World War II, comes from unabashedly conservative stock spanning decades of diplomacy notable for extremely close ties with America. His father, Shintaro Abe, served as Japan’s foreign minister in the 1980s, when Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone closely aligned Japan to the Cold War policies of the Reagan administration, most helpfully when the Soviet Union stormed out of arms-control negotiations. Mr. Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, served as prime minister from 1957 to 1960 and championed the U.S.-Japan security alliance. In this tradition, the new prime minister said last week that “the Japan-U.S. alliance is the most important thing for our country’s diplomacy and national security.”

With American military forces increasingly stretched by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and with both the capability and the will of many European armies open to question, the new leader of the world’s second-largest economy has come to power determined to increase Japan’s diplomatic and military roles around the world. As Takehiko Kambayashi reported last week in The Washington Times, Mr. Abe, who has been a strong advocate of revising Japan’s U.S.-imposed pacifist constitution, promised at his first press conference as prime minister to pursue assertive diplomacy. Not only will Mr. Abe aggressively pursue a long-overdue permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council; the constitutional revisions he will seek would enable the Japanese military to play a much larger role in international affairs.

Under Mr. Abe’s immediate predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, Japan dispatched non-combat military forces to Iraq to help in reconstruction and contributed fuel-supply ships in the Indian Ocean to assist coalition forces in operating in Afghanistan. Clearly, Mr. Abe, who publicly contemplated the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against North Korea’s missile sites after that rogue communist regime test-fired several ballistic missiles in July, seeks a more robust role for Japan’s armed forces. But Japan, which now spends less than 1 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, could spend much more before even remotely approaching “Japan’s expansionist nature,” which a South Korean government spokesman incorrectly inferred from Mr. Abe’s musings about a potential Japanese response to the increasing threat posed by a nuclear-armed North Korea.

As Mr. Abe, 52, pursues what he calls “a constitution suitable for a new era,” Japan’s neighbors need not fear a revival of Japanese militarism. Indeed, the authoritarian, democracy-suppressing Chinese Communist Party, whose totalitarian past under Mao was responsible for killing far more Chinese than Japan’s military, would do well to look in the mirror when talking about Chinese victims of genocide. Japan has earned the right to play a larger role in the world, and Mr. Abe is right to pursue it.

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