In the last week of October, the incumbent prime minister of Japan won a clear majority in general elections. Some observers had expressed apprehensions about his decision, citing the example of British Prime Minister Theresa May, who had lost her simple majority in snap elections. But the misgivings in Japan proved to be unfounded. Abe had called these elections a year ahead of the due date and consolidated his position in Japanese politics. Now he has reiterated his resolve to tackle the threat from North Korea. The next important step for Abe appears to be an increase in his powers as the prime minister.
It is interesting to note how some popular leaders become crazy about enhancing their already powerful positions in the country. They tend to believe that the constitutional authority they enjoy needs to be further expanded without which they can’t deliver the expected results. Be it democratically elected leaders such as Indira Gandhi in India or ZA Bhutto in Pakistan; or the dictators who establish their autocratic rule after imposing martial law, all try to reach an exalted post where nobody can question them. Another case in point is the recently reelected president of Turkey, Erdogan, who is in a perpetual search for increasing powers.
It appears that the Japanese prime minister is embarking on the same journey and North Korea readily provides the justification for this. With a decisive majority in the parliament, Abe will be able to pass the constitutional amendment that will enable Japan to change Clause Nine of the constitution. According to the constitution introduced after the Second World War, Japan has been unable to prepare an army that can fight wars, rather it must shun any war mongering.
Abe is an interesting personality. In the recent Japanese history, he is one of the very few prime ministers who have completed five years in power. Abe has been the prime minister since 2012. Before Abe, the last prime minister who achieved this feat was Koizumi — belonging to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). He held power from 2001 to 2006. In the late 20th century, Nakasone — also from the LDP — crossed this milestone by holding to the premiership from 1982 to 1987. So far, the longest serving premier of Japan has been Sato who managed to cling to his seat from 1964 to 1972 — for eight long years from the Japanese standards. Interestingly, he was also from the LDP.
During the past 20 years, Japan has seen 11 prime ministers out of whom eight came from the LDP. The opposition, Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), has ruled for just three years and within that short span had to change three prime ministers. Despite such frequent changes, nobody has ever talked about imposing martial law; neither has anyone incited the army to take over. Japan has seen devastating consequences of military supremacy before and during WW II. This was the Japanese military leadership that created tense relations with all its neighbours. Be it America, China, Korea, or Russia, the Japanese military severely harmed all, resulting in a long-sustaining acrimony.
After every victory, the army browbeat the Japanese civilian leadership. Patriotic songs blared, and the people were hoodwinked into believing that their army was the best in the world that had no match anywhere and that it could make a pulp of its neighbours. This self-deception led to the repeated Japanese attacks on surrounding countries and resulted in an angry neighbourhood. The Chinese and Korean territories that were occupied by Japan saw ruthless atrocities committed by the Japanese forces. In addition to the loot and plunder, rapes and sexual assaults on women were a common practice.
During the last days of WW II, the Japanese economy was cracking under the burden of military expenses. What to talk of development, destruction was the outcome; but the Japanese generals were not ready to listen to any sensible advice. The civilian leadership was helpless and had to take dictations from the military top brass. Finally, the Allied forces, mainly led by the US, started using the most destructive bombs. Still, the Japanese army continued its braggadocios. The Japanese generals had seen the destruction of German and Italian forces and had also witnessed the gruesome end to Hitler and Mussolini but still didn’t learn anything.
Even after the first atomic bomb had caused mass destruction on August 6, 1945, the Japanese military leadership was holding on to its patriotic narrative. Finally, the US dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki three days later and the Japanese army had no other option but to surrender unconditionally. The Allied forces occupied Japan and their national songs with patriotic brouhaha could not save them. The victorious Allied powers imposed a ban on Japan that it could maintain a toothless army just for internal purposes, not strong enough to wage wars against other countries.
It is with this background that the recent election victory for Abe and the likely changes in the constitution become important. Up until now, Japan has respected the post-War constitution and maintained an army just for defence purposes. But now the Japanese leadership wants to change the constitution so that it can enhance its military capabilities. Shinzo Abe has categorically announced that he is ready to take North Korea head-on both diplomatically and militarily. The crazy despot of North Korea has further aggravated the situation by depriving the region of an opportunity to coexist peacefully.
Other than North Korea, countries such as America, China, and Russia pose no major threat to Japan. However, some Japanese think that China with its expansionist designs is a potential threat to Japan. For Shinzo Abe the next major step would be the elections within the LDP next September. He is likely to win another three-year term as the LDP leader. And if he completes his term as the premier, he will overtake from Sato the honour of remaining the longest serving prime minister. During the past few months the Japanese people have felt insecure due to North Korea’s repeated threats to annihilate America, Japan, and South Korea.
Recently, North Korea also fired a missile over the Japanese territory and termed it a first step into the Pacific Ocean. Now, there is a need for more sagacity at the international level. While the threats to Japan are real, any inappropriate step can aggravate the tension. Even if Japan develops an atomic bomb, the people of Japan will not be any safer. The situation in the Indian sub-continent is a case in point. India started an atomic craze in this region and Pakistan was not far behind in the race for MAD (mutually assured destruction).
Even 20 years after the last atomic detonations, the region is as volatile as ever. Both India and Pakistan are wasting their resources on more arms and ammunition and result is a constant menace of hostilities. Now if Japan also embarks on the same foolish journey of arming itself to the teeth, the region and the world will not become a safer place. Up until now, Japan has been a vocal opponent of atomic weapons and has promoted peace around the world. The Japanese stance hitherto has been commendable, and it needs to continue.
If our neighbours go crazy, we should not go crazy with them. The military madness — be it others’ or ours’ — is fatal and lethal. If war mongering is mixed with this madness, the people suffer more than the army does. Now, America, China, and Russia should come forward to give Japan an assurance for its protection, so that Japan refrains from changing the constitution to enhance its army for war. US President Donald Trump is also pushing the Far Eastern region into war. He is replicating the mistakes his country made in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
There is no doubt about the threats Japanese people face, but the security of Japan does not lie in more army and bombs. It lies in more negotiations and understanding.