REI KITAGAWA WRITES – Japan Rearmed, authored by the renowned Sheila A. Smith (and recently published by Harvard University Press), offers an extensive and intimate account of U.S.-Japan relations, arguing that the Japanese government is reconsidering its dependence on the United States amidst increasing threats from North Korean missiles and Chinese maritime activity around the Senkaku islands.
Smith is a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations and has published other titles including, Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China and Japan’s New Politics and the U.S.-Japan Alliance. As an expert on Japanese foreign policy and politics, she chairs U.S.-Japan Conference on Cultural and Education Interchange (CULCON), and also teaches as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. In Japan Rearmed, Smith’s account of events unravels everything from the Cold War period, the dilemma between the LDP and public relations, the gradual mobilization of SDF personnel, and the concerns involved in the U.S.-Japan alliance.
Imperial Japan’s crushing defeat in World War II led to a demilitarization and reformation of institutions that were deemed to have led to Japanese modernization: the emperor, the military, and the aristocracy. The emperor would no longer be able to exercise supremacy, and Japan’s aristocracy could not inherit power. Article Nine, drafted under the gun of the U.S. occupation in 1946, is a unique feature in its Constitution, proclaiming that the Japanese people would renounce war forever. The government and military had vowed to never utilize force or power to resolve international disputes. The Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, General Douglas MacArthur, initially envisioned a complete pacification of Japan, but these priorities would later shift after the U.S. demands of the Cold War.
As President Trump publicly criticized the value of the alliance during his 2016 campaign trail and the security situation in Northeast Asia worsened, Tokyo policymakers became more convinced that the SDF needed to be ready and able to defend the country in wartime. Through the SDF’s successful management during the March 2011 earthquake and a decade of repeated crises, the Japanese public began to shift away from seeing the SDF as a risk to their democracy, and instead more concerned about how Japan would defend itself from an increasing North Korean and Chinese threat. Although the general public remains sensitive to any military action abroad, Japan’s military continues to be organized for self-defense. Its constitution has not been revised, military capabilities are still considered a means of deterrence, and Japanese military planners still think that sustaining U.S. military dominance is the best hope for ensuring Japan’s security. The Trump candidacy brought new concerns and exposed how vulnerable Japan would be to a newly elected president who had the ability to end the alliance and pursue his own security priorities instead.
Smith’s stance throughout the novel is objective and impartial, navigating through each ideological view that framed the period’s debate, whether the individual prime ministers, the Diet, the DPJ, the LDP, or Washington, the book gives deep insight behind each thought process in the decision-making processes. For example, Smith discusses that the first decision to aid in UN PKOs (Peace Keeping Operations) allowed for a legitimate justification to pursue more military power. She describes in detail how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) saw benefits of SDF participation in international military coalitions and argued that this was a necessary demonstration of Japan’s contribution to global security and useful to an international community.
Japan Rearmed is the perfect blend of complex historical context with which to better understand the difficult political nuances of the Japanese government in its public and international relations.
Rei Kitagawa is a senior political science major at LMU and a member of the Asia Media Writers’ Group.