[VIEWPOINT]Keeping nervous eye on Japan

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[VIEWPOINT]Keeping nervous eye on Japan

The change in Japan almost makes my head swim. Japan used to be a country with only defense capabilities, but it is now sending heavily armed Self-Defense Forces to the battlefields of Iraq and is trying to build up an effective military capability with which it can respond to possible military threats like terrorism or North Korean missile attacks by revising its national defense plan this year.
In addition, a theory of launching preemptive strikes has been introduced and special military units are being established. The only thing left for Japanese troops to do is to actually fire their guns, and this will no doubt happen soon.
Revising the Japanese peace constitution is only a matter of time. The latest draft of the revision, presented by the Liberal Democratic Party, elevates the Self-Defense Forces to a regular military and allows them to exercise the right of collective defense. The collective defense right is an internationally lawful right that says if an ally comes under attack, the country may interpret it as an attack on itself and take countermeasures. The Self-Defense Forces can use their military power only if Japan is attacked, but this revision would make it possible for them to exercise military action overseas too.
For the past 60 years, Japan wasn’t really its true self. It was constrained by the bridle of defeat under the peace constitution. However, we will see the real Japan soon.
Despite the “Yonsama” (the Japanese nickname for Bae Yong-joon, a popular Korean actor) boom, Korea-Japan relations face a lot of difficulties. Next year marks the 100th anniversary of Korea’s signing of a humiliating protection treaty with Japan and the 60th anniversary of Korea’s independence from Japan. In the meantime, Japan is trying to re-emerge as an ordinary member of the international community. What should be our relations with new “ordinary country” Japan?
Korean people see that the United States is not stopping Japan from becoming a military country but rather encouraging it. Yet we must not overlook the reality in which the characteristics of the alliance are changing since the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States. Before the attacks, an alliance was for defense and military deterrence, but since the attacks, an alliance is rather a matter of whether or not a country can participate in the U.S.-led anti-terrorist activities.
We can assume that Japan understands very well the change in alliances since the 9/11 attacks. Of course, Japan is also using this development to become an ordinary country, that is, to expand its military role.
One thing for sure is that the United States is the only country that can control Japan as an ordinary country. If there were no U.S.-Japan alliance, we would see the Japanese movement as a threat. In the end, if the United States and Japan sustain their alliance and our alliance with the United States stays strong, we rest easy with Japan’s becoming an ordinary country within the framework of the U.S.-Japan alliance.
The United States can control Japan, but Korea cannot. Korea is in a position where we have to consider a multiple security structure that can accommodate the military role expansion of Japan along with the U.S.-Japan alliance. The neighboring countries of the Korean Peninsula are the strongest countries in the world, and the reality is that we cannot handle any one of them on our own.
We are worried about Japan becoming a big military country, but China is known to have more military funds than Japan now, thanks to the development of its economy. We need to devise a structure for a multiple security system in East Asia by building trust and restricting military expenses, so that the power of the stronger countries does not have a negative effect on us.
We will also need to constructively use the rising power of Japan and China within the cooperative security system. Strengthening economic cooperation within this area will also increase interdependence and build trust, which will contribute to the peace and prosperity of East Asia. Constructing a multiple economic cooperation system along with a multiple cooperative security system is a good way to relieve any concerns over the direction of Japan’s growth.
Actually, the most fundamental way to stop Japan from becoming a military country is through a multi-dimensional liberal democracy that doesn’t have national military ambitions. So we have to keep in mind that strengthening the ideas of liberal democracy and market economy, which exist commonly in both Korea and Japan, is the best way to stop Japan from becoming a military country and to deepen the cooperation between Korean and Japan.
Japan’s neighbors are used to a peaceful Japan, which has been that way for over half a century. The peace constitution and the Self-Defense Forces were created to persuade Japan’s neighbors that Japan would not become a military country. Now these two standards are about to be destroyed.
The sudden expansion of Japan’s military is explained in terms of the U.S.-Japan alliance or in Japan’s becoming an ordinary nation, but this does not seem to be enough to reassure us. It is up to the ordinary country Japan to reassure us now.

* The writer is a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Yun Deok-min
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