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Dangers of US-led militarisation of Japan

Written by: (Contributed) on 9 March 2022


The decision, by a former Japanese Prime Minister, for the country to consider options with nuclear weapons is a worrying sign of increased US-led militarisation of the Indo-Pacific; the emergence of Japan as a major military hub for regional operations; and its moves away from its post-war pacifist constitution.

The news from Tokyo has also coincided with a flurry of high-level diplomacy between the US and Taiwan, Australia and the UK.

In early March former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for debate about the country acquiring nuclear weapons; it has always been regarded as a taboo subject in the only country to have ever been exposed to nuclear attacks at the end of the Second World War. Abe suggested Japan should consider 'nuclear sharing facilities' which are already used in Germany, Italy and Turkey whereby the US use host sites for their nuclear weaponry. (1)

The Japanese political system remains dominated by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) which has governed the country for decades, from the earliest days of the previous Cold War. A noticeable feature of its lasting hold on power has been the role of party elders, such as Abe, behind the scenes which weld considerable influence upon elected M.P.s. (2)

Much of Shinzo Abe's role as Prime Minister from 2006-07 and again from 2012-20, was his quest to 'normalise Japan's political and military environments'. (3) It included the re-interpretation of Article Nine of the pacifist constitution which Japan adopted at the end of the Second World War; Abe was quoted in 2006 as stating 'I believe … that the country should make a global contribution to security'. (4) The period was also marked by Japanese armed forces increasingly participating in US-led regional military exercises, alongside Australian involvement.

A well-placed observer to the chosen method of operations inside Japan's highly secretive political system noted in 2012 that 'Japan was getting rid of obstacles raised by Article Nine one by one as the opportunity offers'. (5) The article was basically being eroded away, chip by chip, to enable the US to use Japan as a fully-fledged northern military hub as opposed to its previous status as a client-state. On the eve of a state visit by PM Abe to the White House in 2015 to meet President Obama, for example, Japanese military officials announced they were extending the reach of their armed forces; allowing them 'to act when the US or countries US forces are defending are threatened … with new rules that eliminate any geographical restriction'. (6)   

Other Japanese regional foreign policy features have also included their planning and construction of port facilities in Mozambique, Kenya, Madagascar, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. (7) While the ports have been primarily focused upon 'sea lines of communication' (SLOC), they clearly possess joint-use facilities for the military.
The recent announcement from Abe has also coincided with US-led military hawks dominating assessments about the increasingly changing balance of forces across the Indo-Pacific region. It has included the Biden administration sending a senior envoy, former chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Mike Mullen, to Taipei for a confidential meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. It was noted in official communiques that the high-level diplomacy was conducted behind 'closed-door discussions'. (8)  

It is important to note Australia has a high-level government official based in Taipei, Jenny Bloomfield, who has direct access to the presidential office. (9)

Recent Cold War US military intelligence assessments have tended to return to the domino theory whereby Taiwan is considered the weak link in the Island Chain Theory (ICT) and China's threats to liberate the island poses a significant threat to Japan's defence and security.

The first island chain stretches from Japan to Taiwan, and then through states lining the South China Seas, including the Philippines and Indonesia. The second island chain extends still further to the east, starting in Japan and running through Guam. The third island chain is marked by wider Oceania, including Australia and New Zealand, (10) the latter two countries being part of the elite Five Eyes US-led intelligence-sharing group.

Earlier, amid fears about Taiwan, the Australian government sent the chair of the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, Senator James Paterson, to the US and UK 'for high-level meetings with senior political, defence and security officials'. (11) The high-level diplomacy, likewise, was conducted behind closed-doors with the minimum of publicity.

And in conclusion, while the recent announcement calling for a debate about Japan acquiring nuclear weapons was rebuffed by the present prime minister, Fumio Kishida, who informed parliament 'that nuclear sharing would be unacceptable', previous demands by LDP elders have often been adopted with the barest minimum of publicity to avoid controversy.

We should be on our guard about these developments, they have far-reaching implications for Australia:

                                          We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     'Time for Japan to think about nukes', Australian, 2 March 2022.

2.     See: China hawk to be next Japanese PM., Australian, 30 September 2021.

3.     The Normalisation of Japanese policy in the Indian Ocean region, Future Directions International, 21 June 2018.

4.     Ibid.

5.     Ibid., quoting Kwon Chulhyun, former ROK ambassador to Japan.

6.     Japan to extend military reach beyond self-defence, The Age (Melbounre), 29 April 2015.

7.     Future Directions International, op.cit., 21 June 2018.

8.     US sends top brass to bolster Taiwan, Australian, 3 March 2022.

9.     Abbott urges support for 'free' Taiwan, Australian, 8 October 2021.

10.   US Indo-Pacific Command Proposes New Missile Capabilities to Deter China, RFA., 5 March 2021.

11.   Allies must 'push back on threats to region', Australian, 28 February 2022.


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