Japan has activated amphibious troops, in a first since World War Two, to defend its remote islands against any external threat.
The Japanese Self-Defense Forces established a marine corps on April 7, for the first time since World War II, to stop any attacks on its territory, especially along the East China Sea, where they are the most vulnerable to attack by China. The Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade’s (ARDB) main goal is to defend Japan’s remote islands with its amphibious capabilities.
In a ceremony held at a military base near Sasebo on the southwest island of Kyushu, about 1,500 members of the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB) wearing camouflage lined up outside amid cold, windy weather.
Tomohiro Yamamoto, Vice Defense Minister of Japan, said, “Given the increasingly difficult defence and security situation surrounding Japan, defence of our islands has become a critical mandate."
Japan’s military spending has gained momentum in the last decade despite its pacifist constitution after WWII.
Japan has consistently increased its military budget in the last five years, to expand the missile defence system and to build new amphibious troops, against North Korean nuclear missile threats and repeated Chinese violations at its sea border.
North Korea’s ballistic missile tests are considered a big threat for Japan, the country also has a disagreement with China over the disputed island, known as the Senkaku to Japan and the Diaoyu to China.
Japan’s armament tendency is a big part of the arms race in the Pacific region where China and North Korea play an important role in the race.
Japan passed a record military budget for this year, $45 billion, with the biggest spending on the US-made ballistic missile defence systems, both the construction of new ones and upgrades on existing ones. Spending to reinforce defence systems against the nuclear threat from North Korea is about $1.3 billion.
Amid escalating threats from North Korea, two Aegis Ashore missile combat systems, developed by the US at a high cost, will be approved for purchase by Japan’s Cabinet during budget talks for 2018.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is ramping up efforts to boost its combat capability.
The Aegis defence system was also used in Romania and Poland. Japan will be a third hosting country for Aegis.
The systems are expected to finish in 2023.
However, the project for an ambitious domestic jet fighter did not receive any extra funds for next year's budget.
Japan’s Cabinet issued a statement that says, “North Korea’s nuclear and missile development has become a greater and more imminent threat for Japan’s national security, and we need to drastically improve our ballistic missile defence capability to protect Japan continuously and sustainably.”
Abe’s stance is fully compatible with US President Donald Trump’s policy that offers to keep all options on the table even a military operation against North Korea.
Abe’s governing Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) proposed to introduce new F-35B fighters and multi-purpose aircraft carriers in March.
There will also be plans to integrate fighter aircrafts into the JS Izumo, a 248-metre long helicopter carrier of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.
The US presence in region
The US established its military base at Fuchu Air Station in Japan on July 1, 1957. Today, approximately 54,000 military members are working in Japan, more than in any country.
One of the most important units of the US military is the Seventh Fleet, composing the largest deployed force of the US Navy, with around 50-70 ships and submarines, 140 aircraft and approximately 20,000 sailors.
US troops are generally based in Okinawa, a subtropical southern island in Japan.
The US Navy's Amphibious Wasp ship, as well as the new F-35B Joint Strike Fighter deployment, arrived to Sasebo, Japan in January.
"The arrival of [the] USS Wasp represents an increase in military capability and a commitment to our partners and allies for security and stability in the region," said Capt. Colby Howard, Wasp Commanding Officer. "Paired with the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, we remain ready to execute the full range of military operations from crisis response to disaster relief."
The new F-35B fighter jets will increase US capability for operating in the Pacific region.
Domestic objection to US presence
The Japanese people living near the US military base are uncomfortable with the US presence. In 2016, a Japanese tourist was raped by a US sailor, he was arrested by the local police, in a hotel room in Naha, the capital of Okinawa.
Three US soldiers raped a 12-year-old girl, causing public indignation in Japan in 1995. The incident sparked huge protests against the US forces. A year later, Japan and the US agreed on reducing the US troops in Okinawa.
A US serviceman who was involved in a fatal traffic accident in November 2017 was arrested while drunk driving with a blood alcohol content three times the legal limit.
The servicemen was sentenced to four years in prison by the Naha District Court on Wednesday for the fatal accident.
“It was extremely dangerous, and his negligence is serious. The defendant cannot avoid the prison sentence,” judge Toshihiro Shibata said.
After that incident, the US forces in Japan restricted alcohol consumption, including in residences and public locations such as bars, clubs and hotels. The incident sparked outrage among the public.
The Constitution of Japan
Article 9 of Japan's constitution, written in 1947 while under the occupation of the US forces, renounces war and prohibits the country from maintaining war potential.
‘’Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognised,’’ according to Article 9 of the Japanese constitution.
However, as the United States changed its policy of demilitarising Japan, Washington asked Tokyo to share the burden of maintaining the security of Japan and, for the sake of international peacekeeping.
Japan gradually increased its defence capability and developed a somewhat more technical interpretation of Article 9 since it does not prohibit the country from maintaining her defence capability.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his LDP announced a plan that offers to revise its pacifist Constitution, which has never been changed since 1947. Abe clearly declared his ambition to revise the Constitution by 2020, the year of the Tokyo Olympic games on a pre-recorded video message at the Upper House Budget Committee.
Japan Self Defense Forces (JSDF), were established in 1954, to carry out service disasters home, UN peacekeeping operations, and abroad and Japan’s defence duty. According to the Japan constitutional commentary, JSDF is legal organisation with its founding purposes.
In order to revise the Constitution, Abe needs the support of two-thirds of the members of the both chambers in parliament and a majority vote in a public referendum.
“We won a two-thirds majority as the ruling bloc, but it is necessary to strive to form a wide-ranging agreement among the ruling bloc and opposition [to revise the constitution],” Abe told a news conference on October 2017.
According to an opinion poll carried out by NHK in 2017, 43 percent of participants found the constitutional amendments to be ‘’necessary,’’ while 34 percent considered it ‘’unnecessary.’’
Public opinion in Japan will play a crucial role on Abe’s 2020 vision for constitutional amendments.