Almost 70 years ago, since the end of the Second World War, Japan once again will see its own fleet at sea. In this case two battleships belonging at the fleet will not be built from scratch, but through the expansion of two helicopter carriers already in service, Izumo and the Kaga. Leaving aside now the technical details of the two aircraft carriers and the offensive performances, as analysts, we are anxious to know, why Japan, historically a peaceful power of the 21st century, has decided to carry out a militarization program.

The realization of the two aircraft carriers for as much as it could be an event that aroused clamour and media relevance, certainly was not a bolt from the blue. Actually, already in 2014, the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (elected in 2012) proposed to modify the Constitution to reduce the military limitations that were imposed in the Japanese constitutional text, heavily influenced by the US occupants, on 1947 merely making it a pacifist-type paper.

Today’s Japanese rearmament, which is news today, is the result of a process that has already been underway for several years, exactly from January 14, 2015, when the Japanese government approved a record amount of 4.980 billion yen (36 billion euros) for the defence in the budget for the 2015 fiscal year. In fact, since 2012, increases in Japanese military spending have been recorded for five consecutive years.

 In these six years of arms revival, Japan has purchased:

• 20 P-1 reconnaissance aircraft,

• 5 V-22 Osprey hybrid aircraft

• 6 F-35 stealth fighters

• 30 amphibious vehicles

• 1 airplane for remote reconnaissance

Why Japan, after decades of demilitarization and

after the military awakening of the early 1900s

is he actually reliving another one?

First of all, need to specify what previously written about the “peaceful” Japanese Constitution wanted by the United States, according to the art.9 of its, Japan cannot have its own army but only “self-defence forces” in such a way as to prevent any offensive action

Indeed, according to the agreements made precisely with the United States during the occupation period, Japan has never needed a real army or a military policy devoted to self-defence, as the United States since the 1960s they undertook to guarantee the defence against attacks against Japan. Every attack on Japanese soil, according to the current treaties, was to be interpreted as a direct attack on US soil. But these agreements had to be seen more than for a guaranty of Tokyo’s survival as a test of strength against the two communist powers of the cold war, the USSR and China, without forgetting that Japan was also caught up in the difficult situation of the two Koreas and in a framework wider than the tumultuous Southeast Asia.

However, several conservative Japanese politicians have seen the decline of US military hegemony in the Pacific with fear and perhaps even a little foresight, and have therefore felt the need to support Prime Minister Abe’s policies aimed at offsetting policies via more aggressive way than China.

Actually, for years now China and Japan have been experiencing moments of tension due to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. These islands make part of an uninhabited and controlled archipelago of Japan, but which China has claimed as its own since the 1970s. From a diplomatic point of view, the question is intertwined with interpretations of international treaties that date back to the end of the 19th century.

The Senkaku archipelago is currently important, both for Japan and for China (both resource-devouring economies – above all Japan forced since its first industrialization to the import of energy resources), since the eight islands are located near potential oil and natural gas fields.

China, in the race for the acquisition, even forced, of the archipelago, has also unilaterally established an air control area that includes the space above the islands, this area was obviously not recognized either by Japan or by the United States.

In April 2012 the dispute between China and Japan rekindles, the Japanese government buys three islands from the eight Senkaku islands from a private Japanese citizen, passing part of the archipelago under the Japanese governmental authority. The acquisition has unnerved Beijing, whose ships have encroached on Senkaku surroundings dozens of times during the summer of 2012.

What currently worries Japan, in addition to the decadence of US hegemony in the Pacific, is to see how much China invests in military spending, so much so that it ranks second in the world, after the United States, for spending on armaments and according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Chinese military spending increased by 180% between 2004 and 2017 – reaching almost 100 billion euros.

ABE and the new conservatism?

After the Second World War period to the first decade of the new millennium, Japanese governments have kept to the informal limit of 1% of GDP for military spending. For example, in 2013 Japan spent less for its military apparatus than Germany.

In 2012, when Abe was elected, he promised to reverse the declining military budget that had been declining for 11 consecutive years. Since 2012, Japanese military spending has been increasing for five consecutive years, and he began to reverse the trend already in 2014 (the purchase of the Senkaku islands was one of the first moves of Prime Minister Abe, which, less than a year later, as already written initially proposed the modification of the Constitution).

Abe’s policy was aimed at independence was never a mystery, so much so that during the course of his first nomination as Prime Minister between 2006 and 2007, he was the promoter of the Japan Defence Agency, a new institute created in Japan after the Second World War.

It is therefore useless to deny that Abe, like other powers, tries to carve out a new role of respect and consideration for Japan in the current Pacific chessboard. It is an area where China is becoming increasingly hegemonic and militarized and the United States is trying without pretension (especially after Trump’s America First) to maintain, perhaps anachronistically and without too much effort, a role of balancing power; as a frame to this complex situation it should be remembered that the threat of the North Korean regime persists, an unknown factor still to be deciphered.

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Filippo Sardella, classe 1988, laureato in Scienze Politiche e Relazioni Internazionali, corsista di "Political Ethics" presso la YALE University , conferenziere e analista politico, specializzato in storia e politica della Russia e dell’Europa Orientale, operatore certificato in "International Humanitarian Law", attualmente si occupa di analisi geopolitiche per l'Istituto Analisi Relazioni Internazionali (IARI)
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