Japanese security officials became convinced theater missile defense was a necessity. In 1988, the government ordered the JMSDF (navy) to build Kongo-class destroyers. These ships would have the U.S. Navy's Aegis air defense system and could eventually serve as anti-ballistic missile platforms. Though, at the time, rank speculators in the U.S. media proposed a U.S.-Japan alliance breakup was imminent (a few speculated on a U.S.-Japan war), Chinese military analysts argued the expensive Kongo destroyer program confirmed Japan's commitment to its American ally. ABM's are defensive systems. However, by sharing advanced communications and sensor systems, the U.S. Navy and the JMSDF could fight as one fleet. If the U.S. were conducting offensive operations, would the JMSDF violate the constitution if it provided the USN with targeting intelligence? Technology blurs distinctions.
So does diplomatic pressure. After divisive debate, Japan's parliament ultimately decided that Japanese soldiers could participate in international peacekeeping operations. Allies demanded that wealthy Japan "do its share." Now Japanese units deploy world wide. Japanese units went to Iraq on a nation-building mission.
Japanese doves claimed the government routinely circumvented constitutional limitations. However, the presence of increasingly lethal and long-range weapons in East Asia meant legitimate self-defense might begin at North Korean ICBM launch pad.
Prime Minister Abe argues that technology and current political threats, such as China's threats to seize the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islets, make the constitutional restrictions suicidal. Abe believes developing offensive capabilities will have a deterrent effect. He wants to amend the constitution, and he has full U.S. support. Abe says the time to do it is now, before China "pulls a Crimea" in the East China Sea.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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