Pacifists in Japanese parliament start fistfight over attempt to renew war powers.

Pacifists in Japanese parliament start fistfight over attempt to renew war powers.
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If you're going to fight about something, "not fighting" is a pretty good cause.

Pacifists in Japanese parliament start fistfight over attempt to renew war powers.
If you want to re-arm Japan, you have to fight pacifists first.

Today in the Japanese parliament, a fight broke out between lawmakers when a committee in the Upper House (similar to the Senate) approved legislation that would change Japan's famous security laws, which since World War II have forbidden Japan from sending troops abroad except in cases of direct defense. To become law, it will have to be passed again in the full Upper House. It has already been passed by the Lower House. The vote came as a surprise to the opposition, and you can see party members surround Masahisa Sato, the acting chairman of the Upper House special committee, to protect him before he begins the roll call.

Amending the law has long been a goal of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration, motivated by the rise of China and threat of North Korea, although Japan's population remains mostly against such a move by a large margin. According to a poll done this weekend, 54% of people oppose the legislation, and only 29% actively support it; and a separate poll found 68% of people see no need for it right now. The United States has for a long time quietly supported the idea of amending the law, as America currently remains committed to Japan's defense and has often wished its ally would commit more than money to military actions around the world (with Germany having similar laws, this means the two biggest US allies are both extremely reluctant to lend military support). Of course, staying out of things like Iraq are also prominent arguments on the opposition side. 

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In practice, Japan does send some military personnel abroad (and lots of direct financial aid) in advisory and medical capacities (such as to Afghanistan) or to help with natural disasters, but the security laws have helped keep tensions in East Asia low for the past 70 years. The lack of any possible threat from Japan has, at the very least, made power dynamics simple: there's the United States, and there's China. China has used the memory of Japan's aggression as a tool to focus its citizens' anger, and the Communist superpower still gets paranoid about Japanese ambitions anyway. Reinvigorating the Japanese military could escalate tensions. On the other hand, threats like North Korea and China's ever-growing power make Japanese hawks nervous with good reason, and Japan is the third-largest economy in the world. It's admirable that they have these pacifist laws, but that doesn't mean it's normal for a great power. The vote in the full Upper House that will decide the fate of this bill (and the balance of power) could come as early as tomorrow.

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