The rise of Japan is inevitable, because as the US walks back from its position as the world’s police force, the Japanese will take it upon themselves to go beyond its alliance with the US. There is a common belief that if a country attacked Japan that the US will enter a war to defend Japan. This belief is based upon the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, signed in Washington in 1960. Nowhere in this treaty does it say that the US is obligated to go into direct conflict for the defense of Japan. It says in Article 2 of the treaty that the parties (Japan and the US) “will seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and will encourage economic collaboration between them.” In other words, economic conflict can be eliminated through economic action. It reads in Article 5:
“Each Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes.”
Nowhere does it say here that the US is obligated to go to war to defend Japan. It reads that the parties can act in accordance to the rules of their governments. If the US goes to war, it will have to do so with the permission of Congress. In other words, the US can opt out of defending Japan in a direct war by simply saying that Congress doesn’t approve. Many Americans are tired of the US’s backing of Ukraine. Do you honestly think that the whole of American society is going to desire to go to war for Japan? The US is still exhausted from Iraq. Imagine the squabbling and contention between members of Congress over going to war for Japan. This reality of the treaty was pointed out in a 2020 article written by military sociologist Jun Kitamura and published by the Asahi Shimbun:
“Article 5 states that the United States must comply with the provisions and procedures of the U.S. Constitution when making a “security commitment.” In other words, the specific content of military support activities cannot be determined by the intentions of the US government, including the president, who received advice from the military. Ultimately, it will be decided by Congress. This means that the trend of public opinion in the United States will be the biggest factor in determining the content.”
Kitamura goes on to affirm the reality that most Americans would not care to go to war for Japan: “even if Japan and China had a military conflict over an uninhabited reef floating in the East China Sea, whose name most Americans have never heard of, or a tiny island about a tenth the size of Oahu, few Americans recognize that it affects American national interests.”
To further push the point, the treaty says in Article 10 that either Japan or the US can terminate the treaty:
“However, after the Treaty has been in force for ten years, either Party may give notice to the other Party of its intention to terminate the Treaty, in which case the Treaty shall terminate one year after such notice has been given.”
Its been more than ten years since this treaty was signed; this means that one day you could see the US, or Japan, declare to the world that the treaty is no longer binding. If China and Japan go to war, the more likely scenario is the US providing Japan with aid, weapons, munitions, intelligence, and (maybe) some reinforcements, not a direct military intervention. In the words of Kitamura: “the United States will probably provide ‘non-combat military support activities’ to Japan within a range that does not lead to a war between the United States and China.”
In other words, the US will probably not do anything beyond sending weapons and ammunition, providing intelligence and logistics.
This is why the Japanese are no longer fully relying on the Americans for security. Researcher Euan Graham recently stated about the Japanese: “They can’t rely on the US entirely, both for political reasons and in simple scale terms,” and explained that this is why Japan has been deepening its ties with other countries in the West, like France, Germany and Canada.
But just because Japan lacks reliance on the US does not mean that it trusts that other countries will come to its aid in the case of a war with China. In the words of professor Kyoko Hatakeyama: “In the event of a contingency around Taiwan or the Senkaku, I don’t think they [the Japanese] are expecting the UK or France to come to the Indo-Pacific”. If Japan does not have full trust in the United States, then it does not have full trust in other NATO countries as well. The United States is the most powerful country on earth. A lack of trust in the US is a lack of trust in everyone. Japan has security ties with Australia (the two countries had a defense agreement in 2022), but this is not to the extent of Australia going into direct conflict to defend Japan. “The whole point about alliances is that they are definitive,” said Euan Graham. “It’s a black and white commitment — we will be there for you. I don’t think the Australians are going to offer that.”
Professor Amy King spoke of Japan not fully trusting the US thusly: “It doesn’t want to put all its eggs in the US basket any longer.” Notice the words used, “any longer.” What this means is that there is a turning point taking place between Japan and the US: since the end of the Second World War Japan has had to rely on the US for defense. Today, this sense of reliance is not expressed solidly. This show of distrust supposedly comes from the fear that a future US president could be like Trump, questioning the American Japanese alliance. Trump exhibited this mistrust in 2019 when he said:
“If Japan is attacked, we will fight World War III. We will go in and protect them with our lives and with our treasure … We will fight at all costs, right? But if we are attacked, Japan doesn’t have to help us at all. They can watch on a Sony television the attack. So, there’s a little difference, OK?”
They say that Japan fears another Trump being elected and sowing seeds of doubt in the pact with Japan for its defense. It’s also possible that the Japanese are simply pointing to Trump as a way to give grounds for its own military buildup and the breaking of the fetters placed upon the limbs of the country at the end of the Second World War.
In the midst of the dissipation of the world order in regards to Japan, there is the war in Ukraine, the territorial dispute between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands, and the potential invasion of Taiwan by China. In the midst of such unease, in the storm of steal and blood occurring in Ukraine, in the wave of fear of war breaking out in East Asia, there is a strained relation between Japan and the US.
The end of such a problem will be a Japan cut loose from American fetters, free to work its own war policy. A sign of this was seen when the Japanese refused to work with the Americans to create their future new fighter jet, the Mitsubishi F-X, and instead chose to collaborate with the UK in the project.
This is a turning point away from the usual Japanese submission to the US to collaborate in the creation of military technology. When the Japanese began the creation of its F-2 fighter jet in the 1980s, they intended for it to be indigenously built. As the project was being done in the mid-1980s, US officials began arguing that to allow Japan to independently build its own aircraft would weaken the US-Japan defense relationship.
In early 1987, American statesman Caspar Weinberger and other US officials began pressuring Japan to work with American industry to make the fighter jet. The Japanese acquiesced and both the Reagan administration and the Nakasone government announced the joint project in October 1987. Compare that to these recent years, when in 2019 the Trump administration pressured Japan to work with the Americans in the creation of its F-X, and to no avail because the Japanese decided to work with the UK instead. Such a move shows a difference — a turning point — in that Japan did not give in to American demands.
This was a show of defiance, and the turning of a page in the story of the American empire pulling back. And this is all happening at a time of thick strife in the political atmosphere of the world.
A Nuclear Armed Japan
A lot of people will talk about North Korea attacking Japan and the two going to war, but such a narrative has been rejected. For example, Mike Mochizuki, an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, recently stated: “North Korea is not going to attack out of the blue”. He did say, however, that China could attack Japanese territory: “The threat is […] a military conflict over the Taiwan Strait and because of Japan’s geographic proximity, because of the US-Japan alliance, and because US military assets in Japan are seen as critical for any kind of viable US military intervention in the Taiwan crisis — because of that, if there is any kind of Taiwan conflict, there is a high probability that China would attack Japanese territory.”
Japan has made it clear that a threat to Taiwan is held as a threat to Japan. Hence Shinzo Abe said: “What’s happening in Taiwan is what’s happening in Japan.” The Japanese would see a Chinese attack on Taiwan as an existential threat. Such a sentiment was reflected by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso: “If a major incident happened (over Taiwan), it’s safe to say it would be related to a situation threatening the survival (of Japan). If that is the case, Japan and the U.S. must defend Taiwan together”. So it is clear that Japan sees China as its biggest threat. In this case, it is unreasonable to sow doubt in the idea of a rising Japan. It is happening before our eyes. The biggest marker of this turning point was the recent change to Japan’s security document, entitled ”National Security Strategy”, that was passed in December of 2022. Takashi Nojima recently wrote in regards to this major change: “The content of the document also stated for the first time that it will have a ‘counterattack capability’ against the enemy, which is a goal that Japan has never recognized in the past.”
Read his words carefully: Japan is doing something that it has never done in its post World War Two existence, and that is to embrace the capability to strike China. Take this reality and add to it the fact that Japan is not fully trusting in the US, and you can expect a future flame of frenzy to overtake east Asia. Remember what was said by the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate in 2008:
“In the cases of Germany and Japan, both countries can easily obtain nuclear weapons but have chosen not to because of their integration beneath a NATO (Germany) or an American (Japan) security umbrella. Today, all of these countries have the technical capacity to obtain nuclear weapons in a matter of months or a few short years. … If these countries ever begin to question the reliability of this security umbrella, they would almost certainly reassess past nuclear weapons decisions.”
The lack of trust in the US’s security umbrella, added to the rising flame of hatred between Japan and China, spells a future nuclear armed Japan. It would not be shocking to see one day Japan using nuclear warheads on China. Prime Minister Kishida stated in a press conference: “the current national security environment in Japan is the most dangerous in history”. The Japanese feel as though they are in a corner, and a cat is most dangerous when it is cornered. Japan’s transition into militarism has been being witnessed for the last past decade, and it continues on, intensifying like a flame feeding on the kindling. This is seen in Japan’s plans to place its military on islands near Taiwan. As Takashi Nojima has stated: “In the future, Japan will also strengthen its garrisons on islands adjacent to Taiwan and China, such as Yonaguni Island and Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture, which are known as the ‘Nanxi Islands’.”
Do not be surprised by a future nuclear armed Japan.