In 2015, it is the 50th Anniversary of Normalization of Japan-South Korea Ties. This year, several high-level talks have been held and the two countries accomplished substantial agreements on long-running controversies. Still, however, they show different views on the salient issues. Recently, the issues regarding Japan Self-Defense Forces have come to the surface as a problem awaiting a solution. It is not only rapidly receiving attention in Japan and South Korea but also it is sweeping across the entire international community.
As of last September, Japan has become a militarily normal state. It has become able to wage war against other countries with its own military force. Since Japan was defeated in World War II, its military use has been limited by the Pacifist Constitution to defend itself only when it is attacked directly by other countries—the right of individual self-defense.
Recently, however, Japan has reclaimed the right of collective self-defense, so the range of its military use has been expanded to defending allies’ military from attacks, regarding them as attacks on itself. In fact, this accomplishment has been accelerated ever since the secondary cabinet of Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan came into power in the late 2012.
Steps to be Normal
In July 2014, Abe and his cabinet began their full-blown endeavors with the amendment of the interpretation of the constitution relevant to the right of collective self-defense. They kept the present constitution itself intact, but implicitly allowed to broaden its range of the right of self-defense from individual to collective. This arbitrary decision has been institutionalized by two large steps.
The first step Japan took was to revise the guidelines for United States (U.S.)-Japan defense cooperation, the so-called U.S.-Japan guideline. Emphasis was placed most on the enhancement of the alliance between the U.S. and Japan—global alliance—and the specific role division of the U.S. military and Japanese self-defense forces. That is, Japan allowed itself to exercise military force more globally than before, collaborating with the U.S. military.
The next step was aimed at the passage of the national security policy which includes 11 revised pieces of legislation regarding Japan’s military security. According to professor Jo Yanghyeon (Department of Asian and Pacific Studies & Center for Japanese Studies, Korea National Diplomatic Academy) most relevant pieces of legislation advocates the admission of exercising the right of collective self-defense, which had been prohibited until then. “For example, one of the revised laws states that the self-defense forces will be able to engage in combat overseas to protect allies, but only when all peaceful options are exhausted and not intervening would threaten the lives and survival of the Japanese nation,” the professor explained.
▲ The profile of Professor Jo Yanghyeon. Provided by Jo Yanghyeon.
Changes in International Community
The expansion of Japan Self-Defense Forces resulted in the global partnership between U.S. and Japan, and it was a matter of course for the U.S. to welcome such a situation. “In fact, since 2010, as a competitive landscape between US and China became visualized and a confrontation between China and Japan got intensified, U.S. and Japan both have felt the need to stand against China by strengthening mutual security solidarity,” he said.
“In the same context, the specific interests of the two countries were coincident with each other; Asia-Pacific Rebalance Policy in the U.S. and Abe’s Active Pacifism,” he continued. That is, the U.S. was striving to hold supremacy among Asia-Pacific regions under the shortage of national defense budget and financial crisis. Thus, it was a part of such efforts to enhance the alliance with Japan which expands its security role, which will contribute to the stabilization of Asia-Pacific regions. “At the same time, for Japan, while continuing to convert itself to a normal state, alliance with the U.S. means a lot both ideologically and institutionally,” he added.
Meanwhile, for South Korea, such actions by Japan could be interpreted to have double implications. On one hand, a change in Japan’s security policy can contribute to improving regional security by expanding its constructive role of protecting regions from foreign attacks. “Especially, for South Korea, where North Korea’s nuclear provocation and missile launches continue, Japan’s operation capabilities such as mine clearance and antisubmarine patrol ability can provide us with substantial support in case of an emergency,” he explained. He also added that Japan can function to contain toward China which is rapidly expanding its influence in the international community.
On the other hand, he pointed out that it is still undeniable that South Korea has deep-rooted distrust toward Japan’s current expansion of its security role— possibility of Japan’s intervention on issues plaguing the Korean peninsula. Although Japan proclaims that there will be no exercise of the right of collective self-defense without excuse, the absence of evident agreement regarding security roles between South Korea and Japan is making the situation more ambiguous. In addition, considering Japan has currently showed a vague attitude toward South Korea’s requirement that Japan enter North Korea only with South Korea’s approval, it is hard to just settle for Japan’s defense.
The Way to Security Cooperation
“Since Japan and South Korea agreed upon the necessity of control over emergencies in the Korean Peninsula because of the North’s military threat, the two countries have been gradually developing their cooperation,” he said. However, still there are many controversies over the very issue. Therefore, how to cope with the North’s military threat and what road to take regarding foreign and security policies toward U.S., China, and Japan are the essential tasks for South Korea to solve.
Meanwhile, according to the professor, there are several factors for South Korea to consider while prosecuting cooperation with other countries. South Korea needs to distinguish the function of the Korea-Japan and the U.S.- Japan partnerships—to control North Korea versus to contain China. “If two distinctive relationships are combined into South Korea-U.S.-Japan partnership, controlling policy toward North Korea might be extended toward China. Then, it can lead to the impairment of South Korea-China friendly relations and to begin a New Cold War,” he explained. Moreover, South Korea needs to keep in mind that a close cooperation with Japan toward North Korea might negatively influence the peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula.
“Therefore, in this situation, South Korea’s most realistic security choice should be the enhancement of the South Korea-U.S. alliance,” he said. That is, South Korea should develop the partnership with Japan and China in parallel, based on a solid alliance with the U.S. He continued that it would be the only way to raise mutual transparency and trust, and also the most promising way for South Korea to maximize its influence within the triangular structure of U.S.- China-Japan.
▲ Within the triangular structure of U.S-China-Japan, where should South Korea go? Provided by www.81.net.