After fighting and defeating Japan in World War Two, the United States occupied the country and imposed a constitution forbidding it ever to go to war again. Article nine of Japan's constitution states "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes."
With this prohibition, Japan has remained a pacifist country for over 60 years. According to Thomas Berger, associate professor of International Relations at Boston University, most Japanese citizens appear largely content with this military limitation.
Mr. Berger says, "there is still a certain degree of reservation about defense. The Japanese are not about to become the British of the Far East. There is a lingering discomfort having to do with Japan's historical experiences of the use of military force as an instrument of pursuing foreign policy goals. The Japanese don't trust their own armed forces and are not convinced to the same extent we are that the military is a useful means of pursuing international interests."
However, many analysts believe opinion may be changing in Japan. More people seem willing to challenge the pacifist stance and seek to play a bigger role in the world arena. Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation says nationalism is reviving in Japan in response to some of its neighbors' activities.
"Clearly, what is fueling this kind of new nationalism and to some degree a new comfort with military development is they see North Korea misbehaving," says Mr. Clemons. "They see uncertainty about North Korea's nuclear program, and they see China spending a huge amount of money each year on rebuilding its own military capacity. One of the things that China is doing which is very important is that in the next decade and a half, it is going to rebuild its entire navy and turn it into a deep water navy as opposed to a shallow water navy that can go anywhere in the world."
Mr. Clemons says Japan feels the pressure from its neighbors and is keeping a close eye on them. Amending article nine of the constitution is now high on Japan's political agenda.
Mr. Berger also emphasizes Japanese uneasiness with North Korea.
"The Japanese feel in a way that they haven't since World War Two," says Mr. Berger. "They feel threatened, and the main source of that threat is from North Korea. North Korea within the space of the last decade has done a lot of things which the Japanese find highly provocative: firing missiles over Japan, the revelation of the discovery of North Korean spy ships that come to Japan, the revelation that North Korean agents have kidnapped Japanese citizens. All of these things are bringing home to the Japanese public in a way that wasn't true of the past that the international environment remains a dangerous place that Japan needs to do something about."
After the 1946 constitution was established, Japan needed to rely on the United States for its ultimate security. Now both countries are having second thoughts. The United States is pressuring Japan to get more involved in international affairs. Like Japan, it worries about China's growing ambitions and armaments. China's on-and-off again threats against Taiwan are another cause for concern.
For these reasons, says Mr. Clemons, the United States is doing considerable nudging.
Mr. Clemons says, "America is trying to help Japan mature as a nation and trying to help Japan understand that to pursue things like a seat on the United Nations Security Counsel. Japan needs to get beyond its old anachronistic pacifism that is not realistic in a complex and messy world. It wants to help Japan move forward. So we have been trying to help Japan take more internationally prominent positions."
For a country that does not fight, Japan has the world's fourth largest defense budget--after the United States, China and France. Much of this is due to new powerful high-tech weaponry that may intimidate without being used.
Similarly, since the early 1990's, Japan has sent troops on eight UN-led peace-keeping missions where they have not fired a shot. The 600 Japanese troops currently in Iraq are supposed to be involved in a non-combat role, says Mr. Clemens, and that reflects Japanese forces elsewhere in the world.
Mr. Clemons says, "Japan has a small contingent of self defense forces stationed in doing various things related to rebuilding civil infrastructure in Iraq. They deployed mine sweepers; they are taking more responsibility for naval air intelligence, watching the Taiwan Strait and around the shipping lanes in Asia. What is important is Japan's military capacity. Its ships, its airplanes, its intelligence capacity and its spy satellites. It has deployed five spy satellites in the last several years. All of this military capacity is designed to work in partnership with the United States, its primary ally."
Still, the Japanese troops in Iraq are close to guerrilla warfare and could get involved. If so, that would be the first such encounter since World War Two--and quite probably not the last. For better or worse, Japan would reenter military combat.