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Germany, Japan Upgrade Their Military Posture

Many analysts say Berlin and Tokyo have taken steps that represent a major departure from the post-Second World War settlement, which confined German and Japanese military forces to a defensive role. Some experts see this as a significant move away from pacifism by the two countries.

After a far reaching review, Germany's government late last year adopted a policy that changed the purpose of the German military from a mainly defensive role to a force for international conflict prevention and peacekeeping.

Most foreign policy experts contend that Berlin's new strategy shows that traditional concepts of territorial defense are losing favor in Germany - - a trend that has been evolving since the mid-1990s.

A Turning Point for Germany

Stephen Szabo is a political analyst at The German Marshall Fund of the United States, here in Washington. "The crucial date is probably 1994, when the Constitutional Court in Germany ruled that the German armed forces could, in fact, deploy outside of both Germany and NATO territory and get involved in these kinds of missions. And probably [during] the Kosovo War [in 1998] when you had a [coalition] Social Democratic-Green government [in Germany], which had been very reluctant to take on these kinds of missions, actually commit German forces to combat for humanitarian purposes and also in a country Germany had occupied during World War Two," says Szabo.

Kelly Longhurst, a European security expert at the University of Birmingham in Britain, says NATO partners have also prodded Germany into taking a more active foreign military role. "One of the factors that influenced a change in German defense policy is the expectations of its allies that after the Cold War, Germany should assume a stronger role in keeping European and global security -- that it is a wealthy state and that it should shoulder its burden of responsibility," says Longhurst. "Also, the changed nature of security in Europe appealed to German thinking about humanitarian rescue missions and ending civil wars. It just fitted in with what German thinking about security became after the end of the Cold War."

Longhurst says Germany rearmed and rebuilt its economy in the context of international institutions and European integration and has achieved a great degree of respect within the international community.

Japan's Evolving Military Role

Japan, recently, has also assumed a more robust military posture. During the 60th anniversary of Japan's post-war constitution in April, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged changing the constitution, which renounces the use of force in disputes, to allow a more active national defense policy.

Many experts say Mr. Abe, the first Japanese prime minister born after World War II, is following in the footsteps of his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi who was the first to use military force outside of Japan's borders. In 2001, the Japanese Navy sank a suspected North Korean spy ship in the East China Sea. Mr. Koizumi also sent troops to support the American-led campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq -- the first Japanese troop deployment abroad since World War II.

Since the war, America's military presence in Japan has largely been to ensure the country's security. But as Japan's economy grows, the U.S. and some Asian nations are prompting Tokyo to accept more of the burden for maintaining stability in the region and globally.

Bruce Klingner, a foreign policy expert at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, says that as Japan takes on more security responsibilities, it will remain a major U.S. partner in Asia. "The U.S. sees Japan as a critical ally in the region for maintaining peace and stability and confronting not only the North Korean nuclear and missile threat, but also the rise of China and the concerns of what Beijing's intentions are. And recently, Japan identified China's rise as a defense concern for it. So the U.S. sees Japan as a key ally in furthering its own objectives in Asia."

Klingner says there is a growing consensus in Japan over the need to alter the nation's defense policy. "There has been a sense that sufficient time has passed since the end of World War II and that the self imposed restrictions, the regional restrictions, its [i.e., Japan's] status and role in the region have become outdated, and [that] it's time for Japan to move on and have the same rights and responsibilities as other nations."

International Reaction

But some experts note that Japan's rearmament is disquieting to some of its neighbors. China, and North and South Korea, which suffered harsh Japanese occupation during World War II, say they want more emphatic apologies before mending fences with Tokyo.

Political analyst Michael Green of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies says Japan has been slower in achieving reconciliation with some of its neighbors than Germany.

"One, Germany went through a de-nazification process and basically outlawed any reference to the propaganda about Nazism. In Japan's case, there was no Nazism per se. Second, Germany reconciled with a democratic Europe in the most part. It's not like you have common democratic values across Asia that makes it smooth, as it seems to have been in Europe. Finally, from a Japanese perspective, one big difference is: we dropped nuclear weapons on Japan. The view in Japan is that Japan has already paid its price," says Green.

Other analysts, Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations among them, point out that World War II continues to be an important factor in German political discussions about the use of force.

"There is a debate going in Germany today about whether German troops should be in Afghanistan in the numbers that they are and whether they should be engaging in a more high profile mission. The issue is intimately connected to the German past. It's not just a part of the German psyche. Germany's neighbors don't let Germany forget about the war. It was only a short while ago that the French and the British opposed the unification of West Germany and East Germany because they thought it would upset the balance of power in Europe," says Kupchan.

Still, many experts acknowledge that both Germany and Japan are well on their way to developing military policies in keeping with their economic and political weight on the world stage.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program, VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.