Never in recent times has the issue of defense and security been more vigorously discussed in Japan than today. It has been touched off by Washington's strong demand that Japan increase its military budget in face of the Soviet military buildup in the Far East. The debate takes place in a social climate which has grown more and more conservative and provided fertile soil for a massive Russophobic campaign.
Some voices go so far as to advocate revision of the Constitution, which renounces war and prohibits possession of arms as a means of settling international disputes. A number of politicians, business leaders, and academics favor reinstitution of a conscription system and even possession of nuclear weapons.
While Japan's defense budget as a percentage of GNP is admittedly smaller than that of other countries, at least two basic factors are absent from the current debates. One is the function of the US-Japan security treaty. The other is related to nuclear arms.
While the government and the so-called establishment support the permanency of the security treaty, it is to be borne in mind that the pact is the product of a cold war which reached its peak at the time of the Korean war in the '50s. It was designed against the Soviet Union and China, which saw the treaty as a counterweight to their own alliance. The subsequent Sino-Soviet confrontatioin has brought a new function to the treaty.
Today China considers the US military presence in Japan (the biggest US offshore defense structure in the world with 45,000 troops, the Seventh Fleet, and the Fifth Air Force commands) as the "most reliable ally" against the USSR. And its reported support of a stronger Japan military is conditional on Japan remaining in the security pact. It is understandable that China has a strong aversion to an "independent" Japanese military force, when Japan in its 15-year war against China killed an estimated 10 million Chinese.
The security treaty and the Japanese military buildup, however, carry different implications for the Soviet Union. Whatever the hostility to China, it is apparent that the recent Soviet military buildup in the Far East is directed against the US and that Japan is viewed as an "advance base" not against China anymore but against the Soviet Union.
Indeed, the intended defense buildup in Japan, which considers the Soviet Union a potential enemy, clearly serves as an excuse for Moscow's efforts to further strengthen its Far Eastern military potential.
The impact of a militarily stronger Japan on other Asian countries, the victims of past Japanese aggression, cannot be ignored either. While some countries (Singapore, for instance) reportedly favor a Japanese buildup as an effective counterforce against the "potential danger" from China, they are apprehensive about an "independent" Japanese military force. And they look to the US to forestall Japan's "overgrowth" as a military power. The security treaty serves as such a deterrent, as far as these Asian nations are concerned, if it provides a safety valve against Japan's military expansion.
Seen against such a regional background, the crucial point for Japan and the US is the raison d'etre of the treaty for either country. Does Japan need the treaty more than the US? Or vice versa? The answer depends on the position one takes. However, at least at the military level, the US "enjoys" the rights --
While the US is committed to "protect" Japan, it can and does use Japan as its Asian military base against "hostile countries." Without bases in Japan, its position in the Far East would become vulnerable and the Soviet-US power balance seriously disrupted to the detriment of the US. In this respect the US needs the treaty more than Japan does. Further, it is known to be using its Japanese facilities as "relaying bases" for operations outside the treaty area -- in the Indian Ocean and even the Middle East.
At the same time the treaty serves as a deterrent to an "independent" Japanese military policy. The US does not want Japan to be militarily independent any more than China or other Asian countries do. It is to the US interest that Japan remain a "junior" partner, at least in the military field.
In the political arena also, the US can, if it desires, bring pressure to bear on Japan as long as Japan remains dependent militarily. A weaned Japan would be harder to handle.
Where Japan is concerned, there is no immediate alternative to what seems an abnormal arrangement permitting the military presence of an alien power on its soil. Strangely, the question of institutional neutralism -- neutrality as an institution as distinct from a policy -- has never surfaced as a political issue.
This relates to the question of nuclear arms. Here again, Japan has committed itself to a policy which, to say the least, is contradictory. While rejecting production, possession, and storage of nuclear arms -- the three so-called antinuclear principles -- on the one hand, Japan has unequivocally accepted the US nuclear umbrella on the other.
No question about this basic contradiction has been raised in parliamentary or media debates. As long it remains unaddressed, the three antinuclear principles will remain a source of permanent controversy and, indeed, a mockery.