The 'rearming' of Germany, Japan

The Western allies took the lid off the West German Navy this past week. Until now that Navy was limited to eight destroyers of 6,000 metric tons with a top limit of 3,000 tons on other surface ships and 1,800 tons on submarines. From now on the germans will be free to build what they wish to add to their naval forces (or for export).

The old limits were left over from the peace settlement after World War II.Germany is still not allowed to make or possess its own nuclear weapons, and would probably prefer not to have them even if there were no contractual restraint. But times have changed.

The days when the Western allies wanted to keep West German military forces small are long since gone. Now West German willingness or unwillingness to spend funds on arms is the real restraining factor.

The same applies to Japan with one important difference. The Japanese have been even more reluctant than the West Germans to increase their own defense forces. The West Germans have long since provided the largest national contingent of ground forces in NATO's central front order of battle -- a field of army of 12 divisions supported by an air force of 480 combat planes. The total manpower in all three West German armed services stands at 495,000, which can be increased on mobilization to 1,250,000.

Japan, which has nearly double the population of West Germany, has total armed forces of only 241,000 and a Navy very much smaller than the Soviet fleet based in Japan's neighborhood.

Washington has long been urging both Germany and Japan to take over more of the burden of their own defense.The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan last Christmas Eve spurred on those urgings and also reduced the reluctance of both Germany and Japan to comply with what are now the wishes of all of the Western allies. Not just Washington, but London, Paris, and Rome all join in hoping to see more military and naval power under West German and Japanese flags.

The Japanese took what was for them a long step forward in February when they sent two destroyers and eight aircraft to join in joint naval maneuvers with forces from the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. They are giving serious thought to a substantial increase in their military budget that would make possible increases in all brances of their armed forces.

Moscow added to the stimulus from other sources by a recent and rapid increase in Soviet armed forces in the area. Particularly disturbing to the Japanese has been the building of Soviet air bases and runways on three of the Kurile Islands just north of Japan, which the Soviets seized from Japan at the end of World War II.

The presumed purpose of these new Soviet installations is to close off the Sea of Okhotsk and make it a safe and exclusive preserve for Soviet naval forces , which include new Delta-class missile submarines. Total Soviet forces based in the area are listed at 75 submarines and 70 majorl surface vessels. These include one Kiev-class aircraft carrier.

World War II ended 35 years ago in the defeat of Germany and Japan. Nothing tells more graphically than the revival of German and Japanese military power that the world is now in an entirely new phase of history. The former enemies have become essential features in world system of alliances that knit together North America, Western Europe, and the offshore islands of the Far East in a great trading and defense community.

West Germany is the strongest European element both in economic and military power. Japan is the strongest Far East element in the same two categories. The United States is not only asking both of them to increase their military contributions, but also asking for their help in trying to find a way for the entire community through the economic and financial problems of the times.

There are serious problems in working out the continuing relationship among the elecments of this grand coalition of modern industrial democracies. One of the most severe at present is the invasion of the American market by both Japanese and German products. Their respective industries are so modern and efficient and their salesmanship so good that they have become net exporters to the world, while the US has been driven back into a continuing trade deficit and the role of net importer.

Washington is continually asking them for restraint in exports and help in shoring up the dollar against their stronger currencies. The yen and mark are two of the world's strongest and most wanted-currencies.The US dollar is in long supply on world markets, hence its weakness.

The management of these economically vibrant and rearmed allies is bound to present new problems to Washington for which it is poorly prepared.

President Carter, as has been the habit of American presidents over most of the last 35 years, has tended to take stands and assume the allies will support him. He announced a campaign of sanctions against the Soviet Union over Afghanistan and against Iran over the hostages, and expected the allies to follow. They followed by short steps a very short distance. It was more token than substance.

There is almost nothing left today of the campaign against Iran. There is a little left of the campaign against Moscow, but not much more than a partial boycott of the Olympic Games.

One result of attempted but unsuccessful Washington leadership has been the growing inclination of the continental West europeans to act as a unit. France has been talking to West Germany about more European initiative and less subordination to Washington.

It has always been the custom among the members of the coalition of modern democracies to act as though all were equals and enjoyed equal influence in making coalition policies. That courtesy assumption is someday going to be the actuality. It has not been more than a courtesy in past years. It is gradually gaining realism. The declared independence of Japan, West Germany, France, and Britain is daily becoming more of a reality.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.