Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calls for “strong diplomacy” to deal with North Korean aggression following North Korea’s firing of two missiles over the Japanese island of Hokkaido and a sweeping election win.

  • Retention of two-thirds majority in parliament paves the way for Mr Abe to amend Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution.
  • Low turnout and vague promises leads to fears of lack of a mandate for previously embattled Japanese leader.
  • North Korea’s nuclear threat is now at a ‘critical and imminent level’, says Japan. Is war coming?

Fueling the fears of those who predict further escalations in the diplomatic crises enveloping the Korean peninsula, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised a cheering crowd “counter-measures” against North Korea, after winning a victory in Sunday’s election that maintained a two-thirds majority in the Japanese Diet parliament.

Mr Abe described his coalition’s election win (Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party combining with the Buddhist-linked Komeito) as a “vote of confidence” from the Japanese public, adding that he believes they would now expect his government to “dramatically show counter-measures against the North Korea threat”.

A long held proponent of altering Japan’s pacifist constitution, it is now widely expected that the hawkish Prime Minister Abe will now push to controversially amend Article 9 of Japan’s postwar constitution that outlaws war as a means to settle international disputes involving the state.

The Road to Japanese Re-militarization

Something of a political survivor, Shinzo Abe’s election victory came as as pleasant surprise  after a year of sliding popularity among the Japanese public following a series of scandals alleging political favoritism and corruption, using his position of power to help a personal friend win approval for a private veterinary school according to allegations despite Mr Abe’s denial of any wrongdoing.

However his approval ratings enjoyed a sudden recovery after North Korea fired two missiles over the Japanese island of Hokkaido, propelling the controversial Prime Minister into a fifth successive election victory.

First coming to power in 2012 with dramatic promises to lift the economy out of years of stagnation that came to be known as ‘Abenomics’.

Since the firing of a North Korean missile over Japan described as “the first step” of North Korea’s military operations in the Pacific, Abe has masterfully taken advantage of the deteriorating situation in Korea to shift attention away from scandals and on to national security.

Of course, Abe and his Liberal Democrats had a little help. A typhoon struck in the week of the election keeping voters away, and experts point as much to the fractious and disorganized opposition parties as causes for the victory rather than strength within the LDP and its allies.

Hwasong-12 tests of 28 August and 15 September. They were portrayed as a deliberate threat to Japan, and the authorities heightened the hysteria by sending emergency alerts through cellphones and over loudspeakers.

Constitutional Pacifism and Re-Militarization: Article 9

Having won 313 of the 465 seats in the lower house of Japan’s parliamentary Diet, Abe and company have the power to table a revision to the constitution and fulfill the Prime Minister’s long-held ambition to bring Japan back to re-militarization.

In particular, Mr Abe has previously discussed his desire to revise a clause which renounces war and is known as Article 9, to formally recognise Japan’s military and unleash the military, currently limited and known as the “self-defence forces”.

It was just two years ago that the Prime Minister successfully pushed for a re-interpretation of the postwar constitution to allow troops to fight overseas under certain circumstances, for example humanitarian or peace-keeping roles similar to United Nations forces, but its clear that plans to reform and redefine Japanese military might do stop there.

He had previously set a deadline of 2020 to achieve a controversial aim that has triggered protest and widespread debate within Japan. However on Monday he appeared to abandon this deadline by conceding that it was “not set in a concrete schedule”.

Japan on the Path to War?

With the current state of geopolitics the way it is and fresh pressures in Asia contributing to uncertainty and instability in the Middle East, Europe and the Americas, it’s to be expected that countries like Japan feel the need to contribute more to help to keep the status quo and adopt a more normal and workable attitude to national security than postwar pacifism.

Genuine fears about aggressive Japanese militarism are few, with the exception of longtime rivals China perhaps, and many inside and outside Japan see the matter as letting go of an outdated and unfit-for-purpose constitutional amendment signed in the choas and destruction of the last days of World War 2.

What this means for North Korea in concrete terms is unclear, for now.

Tough talk about North Korea plays well with the Japanese public but Tokyo has no current diplomatic or economic relations with North Korea, alongside poor relations with North Korean ally China, so the most Mr Abe can do for now is to shore up Japan’s defenses and stick closely to close ally US in putting pressure on the Korean peninsula.

All eyes will be on the coming meeting between Shinzo Abe and US President Donald Trump, who is visiting Japan next month, with the two speaking by telephone after the Japanese premier’s ruling coalition scored it’s big win on Sunday.

Abe and Trump are reportedly planning to play golf together on November 5th, when Trump makes his first visit to Japan as leader of the United States.

 

Photo credit: Flickr