On September 4, The Sankei Shimbun newspaper’s Seiron (“Just Arguments”) column featured an article by Nobukatsu Kanehara, titled, “Bring Back Pensions for Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) Members Protecting Our Country.”
If a crisis occurred in Taiwan, Japan would be targeted by missiles and cyberattacks to destroy the JSDF, important infrastructure, and political and economic centers.
Unfortunately, the Japanese-American alliance is not powerful enough to easily defeat the Chinese armed forces after they have begun mobilizing. The Chinese military is the strongest in the region today. If war broke out, China would be able to completely crush Taiwan and Japan – countries on the front lines – even if a final victory was difficult.
Japan has three choices when it comes to a Taiwan crisis: 1) Allowing the American military to carry out direct military operations from its bases in Japan, 2) Providing logistical support to the American military to handle this crisis, or 3) Exercising the right to collective defense to take part in the war. No matter which option Japan chooses, it must have good counteroffensive abilities to discourage China from directly attacking the Japanese mainland.
In the event of a crisis, the United States Armed Forces and JSDF would have to work together to stop China. Only militaries can put a stop to current military actions. And only the JSDF could help prevent a Taiwan crisis or protect Japan and its people in the event of an actual emergency.
The JSDF is affected by Japan’s decreasing birthrate and aging population. On July 12, 2023, the Report by the Expert Investigation Commission for Enhancing Personnel Foundations in the Ministry of Defense and JSDF was submitted to Minister of Defense Yasukazu Hamada. In the first half of the 1970s, there were two million babies born in Japan each year. This number has decreased dramatically to 770,000 babies in 2022. The JSDF is directly affected by this trend, and no one will want to work for the JSDF unless they can feel pride in defending their country, and unless they are given treatment of a suitable level. The report passionately states that JSDF officials must have better compensation in categories such as wages, living and work environments, parenting and caregiving support, privileges, special treatment, and reemployment.
Still, it is not clear whether this would be enough. Many Japanese citizens have forgotten what it means to fight during the postwar era’s long years of peace. However, there are people observing the Russian military and guarding Japan in the cold and snow at its northernmost point of Wakkanai. On Yonaguni and the Sakishima Islands – the southernmost part of Japan – guards are keeping an eye on nearby Taiwan. They are dedicated to their tasks and resigned to the possibility of an honorable death if the Chinese military landed on the islands to invade them.
Many JSDF members would be killed or injured if a Taiwan crisis became a reality. Officials in their 20s and 30s would lose eyes or limbs. The flesh of their faces would be burned. After being discharged from the JSDF, they would still have families and lives to lead. How does Japan intend to take care of these people after they leave the forces? Would they be respected and loved? Could they feel comfortable and happy?
The reality is quite harsh. With the current system, the government does not take care of injured, discharged JSDF members until they receive their national pension. With the government’s way of thinking, if a father is injured in the JSDF, he and his wife must make their children give up on their hopes of going to school, and the wife must work part time to support the family.
The true meaning of civilian control is that, when an emergency occurs, diplomatically elected leaders are the ones who strategically control the military (within the limits of democratic government) and unify the people with a comprehensive view of diplomacy, financial affairs, and domestic affairs. This requires a healthy relationship between the government and military. Political leaders must earn trust from civilians and from the soldiers whom they dispatch to battlefields.
Unless something changes, injured JSDF officials will likely feel that they are being used and thrown away by the citizens they were defending. This may corrode the relationship between the JSDF and government, which has finally been developed over the 75 years since the end of World War II.
It is odd that JSDF members, who put themselves in great danger to defend the nation, are not regarded as public employees. When an official is discharged, they should continue receiving their current salary for the rest of their lives.
That is what normal countries do. The Fumio Kishida administration indicated a guideline to increase total defense spending to 43 trillion yen within the next five years. But if Japan is increasing its defense budget, I think the first task should be reviving the pension system for JSDF officials. This does not mean that the government buys their lives with money – it is a way of allowing the officials who risk their lives to feel a sense of pride.
I agree with Kanehara. It only makes sense for an independent nation to defend itself, and it is true that JSDF members are the only ones who can fulfill that role.
Sixty-three years have passed since the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States of America (Japan-U.S. Security Treaty) was concluded. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a Q&A section on its website that clearly states, “‘The U.S. is obligated to defend Japan, and Japan is obligated to provide facilities and zones to the U.S. for that purpose.’ This is the most important part of the Japan-U.S. security arrangements.” As this demonstrates, many Japanese people assume the U.S. would help us during emergencies according to the treaty. Many surely imagine that the JSDF functions like a shield according to the exclusively defense-oriented policy, and that the American military is the spear that will attack enemies on our behalf. However, this assumption is based on Article 5 of the treaty, which declares that Japan and the U.S. will “act to meet the common danger.” This is not limited to direct military action. Furthermore, the American government cannot act on its own; it requires congressional approval, so Japan cannot depend on the American military for immediate assistance. According to the treaty, America’s duties are entirely different from what many Japanese people assume.
Deterrence requires military strength on a level that makes enemies aware of the damage they would suffer if they opened hostilities. Frequent claims are made that a stronger military force would not provide deterrence. For instance, Katsuhiko Iimuro wrote an article on the News for the People in Japan website, titled, “The Fantasy of Deterrence.” It was published on May 14, 2022, and reads:
However, the Ukraine invasion demonstrates that miliary expansion does not deter war. NATO’s expansion did not discourage Russia from attacking, but rather inflamed Russia’s anger. It is a fantasy to believe that enhanced military power will increase deterrence. If we chase this fantasy by augmenting the JSDF to cope with China and North Korea, we will end up in an arms race.
However, many scholars point out that Russia is merely using NATO’s expansion as a pretext for invasion. They say that Putin actually wants to revive Greater Russia, and that he thought he could easily occupy Ukraine. But if Putin had known how challenging this would be, I doubt he would have actually invaded Ukraine. In other words, powerful military strength deters war.
It is thought that additional military strength from allies provides even better deterrence. The right to collective defense, premised on these alliances, is recognized by international law in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. However, alliances must be mutual agreements in which countries help each other when they are attacked. I think the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is a warped alliance because it specifies that the U.S. will help us, but it assumes Japan will never do the same for the U.S.
The Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902 was formed based on a common goal between the United Kingdom and Japan. They hoped to oppose Russia, which was moving south from Manchuria to the Korean Peninsula with the aim of obtaining ice-free ports. The agreement states that, if the UK or Japan was involved in a battle in China or on the Korean Peninsula due to the aggressive actions of one other country, the other party would remain neutral. If the UK or Japan was fighting with two or more countries, the other party was obligated to participate. The Russo-Japanese War broke out in 1904, two years after the treaty was signed. The UK abided by the alliance and maintained military neutrality while helping Japan achieve victory in other ways. This included issuing foreign bonds to raise money for the war, as well as efforts by Korekiyo Takahashi and others in London. The alliance also made France abandon its plan to take part in the war; France had an alliance with Russia, and feared that France’s involvement would fall under the terms of the alliance and result in the UK joining the conflict.
I think the biggest results of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance were seen in the Combined Fleet victory at the Battle of Tsushima. Russia’s Baltic Fleet was formed of vessels in the Baltic Sea to provide reinforcements to the Pacific Fleet, based in Port Arthur and Vladivostok. The Baltic Fleet was dispatched to Japan. The voyage would have been much shorter if the fleet had been able to travel from the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal. However, the canal was in British territory. Russia also knew that its large ships – the main part of the armada – could not pass through the canal for draft-related reasons. Russia sent only its small vessels on the canal route, while the main ships had to go around the Cape of Good Hope at the southernmost tip of Africa. This long voyage took more than six months, and the Baltic Fleet was utterly exhausted when it arrived in the Sea of Japan. Ships at that time used coal for fuel. The UK controlled the market for high-quality, smokeless coal, and it obstructed the supply to the Baltic Fleet. The fleet was slowed down by its inability to obtain enough smokeless coal, and Japanese ships were able to easily detect their black smoke. The UK also prohibited the Baltic Fleet from stopping at its colonial ports to make sure they could not acquire sufficient coal. Thanks to this assistance from the UK, the Japanese Combined Fleet won an unprecedented naval victory at the Battle of Tsushima in May 1905. Japan successfully avoided the risk of Russia taking over the Korean Peninsula, which would have threatened Japan’s safety.
The Anglo-Japanese Alliance lasted for 21 years – it was revised and renewed twice before being terminated in 1923. When World War I began in 1914, Japan fought with the Allies according to this alliance. Japan attacked the German fort during the Siege of Tsingtao. It also occupied German islands in the North Pacific and sent its fleet to the Mediterranean to assist Allied ships. The UK never dispatched its military to aid Japan, but it helped in other ways. I believe the Anglo-Japanese Alliance was a mutual relationship that shows how a true alliance should function.
Alliances must apply to both parties. To protect itself, a country should first fight on its own. If there is something it is incapable of, only then should its allies provide assistance. Fundamentally, a nation must be willing to fight. Although Ukraine is receiving extensive support for its fight against Russia, the country is being defended due to the people’s fierce resistance to Russia. That is why Ukraine has not yielded to the abrupt invasion, and why it was able to halt Russia’s initial advance into Kyiv. The same thing applies to Japan. Many people, mostly JSDF officials, would certainly lose their lives if a crisis occurred. As Kanehara says, that is exactly why we must compensate JSDF members for the rest of their lives. To avoid tragedy, Japan must have better deterrence to discourage other countries from attacking. To that end, Japan should build a close relationship of mutual aid with the U.S., like the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of the past.
September 19 (Tuesday), 5:00 p.m.