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Tokyo Letter: ‘Pacifist’ Japan is tooling up for war

🌈 Abstract

The article discusses Japan's recent launch of its upgraded warship, the Kaga, which is now a de facto aircraft carrier capable of hosting American-made F-35 fighter jets. The article explores the historical significance of the Kaga, the changes in Japan's military posture, and the growing chorus of voices pushing Japan to abandon its "pacifist" constitution.

🙋 Q&A

[01] Japan's Upgraded Warship: The Kaga

1. What is the significance of Japan launching the upgraded warship, the Kaga?

  • The Kaga is a repurposed vessel that is now a de facto aircraft carrier, capable of hosting up to a dozen American-built F-35 fighter jets.
  • The original Kaga led the Imperial Japanese Navy fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, drawing the United States into World War II.
  • The launch of the upgraded Kaga is seen as a symbolic move, as it represents Japan's changing military posture and the end of the post-war era.

2. How does the launch of the Kaga relate to Japan's military history?

  • The city of Kure, where the Kaga was launched, was also the site where Japan's naval ambitions ended, with the sinking of the Amagi warship in a US air raid in 1945.
  • The Kaga's sister ship, the Izumo, is also being upgraded to become the first Japanese naval vessel to operate fixed-wing aircraft since the war.

3. What is the significance of Japan's "pacifist" constitution in the context of the Kaga's launch?

  • Japan's "pacifist" constitution, written by occupying US forces after World War II, still nominally bans it from settling disputes by war.
  • However, the launch of the Kaga and the upgrades to the Izumo suggest that Japan is moving away from its post-war pacifist stance.

[02] Japan's Changing Military Posture

1. How is Japan's military posture changing?

  • Japan has committed to doubling its defense budget to 2% of GDP by 2027, putting it ahead of many NATO countries and making it the third-largest defense budget in the world after the US and China.
  • Japan has named China as a hypothetical enemy in the joint command of its Self-Defense Forces and the US military, a first.
  • Japan has also sent military equipment to Ukraine, a nation in conflict, and has eased its principles on defense equipment transfer by selling back American-designed Patriot missiles to the US.

2. What is driving these changes in Japan's military posture?

  • The article cites "a proliferation of existential threats," likely referring to China and Russia, as the driving force behind these changes.
  • The article also mentions that the "post-cold war era is already behind us, and we are now at an inflection point that will define the next stage of human history," suggesting that the changing global landscape is shaping Japan's military strategy.

3. How are these changes in Japan's military posture being perceived?

  • Not everyone welcomes these changes, as they are driving an arms race in Asia that risks spinning out of control.
  • However, there is a growing chorus of voices pushing Japan to abandon its "entirely impractical, utopian pacifism" and adapt to the changing global landscape.
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