Allow Japan the Right to Deploy Troops


Washington has good reason to be grateful to Japan for its sustained support of U.S. foreign policy in recent years, and especially for its current efforts to help establish stability in Iraq.

Last December, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told U.S. envoy James A. Baker that Japan would forgive $5 billion of Iraq’s $7.76-billion debt to Tokyo to help buttress Iraq’s shaky reconstruction. At the same time, Koizumi also promised to send noncombat troops to Iraq. The first contingent arrived last week.

Providing such assistance was not easy for Koizumi. Most people in Japan opposed sending troops abroad, believing that such a deployment violated the “pacifist” constitutional limitation imposed on Japan by Washington during the postwar U.S. occupation.


The controversial Article 9 of the so-called “peace constitution” prohibits Japan from having a conventional army, navy or air force with the authority to deploy troops beyond its borders. That’s why Japan’s three armed branches are euphemistically called the Self-Defense Forces.

The issue remains deeply divisive in Japan, where the controversy between “realists” and the vociferous “peace” factions keeps flaring up in parliament and in the streets. The bitter memory of Hiroshima feeds anti-military sentiment.

But it’s time to end the controversy. Article 9 should have been removed in 1952 when Japan regained its sovereignty. Instead, it remains in place, a serious infringement on Japan’s sovereignty and a violation of accepted international law. The United Nations charter affirms the sovereign equality of all member states and their right of self-defense by military means.

In recent years, Japan has slowly begun to challenge the restraints of Article 9. With tacit Washington support, Japan has been building up its Self-Defense Forces to ease the U.S. security burden in the East Pacific. Last year, the Japanese navy quietly announced that it would build two small, 16,000-ton aircraft carriers. Now, Japanese troops are in Iraq. There is no need to worry about this going too far. Because Japan enjoys the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, its government has no plans to acquire its own nuclear weapons, despite threats from China and North Korea.

Because it was the U.S. that imposed this absurd constraint on a defeated and abject Japan, the U.S. has an obligation to help undo the damage of Article 9. This would entail a tacit U.S. admission that our insistence on Article 9 was a misguided, if not a punitive, measure to hobble a defeated enemy. Our quiet assistance to replace Article 9 with an affirmation of Japan’s right to a conventional military would be a most appropriate way to express our gratitude to a steadfast ally.

Ernest W. Lefever is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.