Active Pacifism is the best description of Abe’s policy push since he most recently took office. The right wing has labeled it progressive and good for Japan. Of course, pacifism is the common goal of many people, but the word “active” reveals Japan’s strategic thinking.
In September 2008, under the umbrella of The Japan Forum on International Relations, a foreign policy think tank in Japan, dozens of politicians and scholars (including Akio Watanabe, Matake Kamiya, former Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto, as well as Diet members Yuriko Koike and Takeo Hiranuma) contributed to a report called Active Pacifism and US-Japan Alliance as It Should Be. They handed it to the Japanese government in October 2009. It painted out a way security policies could be adjusted, in terms of homeland defense, regional security and global security. The report also suggested that Japan work with the U.S. on military strategy, remove the ban on the right to collective self-defense, amend the three principles of arms exports, build an intelligence mechanism, strengthen Japan-U.S. ties over China and revisit the three non-nuclear principles. However, the Yukio Hatoyama cabinet of the Japan Democratic Party (JDP) at that time was working on an “East Asia Community” and “Fraternal Diplomacy” and dismissed the report. However, we can now clearly see that the report closely matches the aspirations of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
And so Abe has adopted this report during his second time as Japan’s leader. He has made “Active Pacifism- the symbol of a responsible Japan in the 21st century”. He has stuck closely to the report in terms of recommendations on diplomacy and security policies. The National Security Strategy (NSS) passed on December 17th 2013 adopted “Active Pacifism based on international coordination” as its core ideal, thus Active Pacifism received its first interpretation in Japan’s national strategy. In early 2014, in a speech to the Diet, Abe said Active Pacifism would be the key framework guiding its diplomacy and security in the coming year. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also used Active Pacifism as leverage to call for an increase in budget for fiscal 2014. And what’s more the LDP is unlikely to ditch Active Pacifism any time soon.
Abe’s Active Pacifism is shaping Japan’ s foreign and domestic policies and it is also a strategy to deal with societal changes. It aims to facilitate policy adjustments in domestic affairs, diplomacy and security. Let us look at it in more detail.
First, there is the amendment to the Constitution. It aims to shake off the shackles of the pacifist constitution and empower Japan to exercise of the right to collective self-defense, in a bid to transform Japan into a “country capable of fighting against others.”
Even though pacifism has helped restrain Japan’s military, the LDP has been trying to bring in a constitutional amendment. This has led to a public concern that “Abe’s action will impact the separation of powers”. Abe made a speech at the 185th extraordinary session of the Diet in October 2013, in which he said: “having enjoyed peace for 68 years after the war, Japan now needs to take action in order to make a further contribution to peace”. By “action”, he meant a constitutional amendment. Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso also made his views clear at a seminar at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals: “Since turmoil from constitutional amendment is not what we want, how about if we follow the example of the Weimar Constitution, and amend the constitution quietly behind the scenes?” Publicly or secretly, the LDP is determined to pursue constitutional amendment. Its goal is to remove the ban on the right to collective self-defense. In particular they are targeting Article 9 in the Constitution, in a bid to redefine pacifism.
Second, there is the role of the military in maintaining security. At the heart of Active Pacifism is the desire to allow Japan to have an international military role by allowing it to take part in battles under the banner of “international cooperation». Hiding behind an agenda of promoting East Asia and world peace, Japanese militarists pushed reforms before World War II, which led to aggressive wars across most of Asia, desecrating democratic systems, human rights and peace. In a similar way Abe ’ s talk of security bears the stamp of militarism.
Third, there is pragmatic diplomacy. Japan’s diplomacy is guided by self interest rather than any concern about morality; it has been described as “greedy and sycophantic”.3 This is also true of Active Pacifism, it is not universally applicable but rather it is specifically confined: Japan will join international efforts in affairs from which it can benefit, even to the extent of joining U.S.-led actions that violate international laws. It justifies its actions under the banner of pacifism.
Fourth, there is the aim to overthrow the international order. Active Pacifism is more than a foreign strategy. It also aims to transform Japan into a “normal country”; constitutional amendment will allow it to break away from the restraints of the post-war international order, a symbol of anti-fascist victory wiping out Japanese militarism. Abe has been keen to promote Active Pacifism in East Asia and to change the regional order. Japan’s ideal is to mold the regional order into one that can contain China. Abe has been trying to sell it as “value-oriented diplomacy” and an “East Asia offshore security alliance”. But it is obvious he wants to change the regional order.
We can clearly see that Abe is hiding radical strategies under the guise of this Active Pacifism, and the international community should be concerned and closely watch Japan.
But Abe is determined. He said: “it is an historic mission bestowed on me to amend the Constitution» in August 2013. And in February 2014, at the House Budget Committee he said: “I am responsible for the amendment”. However, as some scholars have pointed out, Abe does not understand the idea behind a constitution—that is to stop abuse of power. Abe does not respect the Constitution; he cares only for his own goals. This is unprecedented for post-war Japan and is dangerous. It can lead to a violation of pacifism and democracy as well as a misunderstanding of the constitutional ideas of peace and harm regional and world security and possibly dent Japan’s economy.