The Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted a high-ranking Russian lawmaker as saying that Japan violated international post-WWII agreements by purchasing weapons from the United States and enhancing the capabilities of its forces to effectively target missiles fired by North Korea.
Arguing that such weapons can also serve an offensive purpose, Franz Klintsevich, first deputy chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Committee on Defense and Security, stated: “Japan, in violation of international agreements, makes a decision on the purchase of U.S. weapons. By doing so, it creates full-fledged armed forces, which is prohibited by the agreements reached following on from the results of World War II.”
On November 6, U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced plans by Tokyo to purchase U.S. weapons and to coordinate military actions against North Korea.
Trump, who met with Abe in Japan as part of his tour of Asia, stated that Japan would be able to “shoot out of the sky” missiles fired by North Korea over Japan if it bought the U.S. weapons.
“He (Abe) will shoot them out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the United States,” Trump said. He added: “The prime minister is going to be purchasing massive amounts of military equipment, as he should. And we make the best military equipment by far.”
Abe, in turn, stressed that Japan would strike down the North Korean missiles “if necessary.”
The statements come amid heightened concern over a possible military confrontation in the region in light of Pyongyang’s repeated nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests in contravention of UN Security Council resolutions, as well as its much criticized August 29 test-launch of a missile over Japan.
Tokyo, along with its allies, condemned the launch but did not attempt to shoot down the missile for political and technical reasons, which Polygraph.info examined in a separate fact-check.
Polygraph.info found no domestic legislation or international agreements prohibiting Japan from purchasing weapons overseas. Japan has over many years purchased weapons from the United States and maintained a substantial and highly capable force for self-defense.
Over the last 10 years, Japan has imported over $4 billion in weapons, more than half of them military aircraft, with the United States supplying 93% of the total imports.
At the heart of the debate and Klintsevich’s claim is Article 9 of Japan’s pacifist constitution, which some experts say denies Japan the right to maintain armed forces and wage war.
Other experts, however, argue that Japan has only renounced the right to wage war or use/threaten to use force as a means of settling international disputes, as well as the right to maintain a military to pursue this objective.
The relevant two paragraphs of Article 9 read:
1. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.
2. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
The constitution was adopted in 1947, following the end of WWII, and sought to deprive Japan of the ability to wage war, given its legacy of imperialism and militarism. It banned Japan from maintaining military forces but allowed it to have self-defense forces, albeit with substantial restrictions on their use.
Thus Japan has, for decades, maintained what it termed “Self-Defense Forces” (SDFs) to distinguish them from a regular military.
Abe and his supporters have pushed for a repeal of the Article 9 to solidify the self-defense posture and remove various restrictions on SDFs in light of changes in Japan’s geopolitical environment. However, they have succeeded only in revising the defense policy by accentuating Japan’s right to individual and collective self-defense.
According to a Library of Congress report, a majority of scholars and government officials recognize that the article does not restrict Japan’s right to defend itself or amass forces to do so. They argue that such forces constitute a “defense potential,” not a “war potential,” with the intent not to wage war but to defend Japan and its allies.
According to Zack Cooper, a senior fellow specializing in Asian security affairs at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, Japan has the right to build its self-defense potential in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations signed in 1945: “Japan is certainly permitted to field and use missile defense capabilities under the inherent right of self-defense contained within the UN charter.”
The Peace Treaty signed with Japan in 1951 is in line with this provision, stating: “Japan as a sovereign nation possesses the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense referred to in Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations and … may voluntarily enter into collective security arrangements.”
The debate surrounding Article 9 intensified recently due to the increased regional threats emanating from North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic weapons program, as well China’s growing military might.
The perception of a U.S. retreat from its traditional global leadership role has sharpened the debate, with Japan taking on a growing global and regional security role.
Despite major restrictions, Japan’s SDFs have assisted allied and international efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, and a host of other countries by providing humanitarian relief and logistics support.
In 2014, Abe’s administration revised Japan’s defense policy, allowing it to come to the defense of its allies but restricting the SDFs in other ways. In announcing the policy, Abe emphasized the constitution’s pacifist spirit: “We shall never repeat the horror of war. With this reflection in mind, Japan has gone on for 70 years after the war. It will never happen that Japan again becomes a country which goes to war.”
Professor Ra Mason, an expert on Japanese international relations, argues that the legislation, in fact, builds on “less publicly well-documented integration between U.S. and Japanese forces,” so that “Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) command structures have, since 2004, been given the green light to increasingly share and operationalize information pertaining to U.S. as well as Japanese targets.”
According to Mason, it can be argued that Japan violated Article 9 by aiding the United States. He added: “The continued strengthening of Japan's military….also means that….Tokyo will likely increasingly be able to support U.S. administrations in more effectively coercing the DPRK towards relinquishing its nuclear weapons programs and curtailing its ballistic missile development and testing.”
The Russian government’s position is that the increased militarization of Asia amid tensions over North Korea risks sparking a regional armed conflict that would undermine the regional stability and Russian security.
Russia is also concerned about the growing U.S. military engagement with allies in Asia-Pacific, including as it relates to U.S. global anti-missile defense initiatives resting on regional allied system components.
As a country that fought Japan twice in the 20th century, Russia has traditionally opposed a strong regional military role by Japan and considered the U.S.-Japanese alliance as a geopolitical challenge.