30 May 2016
Pacifism is the concept the Abe Cabinet exploits to justify its recent national security legislation. This term could mislead the public into believing that the new laws have something to do with the pacifism of the Japanese Constitution, but the reality lies in the phrase “proactive contribution to peace,” which the government uses when it explains these policies to its audience abroad. In my view, the essence of the new national security laws is nothing more than Japan’s active international contribution in military terms to the collective use of force, whether in the form of collective self-defense or in the form of UN collective security.
In addition to this rhetorical deception, I would stress that the serious problem of these laws is their apparent abuse of a specific body of scholarly knowledge in the field of international relations.
A common understanding in international relations is that two types of misperception of others’ stated intentions could trigger the outbreak of war in a world in which armed states confront each other. First, one state doubts whether its counterpart will keep its promise to refrain from any attempt to revise the status quo by force, typically an armed attack. Second, one state doubts whether its counterpart will carry out its threat to repel any attempt at a unilateral revision of the status quo by force.
In general, national security is defined as the policy to reduce the level of threat to the status quo of the present distribution of values among states. National security, thus defined, is not easy to achieve, as there exists tradeoff between the persuasiveness of threats to repel any unilateral revision of the status quo, and the persuasiveness of promises to refrain from any use or threat of force, including the promise to refrain from resorting to all necessary means to maintain or restore international peace and security in cases where some states fail to implement specific resolutions of the UN Security Council. This tradeoff is a product of the fact that the means to defend the status quo, whether through arms or with allies, could be the means to alter the status quo. Therefore, one cannot achieve security by prioritizing threats over promises.
In a nutshell, the new national security laws fail to see that Japan’s resolve would not increase Japan’s security without reducing the security of its neighbors.
Professor of International Relations, University of Tokyo