(NaturalNews) It's been decades in the making, but Japan is now, finally -- albeit slowly -- moving toward taking a more proactive approach to its own defense, as evidenced by the country's recent decision to build a massive army of drones to protect itself from growing regional threats.
Tokyo is becoming one of the most unlikely players in the escalating global race for military drones, as reported by the website Defense One. It is a decision that is controversial, both abroad and at home; just last month, thousands of Japanese protested in front of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's office as his government contemplated reinterpreting the Japanese constitution to allow Japan's military to play a larger international role. The Japanese constitution, written by the U.S. following World War II, currently very narrowly defines military forces to self-defense only.
But the 67-year-old constitution's military language stands in stark contrast to the desires of many American military and foreign policy hawks, who have long pushed Japan to take a more aggressive global role. So they see Abe's moves and the country's decision to take a lead role in the development of military drones as a positive; as Defense One notes, the U.S. has even "aided Tokyo in its efforts to re-arm, deploying two unarmed Global Hawk long-range surveillance drones in May to a base in Northern Japan, which infuriated both China and North Korea."
As such, Japan is now in a position that it has not been in for seven decades, when it surrendered its right to engage in conflicts outside its own borders. And it is coming at the right time -- at a time when, perhaps, Japan has little choice.
Hundreds of millions to be invested
Currently, Tokyo and Beijing are engaged in a bitter dispute over a small set of islands to Japan's north that it has historically held but that both nations claim; it is no coincidence that the islands happen to sit on resource-rich sea beds that both covet.
In addition, Japan has been harassed by missile launches and other provocations by North Korea for years, especially since the latter obtained nuclear weapon capability. And finally, as the world's third-largest economy, Japan must remain in a position to protect its global interests, because "the implications for both global peace and commerce could be widespread," Defense One noted:
The country will invest [3 billion Japanese yen] (approx $372 million) in the coming decade to drastically expand its virtually non-existent military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program, according to a senior analyst at IHS Jane's, the leading defense and security agency.
"For the period 2014-2023, our forecasts show that they [Japan] are looking to build three Global Hawk drones, in addition to missile detecting UAVs, to deter possible threats of nuclear attack from North Korea and the advancing military strength of China," the analyst, who requested anonymity to speak candidly on issues related to agency clients, told Quartz. "They [Japan] are progressing their indigenous design and development capability at a rapid pace and could actually meet their objectives even before fiscal year 2020."
That forecast represents a more than 300 percent increase in drones from the country's current level of investment; if it holds true, that would make Japan's the fastest-growing UAV program in the world, according to the analyst.
'He definitely wants to remove pacifism'
As noted in Japan's 2014 defense budget, the increased investments in unmanned military vehicles are required because of a need to "build defense capabilities" that would help "ensure security of the seas and airspace surrounding Japan" and to "respond to an attack on remote islands" -- a not-so-vague reference to the island dispute with China.
For Abe, says Defense One, ramping up investments in self-defense forces has been a central theme in his policy of resisting growing Chinese aggression in the region.
And to do that, a change in constitutional language was required:
In June, Abe granted the nation's self-defense forces more power when he gutted Article 9, the so-called "peace clause." Through a cabinet decision, Abe re-interpreted the article to allow greater use of military force to defend other countries. In doing so, he bypassed parliament and the typical requirement for a referendum for any change to the constitution.
The decision was unpopular with many Japanese and the Japanese press, but Abe sees storm clouds on the horizon,
"He definitely wants to rearm the country and remove pacifism, but will probably be mostly stymied in these efforts by a reluctant public," Noah Smith, an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University and an expert on Japan, told Defense One.
He added that recent public opinion polls on the issue are slowly changing.