Land of the Rising Military Might

Its military may be called the Japan Self-Defense Force, but it rivals the size and power of the army of Great Britain—and may soon be far mightier.

“The Japanese people forever renounce war.” This statement is the foundation of the famous Article 9 in the Constitution Japan adopted in 1947.

During World War ii, the Empire of Japan conquered much of Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. As it did so, the nation descended into an appalling state of fanaticism and cruelty, and it authored some of the worst brutality in mankind’s history. The war crimes were so extreme that even Nazi soldiers stationed in Asia are on record expressing their shock.

In the aftermath of that demonic bloodshed, the United States occupied Japan, writing and imposing a constitution that renounced warfare in an effort to prevent unhinged bellicosity from overtaking the Japanese people again. Article 9 states that “to accomplish the aim, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained” and the “right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

The Americans disarmed Japan, forced it into pacifism, and compelled it to sign the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. This codified Japan’s dependence on the U.S. for its defense and obliged America to protect Japan by stationing troops in and around the nation.

Officially, the treaty and the Constitution have since governed Japan’s military potential. But during these 75 years after implementation, the Japanese have made several significant moves away from pacifism. The first occurred in the early 1950s, with the establishment of the National Police Reserve. In 1954, Tokyo expanded this into the Japan Self-Defense Force, which evolved over the decades into an ultramodern assemblage of land, sea and air forces. As the Self-Defense Force grew more powerful, it also gained more legal latitude to use that power.

These measures violated the aim of Article 9. But the Constitution still withheld the legal backing for Japan to use anything but strictly defensive force, and its spirit continued to place major caps on military spending. Now, however, conditions are taking shape that could push Japan to become a full-fledged, legally authorized and entirely normalized military power that is among the most lethal on the planet.

The ‘New Axis of Evil’

The threat that keeps the most Japanese awake at night is China. As that totalitarian nation grows richer and mightier, it grows more eager to change Asia’s international order, and even the global order. A 2021 Nikkei Business Daily survey found that 86 percent of Japanese respondents see China as a serious threat, exceeding even the 82 percent who view North Korea as a danger. Provocations from both of these countries have recently increased, and now Japan’s other regional neighbor, Russia, is waging an unprovoked and illegal war of aggression on Ukraine.

Many Japanese have come to see these three nations as the “new axis of evil,” according to Japan Forward, with Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping as the “kingpin.”

At the same time that their neighbors are growing more belligerent, the Japanese also increasingly believe that America’s promise to protect them is not what it once was. The promise feels particularly hollow after President Donald Trump scorned the U.S.-Japan alliance during his tenure and sought to use it as a bargaining chip to extract economic concessions from Tokyo.

All these factors combine to make the Japanese urgent about becoming better armed. They see a real need to be ready for another war.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on May 27 that the nation will “substantially increase” its defense spending. He did not specify how much. But others in the Liberal Democratic Party (ldp) that Kishida leads have called for doubling the current budget to 2 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product.

This would represent a quantum leap. It would bring total spending to around $100 billion, launching Japan’s military spending ahead of France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and even India and Russia. Japan would have the world’s third-best funded military machine, behind only the U.S. and China.

Since the primary fear of the Japanese is China and its push to dominate the South and East China seas, Japan’s military strategy is centered on naval strength. Japan currently possesses a world-class navy of 114 warships, including 26 destroyers, 22 submarines, 10 frigates, 6 destroyer escorts, 3 tank-landing ships and 2 so-called “helicopter carriers.” These ships are actually capable of launching certain models of the advanced American F-35 warplane, and Japan has purchased dozens of these exact models.

If it begins spending an additional $50 billion annually, Japan will likely buy more American kit, including dozens of additional F-35s, V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft and submarines. It will also produce more of its own weapons systems, including amphibious landing craft, warships, stealth fighters, submarines and aircraft carriers.

Built on the technical and manufacturing diligence of the Japanese people, this will be a staggeringly capable and lethal naval power.

The wind of change is blowing, but the Japanese have long resisted spending increases as drastic as this, much less officially scrapping Article 9. For most Japanese citizens who are more concerned about economic policies that will directly help them, “constitutional revision is a kind of luxury good,” Tobias Harris, an Asia specialist at the Center for American Progress, told the New York Times.

But on July 8, a barbaric event took place that could finally shift public opinion far enough to make a difference.

A Martyr Is Made?

“It is a jfk moment for Japan, maybe even bigger.” That is how political scientist Ian Bremmer described the July 8 assassination of Shinzō Abe.

Abe is in the books as the longest-ruling prime minister in Japan’s history, having held office from 2006 to 2007 and again from 2012 until his resignation in late 2020 due to health problems. After stepping down, he remained a towering figure in politics and continued regular appearances in support of the ldp. He was making just such an appearance when a Japanese man with obscure grievances pulled out a homemade gun and assassinated him.

Abe had recognized that America’s security guarantees had become less reliable over the years, as threats from the “new axis of evil” were multiplying. “[H]e was convinced,” Bremmer said, “that China wanted supremacy in the region and the world, eventually” (gzero, July 8).

As a result, the main goal of Abe’s long political career was to return Japan to a mature military power. He scored some landmark achievements toward that end. In 2015, he finalized legislation that reinterpreted the military’s role, effectively authorizing it to fight with allies overseas. Months later, Japan deployed troops abroad and gave them orders none of their countrymen had received for some 70 years: They were armed and authorized to use force.

These were milestone victories in Abe’s quest to fully normalize Japan’s military. But they fell short of his ultimate goal to officially amend the pacifist Constitution. “It is gut-wrenching,” he said upon retiring, “to have to leave my job before accomplishing my goals.”

The assassination was a profound shock to the people of Japan, partly because it marked the first killing of a sitting or former Japanese leader since 1936, and partly because Abe was sumo-size in the political arena. Two days after the murder, the ldp won a rare supermajority in parliamentary elections, indicating that Japan had become more unified than it has been for years.

If the slain prime minister comes to be seen as a martyr in the ldp’s battle to revise the pacifist Constitution, then current Prime Minister Kishida may be able to accomplish what Abe never could: turn Abe’s most cherished wish for a militarily normalized Japan into reality.

A Democracy Most Fragile

Because Japan has been a democracy since World War ii’s end, it might appear that the nation reveres liberal values and would not revert to military aggression. But the truth is, democracy does not have native roots in Japan and is planted there only shallowly.

There was a brief cultivation of “liberal values” during Japan’s Taishō era, ending in 1926, but that was mainly the byproduct of an ineffectual emperor, and it withered into economic depression. That rot created fertile ground for the military junta rule that led Japan into the fanaticism and catastrophe of World War ii. It wasn’t until the U.S. ended that war by dropping atomic bombs in 1945 and then occupied and imposed democracy on the nation that a liberal system really took root.

Democracy in Japan is an American import, and it is more than a little defective. Since 1955, the ldp has ruled the nation for all but a handful of years. This means that even though Japan holds elections, they are basically meaningless. It is a de facto one-party state.

And the ldp is not an ordinary center-right party in the vein of Britain’s Conservative Party or the American Republican Party. “It’s linked to the survivors and the successors of Imperial Japan,” geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan said in a July 8 dispatch. “Their roots are firmly fascist.”

In the ldp-dominated political arena, true change is not effected by voters but is hashed out in backroom maneuvers and deals between the leaders of informal factions. Rule over Japan’s electoral districts is often passed down from fathers to sons, and the same is true for leadership of these informal factions. Both Abe and Kishida are evidence of this.

The general population has some appreciation for democracy, even though it is an import from a conquering power. But among the elite who actually steer Japan, concern for “liberal values” is mainly superficial. Democracy in Japan is far more fragile than it may appear. And trends of recent years are coalescing in a way that could quickly uproot it.

‘The Place Changes Radically’

“Japan does not, as a rule, embrace change,” Zeihan said. “The Japanese … tend to ignore small changes until those changes build up into something overwhelming, and then it all breaks apart at once. The place changes radically … almost overnight” (ibid).

This is what happened after years of Taishō era stagnation and inertia exploded into the white-hot fanaticism of Imperial Japan. Somewhat similar patterns played out in the 19th century, culminating in the Meiji Restoration, and centuries earlier with the shogunate.

Zeihan said that in Japan today, the confluence of factors means the country is perfectly primed for “one of those … cultural shakeouts.” And the implications can’t be overstated. “When [Japan] changes, it changes everything,” he said. “It does it wholesale, and it does it violently. And it remakes its region, and this time Japan is already the second-strongest naval power, with the world’s third-largest economy. So the implications of this sort of shift are going to be massive.”

He Was Right

Zeihan is one of several well-regarded analysts today who see that Japan is on the threshold of seismic changes. In light of America’s decline and the rise of “the new axis of evil,” many modern observers now recognize it. But all the way back in 1971, when Japan was far more pacifist and still firmly positioned beneath America’s security umbrella, the late educator Herbert W. Armstrong predicted that the nation would return to full militarism.

“Japan today has no military establishment,” he wrote. “But we should not lose sight of the fact that Japan has become so powerful economically that it could build a military force of very great power very rapidly” (Plain Truth, March 1971).

For decades, Mr. Armstrong’s forecast may have seemed alarmist to students of geopolitics. But now—as America wanes, threats intensify, and ldp leaders increasingly dismantle Japan’s pacifist architecture—it no longer appears far-fetched. It is clear Mr. Armstrong’s forecast was right.

How could Mr. Armstrong have known? Because his view was founded on specific Bible prophecies. Scripture shows that a final world war is fast approaching. One of the main players will be a colossal alliance of Asian nations. Revelation 16:12 calls this bloc “the kings of the east.” Revelation 9:16 says it will deploy a jaw-dropping 200 million troops.

Ezekiel 38:1-2 show that this bloc will be led by Russia, while verse 6 lists ancient names indicating that the peoples who make up modern-day Japan—“Gomer” and “Togarmah”—will be part of the alliance.

The Japanese today are fearful of the bellicosity of Russia and its partners, and they are remilitarizing, largely due to those fears. But these passages show that Japan will eventually join this Russian-led “kings of the east” alliance.

Japan’s march toward militarization today is vital to watch because it is creating the conditions for that prophesied Asian bloc to become a military force of unfathomably destructive power. Each Japanese move toward remilitarization represents a step closer to that gargantuan army and unprecedented world war.

But there is cause for hope.

Jesus Christ said that World War iii will be so cataclysmic that, unlike all previous wars, it could end all human life (Matthew 24:21-22). But then He adds a vital detail at the end of verse 22: “[T]hose days shall be shortened.”

The last world war will be cut short! Before man totally annihilates himself, Christ will interrupt the conflict. He will begin to work with the survivors, reeducating them to remove belligerence, avarice and other evil from their thinking. “There will still exist those who haven’t submitted to God’s law,” we write in our free booklet Russia and China in Prophecy. But the Creator will persist, and such will come to see that “God’s system is the only one that will yield such blessings in life!” Christ will build a perfect government that will usher in a new age of peace and prosperity—for the peoples of Japan, Russia, the U.S., China and all other countries. At that time, God’s transcendent plan will enter a new phase that opens eternal salvation to every human being who has ever lived.