Why Not a Rearmed Japan?


"Over the years, the Japanese, unimpeded by the huge costs of defending themselves (as long as the United States will do it for free), have built a strong and vibrant economy.…We are a country that is losing $200 billion a year. We are supporting—we are literally supporting—Japan.…It's time for us to end our vast deficits by making Japan, and others who can afford it, pay."

So says New York real estate magnate Donald Trump, picking up on what The New Republic calls the "sleeper issue" of 1988. On the campaign trail, Democrats Pat Schroeder and Richard Gephardt have sounded similar themes. The House of Representatives recently passed, overwhelmingly, a resolution calling on Japan to raise its defense spending to 3 percent of GNP (from a measly 1 percent limit now).

What people are beginning to figure out is that World War II is over. The Japanese are no longer bent on imperial domination. Japan has become one of the world's economic powerhouses—and a democratic one, as well. Why on earth should it be the one major power that does not shoulder the burden of defending itself?

Powerful upholders of the status quo rush to tell us why. No sooner had the Nakasone government breached—by the tiniest fraction of a percentage point—the 1 percent ceiling on defense spending than Henry Kissinger rushed into print to tell us that the rearming of Japan is unwise and unnecessary. More recently, perennial oracle Norman Cousins held forth on the dangers of a renewed Japanese militarism, praising Japan's U.S.-imposed constitution for its ban on rearmament.

The prevalence of such views 42 years after the defeat of Japan's military dictatorship cannot, in the case of sophisticated thinkers such as Kissinger and Cousins, be attributed to racism. A more plausible explanation is power—unchallenged American power, not merely over outright enemies but over allies as well. Kissinger and Cousins belong to a generation that came of age when America was the world's only major power—and remained for a long time the only one in the free world. Exercising such power, unquestioned, has become a comfortable habit.

This habit is reflected in various governments' responses to the threats to shipping in the Persian Gulf. It is Japan that is the most dependent on Persian Gulf oil, Europeans next most dependent, and the United States the least. Yet it is the Japanese who are not lifting a finger, the Europeans doing a token amount, and the United States taking on the lion's share.

Those who wish to maintain American power over our allies seldom acknowledge the terrible costs of their desires—more than half our huge defense budget devoted to the defense of Europe and Japan and the very real risks of being drawn into a nightmarish Middle Eastern war.

That's why it is heartening to see Japanese defense being raised, by people across the political spectrum, as a 1988 election issue. Irving Kristol is right; Patricia Schroeder is right; Donald Trump is right. The American taxpayer should not have to spend billions defending America's ablest economic competitor.