Shinzo Abe’s Unfinished Legacy: Leading Japan to Confront Military Threats

July 12th, 2022 - by Tara Copp / Defense One

Abe was working to abandon Japan’s post-war pacifism and develop counter-strike capabilities to deter China

Tara Copp / Defense One

(July 8, 2022) — In 2014, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed through the cornerstone of what some experts said was his most important legacy: convincing Japan to ease into the idea that its pacifist post-World War II-era military policies had to evolve to best protect it from a rising China.

Abe, 67, was assassinated Friday, shot while giving a campaign speech for local election candidates in Nara, Japan. With his death, the West loses one of its most influential advocates in Asia for stronger counter-China policies in the Indo-Pacific region, and Japan’s leading voice for transforming its military and defense industry to better meet modern security threats. President Joe Biden in a statement called Abe “a champion of the Alliance between our nations.”

“His killing is a tragedy for the people of Japan and for all those who value a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, also in a statement. “As prime minister, Mr. Abe championed the vital and enduring alliance between our two democracies, paving the way for Japan to play an even larger role in our alliance.

“His work to strengthen alliances and partnerships across the Indo-Pacific — including through venues such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue of Japan, India, Australia and the United States — leaves a legacy of a more secure, stable and prosperous region.”

Article 9 of Japan’s post-war Constitutional language forbids it from having a military at all. In the decades since, the force Japan maintained had largely been for humanitarian response, such as for earthquakes, tsunamis, and a controversial deployment to Iraq in 2004 for reconstruction support.

Abe began to shift how its Article 9 language was interpreted, resulting in 2015 legislation based on a new interpretation, a “proactive contribution to peace.”

In order to protect its population from rising threats, Abe argued, Japan had to modernize, strengthen its military cooperation with the United States, and contribute to collective defense.

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