This week Japan raised some eyebrows when it unveiled a new warship, the Izumo. Although classified as a mere helicopter-carrying destroyer (which is a small patrol craft), to all appearances the ship appears to be a large aircraft carrier. 820 feet long and designed to carry 14 helicopters, Japan insists that the warship is designed for search and rescue and for patrol operations only. However, experts note that the ship appears to be able to be equipped to launch offensive fighter/bombers as well. While Japan has a very well-trained navy, the Japanese Navy has not fielded an aircraft carrier since World War II. As China launched its first aircraft carrier last year and Prime Minster Abe has led the first increase in the military budget in over a decade, experts speculate that a new arms race may be coming to the seas around Japan.
However, there is more than a lack of money standing in the way of Japan building a new navy with offensive capabilities. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, dubbed the "Peace Constitution" after Japan enacted it in 1947, outlaws war as a manner of resolving disputes and renounces offensive weaponry. The full section reads: "ARTICLE 9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized."
Japan is not without its own defenses, of course. The Japanese Self Defense Forces (JSDF) are a well-equipped and highly-trained military that has engaged in many global peacekeeping operations around the world. It is not cheap either; in 1990 Japan ranked third in the world in total military spending. However, Prime Minister Abe and his party, the LDP, have recently advocated for amendments or removal of Article 9 entirely. They have not been able to gather enough support to do so. They believe that Japan should expand its military and give up its self-imposed ban on offensive weapons. Although Japan has relied on the United States and the Mutual Assistance Treaty ratified in 1952 that calls on the US to defend Japan, Japanese citizens are increasingly resistant to the US military's constant presence.