In Philip K. Dick’s under-appreciated “The Man in the High Castle,” Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan emerged victorious from World War II and partitioned most of the planet as lone superpowers hurtling towards conflict. Thank God, that is alternate history, although interesting enough alternative history. In the real deal, the home team won.
Those defeated Axis powers emerged from the war with demilitarization baked into their new constitutions by the victorious Allies. But as noted by Joshua Keating for The Grid, the Cold War necessitated de-demilitarization, and by the end of the 1950s, both countries were armed. Mostly for self-defense, but armed nonetheless, with nervous and forgive-don’t-forget neighbors keeping close watch.
Mr. Keating further notes a comparison made by former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who likened Japan’s participation in even limited peacekeeping missions to “giving liqueur chocolates to an alcoholic.”
Eight decades removed from World War II’s conclusion, Japan and Germany still are not permanent members of the United Nations’ Security Council. And as important as those countries are to the world in terms of economy and culture and security and nearly everything else, it may be another eight decades before the world is ready to grant those two countries such status.
But necessity is dictating a re-evaluation of embedded pacifism. Today, the good guys need Japan and Germany to be strong again. Militarily strong.
Both countries appear ready. Germany is saying the right things, after letting defense spending lapse in the aftermath of the Cold War’s conclusion. And last week, Japan unveiled a new five-year defense plan that will make it the planet’s third-largest military spender. For the better part of the new century, Japan has bristled under Red China’s regional domineering and North Korea’s nuclear showboating but allowed its national security to rest in U.S. hands.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida described the new plan as a turning point for the country’s national security. North Korea’s firing missiles over your island nation, the most recent in October, tends to concentrate the mind. The latest event helped change the contemporary mainstream Japanese mindset about defense, experts say.
For Germany, Putin’s War has served the same purpose. Last February, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he would boost defense spending to 2 percent of the GDP and devote $100 million euros to help revamp Germany’s military, the Bundeswehr. He also pledged to help supply advanced weapons to Ukraine, ending a long-standing policy of not sending weapons into conflict zones. (Keep in mind that 2 percent is the minimum that NATO countries are supposed to spend on their own defense. Putin’s War is helping NATO fill its coffers without more complaining by the United States.)
Writing in Foreign Affairs, Chancellor Scholz calls this new post-war focus on defense “the starkest change in German security policy since the establishment of the Bundeswehr in 1955, reflecting a new German mindset.
Ulrike Franke, a senior fellow at the European Center on Foreign Relations, told Mr. Keating that war in Ukraine has forced Germans to re-evaluate their thinking.
“In Germany, for a long time, we didn’t really understand how to think about what armed forces and the military are for in a liberal democracy. You have politicians that two years ago would not have been able to name any kind of Bundeswehr weapons system, yet are now standing up to give a whole speech on the advantages and disadvantages of the Panzerhaubitze [German-made howitzer].”
Germany has contributed troops to NATO operations in the Balkans and Afghanistan, and Japan deployed a naval mission to support U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But the latter’s Self Defense Forces (SDF) have not fired a shot in anger since the quasi-military’s creation in 1954, Mr. Keating writes.
What a scene it would be for Japanese and German forces to share a future peacekeeping deployment. There remain many, Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew among them, who might oppose such a turn.
But 80 years is a long span, more than enough time for players to switch sides. It only took Italy a few years between WWI and WWII. (It was only fair Italy fought for the Axis in the 1940s, Churchill said, because they fought for us last time.)
These rough days, the good guys need all the allies they can get. And Germany and Japan have proven to be fine allies in the last generation or two.
Let them stand on the wall, too. There’s plenty of room for the good guys.