It has often been said that war is what happens when diplomacy has broken down. This is as true today as it has ever been. But of equal importance, war is also what happens when normal economic activity breaks down. Indeed, one of the very motivating factors of imperialism is a need to expand one’s national resources in a manner that is quick, initially cost effective and seemingly holistic. This has often been achieved through history by forsaking the normal economic order and instead using military power to plunder the economic resources of other nations. The wealth of imperialism is therefore built not only on anti-human violence but on theft – the antithesis of a peaceful economic order.
In the first part of the 20th century, Japan decided to adopt a western imperial model in so far as it committed acts of supreme aggression against multiple nations throughout north and south east Asia. After 1945, Japan adopted a pacifist constitution which forever forsook the kind of military aggression that had held back Asia’s collective progress during the first half of the 20th century.
But far from making Japan poor, pacifism helped to make Japan rich. Instead of focusing its national energies on external aggression, Japan in the second half of the 20th century focused its energy on internal development and exporting goods to willing customers.
Recent decades however have seen a creeping push towards re-militarisation in Japan – something which many Japanese themselves oppose as they remember the horrors of atomic warfare first hand. Yet since the 1980s when Japan made a major economic mistake in signing the Plaza Accords, there has been an effort among a certain element of Japan’s political class towards the re-armament that was explicitly forsaken after the Second World War.
It is not a coincidence that calls for Japanese re-militarisation became louder in the aftermath of the terrible economic decisions that Japan made during the late 1980s. Such reactionary responses to economic downturns end up creating a cycle of paranoia and childishness wherein people look to focus on non-existent external threats as an excuse to re-arm, instead of retaining a commitment to internal economic development and reform.
Japanese policy makers would be wise to consider what Confucius meant when he said:
“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps”.
For Japan, steps to engage in more economic openness and reformed commercial relations with its partners is the key to success. Just as Japan re-industrialised after the 1940s, so too is a more modern approach to global economic realities the path towards success. Militarism will only lead to more debt and a waste of human resources.
This is why news that Japan has signed the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with both France and Canada represents a big step backward. The lessons of the 20th century have demonstrated that aggression against neighbours and regional states is an unethical path that ultimately leads to ignominy rather than sustainable success.
France, Canada and Japan ought to be discussing economic cooperation in an age of global inter-connectivity but instead, counter-productive military cooperation is being discussed. This is a poor and potentially dangerous substitute for peaceful economic innovation.
The last thing that north east Asia needs is more military adventurism. This is especially true in an age where the Korean people have embraced peace and cooperation while rejecting the old political divisions of the past. If anything, this takes away Japan’s last flimsy justification for abrogating its own pacifistic laws. It is therefore irresponsible of Canada and France to encourage Japan to take a step backwards, especially at a time when the Korean peace process and China’s Belt and Road initiative represent the antithesis of militarism and instead indicate an overall regional desire to shape the future on a model of peace through prosperity.