As recently as a couple of months ago, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was labeled a ‘dead man walking’ by news sources who believed that allegations of cronyism would prevent Abe from winning a third, three-year term in what was presumed to be about a year’s time. However, Abe was able to trigger a mechanism in the Japanese law that allowed for a ‘snap election’ to be held a year in advance. It was an astute political move by Abe, whose approval rating once fell as low as 26%.
The freshly re-elected Abe’s history as Japanese Prime Minister dates to 2007. He resigned his post after less than a year into his reign, a stint that included the suicide of an allegedly corrupt minister, in addition to other scandals and the significant loss of power by his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) under his watch. It seemed almost inconceivable that he would rise to the position of PM once again. But he would rise again, and despite once again facing allegations of corruption within the party, the global climate, and thus the Japanese people’s priorities, have apparently shifted.
Abe can thank his loose economic policy in part for his victory. Abe’s policies, commonly referred to as ‘Abenomics,' differ greatly from leaders past. Japan has been a country facing dreaded deflation for more than two decades; Abenomics are aimed at reversing this trend, with the intentional devaluation of the yen, interest rates of 0%, and decreased consumption tax aimed at incentivizing spending and economic growth. Many economists have hailed Abenomics as a short-sighted policy that allows the government to put off payment of interest on its debts while lulling the people into a sense of false economic security that will, in due time, come to a screeching halt. The government spending at the heart of Abenomics cannot last forever, but it remains ongoing, and the people seem to be happier reaping its short-term benefits than adopting wariness toward potential long-term setbacks.
That being said, a factor that was even more critical in Abe’s once-unlikely victory was the increasingly bellicose behavior of Kim Jong-Un, and China’s granting of increased power to President Xi Jinping. Since approximately 2013, Abe has been pushing for a change in Japan’s post-WWII Constitution. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which the United States helped draft after victory in the Second World War, “forever renounces war,” a clause that for any country is only tenable for a fixed amount of time. With Kim launching missiles over Japan twice in the past two months and the Japanese people awakening to such frightening announcements, the need for the amendment seems more justifiable, and more pressing, than ever. Abe’s target date of 2020 is still years off, but a change in leadership would have been seen by the Japanese people as a threat to the fastidiousness of the amendment’s alteration. Such an alteration would theoretically allow Japan to acquire nuclear weapons, most likely in the form of ballistic missile submarines.
Despite a troubled past, Japan has become a reliable American ally. Certainly, they are trusted to a much greater extent than China, whose secretive Communist regime is justifiably viewed with healthy skepticism. A nuclear Japan should also be viewed with skepticism, but, according to The National Interest, Japan is in no rush to acquire nukes, and China is in no rush to use nuclear force against its neighbor. Still, it seems an archaic policy that Japan should not be allowed to attain nuclear weapons for the purpose of self-defense.
‘To be perfectly clear, Japan has no intention of building nuclear weapons. In fact, it has a strong aversion to nukes, having been the only country to actually be on the receiving end of a nuclear strike on its cities. Japan’s strategic situation would have to grow very dire for it to undertake such a drastic and expensive option.
At the same time, China has no interest in provoking Japan into building them. China’s nuclear “no first use” policy is in part aimed at reassuring Japan that, unless it were attacked first with nuclear weapons, it will not use them in wartime. Japan has no nukes, therefore, if China holds to its word, Japan should be reassured. “If” and “should” being the operative words here.’ (The National Interest)
While the Japanese people are in no hurry to re-engage in warfare, particularly of the nuclear sort, Kim’s seeming zealousness with respect to the deployment of nuclear weaponry has shifted Japan’s perspective toward remaining on a lower militaristic rung. Japan’s reliance on imports and its cruel military past which saw it rule with an air of superiority and an iron fist means its Pacific neighbors are less than fond of the island power. The Japanese people know this, and Abe knows this. A guarantee of protection from the United States, in the face of increasing nuclear threats, is not as comforting as it once was.
A victory built on regional turmoil, an economic policy with the potential to do more harm than good, and a weak opposition is by no means a resounding endorsement of Abe’s popularity. His unwillingness to wait a year for the regular election cycle signals his awareness of how tenuous his grip on head of state is. But, for now, Abe has bought himself and a supermajority of his Liberal Democratic Party more time to expand Japan’s military arsenal and continue an economic policy that may or may not have its intended positive effects.