How Powerful is Japan(‘s military)?

A channel called TestTube recently had a well-received video titled “How Powerful is Japan?”  While only two and a half minutes long, it is filled with inaccuracies.Japan Power

(New Link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzV_Oo3CFj8)

So why don’t we look at them:

The very first line is:

“In 2012 Japan laid claim to a string of eight tiny, uninhabited islands by buying them from a private owner.”

No, Japan laid claim to the islands back in the late 1800s during the modernizing Meiji period, has controlled them ever since, and is the only country to have done so (exempting the US occupation).  The fact that they were privately owned until their nationalization in 2012 doesn’t change them being part of Japan.  If I buy some land here it doesn’t stop being part of this country, and that is true of everywhere in the world.

The very next sentence is:

“The problem is China and Taiwan also lay claim to those same islands.”

What a ridiculous contrast with the previous sentence.  No statement about the time-frame on their claims, which date from the 1970s.  Of course the basis for their claims is much older, asserting that Chinese fisherman first found the islands, though at this point in history it is impossible to tell who first happened upon them.  In any case, the fact remains that Japan’s claim is much older than those of the two Chinas, but this is completely missing from the video, leaving the viewer to assume that unless the Chinas only put their claims out since 2012, they must have the older claim.

“Well Japan is an economic giant, but they also have a stunted military.”

Weird use of “also” aside, I don’t see how Japan’s military is “stunted.”  The video points out they are only 22nd in terms of “military man-power,” but fails to mention that Japan is only 10th in the world in population anyway.  This certainly puts them on the low side when it comes to soldiers, but per capita Japan has more active military personnel than China.  More notable than this however, is the fact that Japan is a small, very densely populated, very urban, very mountainous set of islands.  Japan doesn’t have a relatively large amount of soldiers in the same way they don’t have a relatively large amount of tanks:  it is hard to imagine them being exceedingly useful in such a geography.

On the other hand you only need so many sailors on a warship, and (again this is not mentioned in the video) Japan has the 4th largest navy in the world.  At 10th, Japan also has an appropriately sized airforce.

This is despite the self-imposed 1% GDP limit on military expenditures that is mentioned in the video.  And while Japan’s 3rd largest economy status is also mentioned, the obvious conclusion that 1% of a really big number is still a really big number isn’t made (it’s like saying a billionaire only gave me 1% of his money).  Japan actually ranks 8th in military expenditures.

As noted in the video, Japan’s constitution prohibits military forces, so all of Japan’s military is technically self-defense forces.  While effectively military, and with such huge amounts of money at their disposal it would be silly to call them anything else, it does add some interesting features into the mix.  For example, all military personnel are technically government employees, so they can quit at any time without being court-marshaled.  Also, Japan only possesses weapons that could be used for self-defense.  So no ballistic missiles, jet aircraft carriers, or bombers.

The video concludes by saying Japan has lots of soft-power in the world, and is therefore a force to be reckoned with despite its weak military.  As a final note the video mentions:

“If they were to expand their military they would surely become an international super-power.”

This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of Japan, military-wise.  Of all the defense-only orientated nations in the world, Japan is probably the best suited to quickly create a powerful military if it so chooses.  First and foremost is Japan’s massive manufacturing base.  Japan designs and produces its own rifles, equipment, tanks and other vehicles, ships, and many aircraft.  Even when using another country’s designs, such as generally relying on the US for jet fighters, they are still generally built in Japan under license (though even this is likely to change in the near future as Japan has been at work on a domestic fighter for active service for a while [and has long produced domestic trainer jet fighters]).  This isn’t surprising considering that Japan has very large civilian car, ship, and aircraft manufacturers.  Retooling civilian factories to military use isn’t that much of a stretch.

Perhaps the oddest aspect is that while Japan officially detests nuclear weapons and the idea of nuclear war (for obvious reasons), I doubt that any other non-nuclear armed country is so well positioned to create nuclear missiles.  Japan has long had both an extensive and advanced civilian nuclear industry and civilian space program.  Relative to any other country that doesn’t currently have them, I believe Japan would be able to develop and build an accurate nuclear ICBM the fastest.

The idea of a militarily weak Japan can be interesting or fun for a variety of reasons (e.g you fear a re-armed Japan or you wish the whole world would de-militarize), but the reality is that Japan is having its cake and eating it too.  Through its as-neutral-as-possible stance, copious amounts of no-strings-attached aid, and extremely polite society Japan is one of the most well-loved countries in the world; and with its massive economy and being the major producer of many key industrial products it is one of the most unavoidable countries in the world.  Therefore it is incredibly unlikely to ever have to fight a war.  So it spends a relatively small part of its GDP on military, yet keeps around a very powerful force, with key civilian industries that would be indispensable in a war.  Japan basically carries around the best pocket umbrella available, which it bought on sale, and it’s a clear day with hardly a cloud in sight.

It’s sort of like how Japan spends relatively little on health care, but has all the great medical technologies and medicines and the longest life-spans in the world.  It almost feels like they are somehow cheating at this game of nations.

Extra Note:  I also find the picture they use to show a US naval base in Japan rather odd.
Nagasaki Naval Base?

Either that photo is wrong, or this US base in Nagasaki imports so much of its own material that it has to bring in its own big container ships two at a time.

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