Why Europe needs Germany and Asia needs Japan

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures infront of the military at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014. (AP)

Never again. Never again would Germany or Japan be allowed to arm so as not to upset the global balance of power. This was the consensus of the peacemakers after the Second World War. After a conflict that lead to the deaths of 60 million, the surest form to maintain peace was to demobilize and thereby neuter the war’s two primary antagonists.

Fast-forward several decades and both countries invested their energies into building robust economies and democratic systems. The onset of the New Year has been characterized by an increasingly dominant China and a Russia seemingly intent on holding the world to ransom. It is therefore all too clear that the global status quo lacks checks and balances.

Under the lens of international security, continental balances of power exist as Regional Security Complexes. Reflective of basic power politics, regions can be balanced or imbalanced based on the strength of regional powers. There is something very wrong about the security complex in Europe as well as in Asia. Senior U.S. politicians have been right to scream appeasement at the way in which Russia’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy has remained unchecked. Similarly, China’s forays into the South China Sea highlight a gaping hole in the international system to limit the possibilities for conflict escalation. Both environments lack the counterweight of an equal power, the reason why? The post 1945 status quo.

A military with conditions

In 1956, the Allies tentatively allowed West Germany to establish a military on the condition that forces stayed at home unless the German public could be convinced to back neutral peacekeeping or humanitarian missions. Today Germany has the fourth largest army in the world, which takes part in NATO and U.N. peacekeeping missions. However, Western capitals regularly complain that German foreign engagement does not match its economic clout. The issue is not constitutional, it is one of public opinion. Foreign engagement led to two world wars which destroyed Germany. Successive German governments have seen no reason to increase military spending, especially with a public so shy of engaging on the international stage.

In the Japanese case, the issue is constitutional. Article 9 of the constitution prohibits “the threat or the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.”

The recent murder of Japanese hostages by ISIS highlighted this issue and there is no doubt that rapid armament by the Chinese has also contributed to this debate. Japan is in the bizarre situation at present where it can shield American warships defending Japan but cannot partake in offensive attacks nor in multinational operations.

As for self-defense, the U.N. Charter enshrines both collective and individual self-defense as a basic right of states. The reality is that the Second World War was a long time ago and both the German and Japanese governments of today bear no resemblance to that era. Just as they contribute to the global economy, they should be fully fledged members in the military defense of the international system.

A proactive Japan

The U.S. has explicitly supported reform of Japan’s constitution, such support is necessary to convince an incredibly pacifist Japanese public of the need to have a foreign policy with teeth. Likewise, Germany military spending remains very low and the German public must be convinced that an active Bundeswehr is a necessary evil.

The overwhelming focus of the 2015 U.N. National Security Strategy is Asia and the “pivot West.” There is no doubt that a more proactive Japan would be able to counter and discourage hitherto unhindered Chinese activity in the pacific. This would be in keeping with the U.S. policy of ensuring stability in East Asia. Similarly, with the U.S. overstretched, a hands-on Germany on Russia’s doorstep would assist in supporting diplomatic efforts to contain Vladimir Putin’s expansionist ambitions.

In an international system where the U.S. can no longer shoulder the entire burden of keeping the peace, credible and engaging security partners are required.

The world could really use a more powerful Germany and Japan.
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Zaid M. Belbagi is a government communications expert with experience in providing strategic advice in the Gulf.  Belbagi is a graduate of the Oxford University Foreign Service Programme (OUFSP), having earned a Masters degree in diplomatic studies from St. Antony's College, Oxford. A commentator on Gulf affairs, he is a fellow at the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) and formerly a visiting scholar at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS). He regularly appears on TV.

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