Is Japan Preparing For War?

Back on October 7, 1940, more than a year before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum in his capacity as director of the Office of Naval Intelligence's Far East Asia section, drafted what is now known as the "Eight Action Memo" (which can be read in its entirety here) to FDR in which he recommended an eight-part course of action for the United States to take in regard to the Japanese Empire in the South Pacific, suggesting the United States provoke Japan into committing an overt act of war.

Explicitly, in the memo McCollum said that "It is not believed that in the present state of political opinion the United States government is capable of declaring war against Japan without more ado." Which leaves one option: force Japan to declare war on the US: "If by these means Japan could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better. At all events we must be fully prepared to accept the threat of War."

How would the US accelerate this plan to have Japan declare war on it? Simple: by collapsing the Japanese economy sufficiently, to where a crippled Japan would stand to lose little by declaring war on the US. Some of the specific steps planned in advance:

  • Give all possible aid to the Chinese government of Chiang-Kai-Shek.
  • Insist that the Dutch refuse to grant Japanese demands for undue economic concessions, particularly oil.
  • Completely embargo all U.S. trade with Japan, in collaboration with a similar embargo imposed by the British Empire.

In other words, the plan was to "entrap" Japan to declare war on the US - a declaration which the US would have long anticipated - which would then allow America to engage Europe and Hitler as part of its broader entry into World War II from which it had been previously separated.

Sure enough, just over a year later, with its economy in shambles and having no real option than to attack the country that had put it in an untenable position, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the rest is history.

The reason we bring it up is because Japan just approved a record 5 trillion yen defense budget: one which while paling by comparison to America's gargantuan defense spending, prompted Bloomberg to observe that "Japan gets ready to fight."

For decades, Japan was bound by its 1947 constitution to mobilize troops solely for self-defense. The country didn’t have the legal right to send armed troops abroad to protect its own people or back up allies who come under attack.  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is determined to change this Cold War arrangement, which was imposed by the U.S. during its postwar occupation of Japan. Today the country faces a far more complex set of threats than the Soviet invasion that it feared 70 years ago. Islamic State has pledged more attacks to punish Japan’s decision to extend $200 million in humanitarian aid to countries battling the extremists who hold sway over large sections of Syria and Iraq.


Abe, a defense hawk and the scion of a prominent political family, has embarked on an overhaul of national security strategy. In an historic step, his cabinet last year approved the exports of military equipment and conducted a legal review that concluded Japan had the right to deploy its military power abroad to protect its citizens and back up allies under attack. In addition, the cabinet favored loosening limits on when Japan’s Self-Defense Forces could use deadly force during United Nations peacekeeping operations and international incidents near Japan that fall short of full-scale war.

To be sure, Japan is not contemplating becoming a second US, and allowing "moderate Syria rebels" direct air support. However, with the boosted defensive (and offensive) capabilities Japan just may believe it has enough leverage to take on someone, anyone, if it so chooses:

Abe isn’t contemplating Japanese boots on the ground in Iraq or Syria or joint offensive operations with the U.S. anywhere else. He calls his initiatives “proactive contributions to peace.” The Japanese public remains wary of foreign entanglements and rescue missions abroad. The same goes for the Komeito Party, the Liberal Democratic Party’s partner in the coalition. Abe faces a heated debate in the Diet to get approval to provide rearguard support to the U.S. This is, after all, the country that last year celebrated the successful effort by a Japanese housewife to have Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which renounces war, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Bloomberg lays out some of the key budgeted expenditures:

Japan’s economic and fiscal woes, which Abe is trying to address, will make it difficult to significantly upgrade the country’s military. In January the cabinet approved a record 4.98 trillion-yen ($41 billion) defense budget that includes funding to purchase Northrop Grumman Global Hawk drones and F-35A fighter jets from Lockheed Martin. Even so, that’s less than a tenth of what the U.S. spends annually and less than half of China’s defense tab.


Then again Japan does not need to match the US in capabilities. All it needs is to boost its self-confidence enough to where the next time a Chinese cruiser crosses into what Japan believes is its maritime territory, it will think just once, not twice, before unleashing a torpedo at the offender.

Bloomberg's conclusion: "If Abe’s national security makeover succeeds, Japan’s evolution into a “normal state,” as LDP strategists say, will get a big boost."

Of course, "normal" is being generous: as those who follow Japan's economic collapse are well-aware, between Abenomics and its demographic implosion, Japan is now the first officially failed "Keynesian" state. And sadly, it is the fact that Japan's economic situation is now as bad if not worse compared to where it was in 1940 that makes it the biggest threat: because as Greece is demonstrating currently, it is not until "you have lost everything, that you are free to do anything."

Japan has almost lost everything. It still has its precious Nikkei but that is one major central bank debacle away from total implosion. And then what?

Which brings us to our original question: is Japan actively preparing for war... or, just like in 1940s, is the stage being set by "someone" to "force" Japan to declare war on "someone", once the next and final pillar from underneath its economic house of cards - a house of cards that has only gotten worse when Japan followed the US fed into terminal currency devaluation courtesy of the BOJ's money printer - is finally pulled?