As of March 2005, Japan has some 550 troops deployed in Southern Iraq in support of the rebuilding effort there. These soldiers, though well trained and lavishly equipped, are expressly forbidden from entering into any sort of combat operation unless they are specifically fired upon. Indeed, to ensure their security and ability to retain a non-combatant role, 500 Danish troops are stationed down the road from their headquarters who are free to engage in combat as a bodyguard if need be.
Despite the limited size of the deployment and the specifically passive role the troops are taking, the decision to send Japanese forces into a foreign conflict sparked a public debate both domestically and among Japan's neighbors and needed to go through a lengthy process of government approval.
At first glance, the decision and the controversy around it seems much ado about nothing, but in fact it is representative of a shift in Japanese society and policy that is gathering momentum.
Japan is coming out of its pacifist, demilitarized shell that has been under incubation for sixty years and will in the near future assume a position other than mere economic powerhouse, both in the region and in the world, while in the process raking up the seeds of old nationalistic hatred, completely altering the regional balance of power, and possibly throwing arms control to the wind.
The Japanese military has had a rather interesting run in the last 100 years. In May of 1905, the Japanese Imperial Navy annihilated a Russian fleet at the Battle of Tushima, striking the blow that ended the Russo-Japanese war and marking the first major military victory of an Asian nation over a great European power.
What made this achievement even more remarkable was the fact that Japan had only embarked on a campaign...