Germany and Japan, the two main Axis powers defeated in World War II, are now rearming themselves following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
It is a historical shift, as the crushing defeat of Nazi Germany and the surrender of the Empire of Japan after the atomic bomb attacks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced the two countries to disarm.
After World War II, both Germany and Japan followed pacifist policies as nations, minimizing defense spending and putting emphasis on industry and development.
Now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, Germany is announcing a €100 billion ($113 billion) special fund for investments in its armed forces.
At the same time, at a recent press conference, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that “Japan needs to implement a fundamental upgrade of its defense capabilities.”
Germany reacts to invasion of Ukraine
While Germany first sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine including helmets and a field hospital, and imposed sanctions against Russian oligarchs, it soon changed its course.
Germany’s first act of military aid was to send 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger anti-aircraft defense systems to Ukraine. It also lifted the block on other EU member states from sending German-made equipment to the country.
Also, it is reportedly going to send another 2,700 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, part of the old inventory from the East German armed forces.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “turning point” before proposing massive spending in Germany’s defense and security, reversing the country’s long-established military policy.
This was a dramatic shift for the country and Europe in general. A strong military was a decades-long taboo for Germany. Scholz broke this taboo after the war in Ukraine.
Scholz said Germany would need to invest much more in its security, “in order to protect our freedom and our democracy.” The €100 billion ($113 billion) investment in the Bundeswehr has been called “revolutionary” for today’s Germany by experts.
The German leader committed to spending more than 2 percent of the country’s GDP, much more than the €47 billion Germany spent on defense in 2021. NATO is asking that members of the alliance spend two percent of GDP on defense.
In 2014, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, NATO members agreed on a timeline for members to spend this amount of their GDP on defense.
Germany made the commitment, but struggled to meet those targets, and spent about 1.5 percent of its budget on defense in 2021.
The invasion of Ukraine made the other Axis ally in World War II, Japan, reconsider its also long-established pacifist policy.
Japan is to follow Germany
Japan — with substantial military power, ranking fifth in the world — is closely watching Germany and its determination to enhance its military presence after decades of pacifist policies.
“Japan is watching now, very much attentively, how Germany is responding to the Ukraine crisis and how fundamentally Germany is transforming to adapt itself to new reality,” Yoichi Funabashi, chairman of Asia Pacific Initiative think tank, told the Washington Post.
At a recent news conference, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that “Japan needs to implement a fundamental upgrade of its defense capabilities.”
In a move that shows Japan is extending a hand to the West, joined in the sanctions imposed against Russia while aiding Ukraine at the same time.
Japan targeted Russian oligarchs and banks and committed to more than $200 million in aid to Ukraine, having its name added in Russia’s “black list” of nations across the world.
Furthermore, Tokyo lodged a diplomatic protest with Moscow after it scrambled fighter jets on March 2. A suspected Russian helicopter entered Japan’s northern airspace amid the war in Ukraine.
Similarly, Swedish airspace was violated as well, following Russia’s threat that there will be consequences if Sweden joins NATO.
Japan and the nuclear weapons taboo
Even though Japan’s punishment for fighting alongside Germany in World War II was extremely severe, former conservative prime minister Shinzo Abe brought the issue of nuclear weapons on the table.
“In NATO, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy are hosting U.S. nuclear weapons,” Abe said in a televised interview last week.
“It’s essential that we understand how global security is maintained,” he said.
The former prime minister was referring mainly to Taiwan and China issues. “We must not put taboos in the discussion about the reality we are facing,” he said, urging the current Tokyo government to take similar deterrent measures.
Some see it as as a cruel irony that the only country that experienced the horror of nuclear weapons, with hundreds of thousands of victims in the following years, is now considering hosting the same killing machines on its own land.