Ukraine War Illustrates Importance of Peace as Japan Marks End of WWII

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, the importance of peace has never been more poignantly felt. Each and every person must think again about what they should do to protect peace.

The 78th anniversary of the end of World War II has come. The government-sponsored national memorial service for the war dead was held at the Nippon Budokan hall in Tokyo. It is a day to mourn the 3.1 million victims of the war who lost their lives with their dreams unfulfilled, and to renew the pledge for peace.

Outrages must be stopped

The situation in Ukraine tragically demonstrates the fragility of the peace that Japanese people have taken for granted since the end of World War II. The Russian invasion that began in February last year shows no signs of ending.

Russia has fired missiles and other weapons into Ukraine cities and destroyed them. In the areas of Ukraine that Russia has occupied, it continues to commit war crimes, including massacring civilians and forcibly transporting children to Russia. Moscow has also threatened to use nuclear weapons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assertions are extremely self-righteous.

The Russian president has stressed the historical and cultural connections between Russia and Ukraine and is trying to use them as an excuse to justify the invasion.

Putin is fundamentally destroying the international order established after World War II. The U.N. Charter clearly stipulates respect for sovereignty and territory, and the settlement of disputes through peaceful means.

If Russia’s outrages go unchallenged, the world might return to the days of “might makes right,” when powerful nations vied with each other to expand their spheres of influence. The current international situation can be called the greatest crisis since World War II.

Since the invasion of Ukraine started, energy and grain prices have risen, and the world economy has been hit hard. The effects of the invasion by that authoritarian nation are being felt throughout the world. The international community must unite and maintain order.

The problem is that various nations are responding to Russia in different ways.

The Group of Seven advanced nations and the member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are stepping up their support for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia to ensure that the Russian invasion will fail.

Overcome world divisions

In contrast, China has increased its trade with Russia, diluting the impact of sanctions. Iran and North Korea are said to be providing arms to Russia.

Emerging and developing countries such as India and Brazil, collectively known as the Global South, are also reluctant to put pressure on Russia, with many of those countries taking a neutral stance. A myriad of elements are behind this, including opposition to former Western colonial rulers and an emphasis on military and economic relations with China and Russia.

However, if unilateral changes to the status quo are allowed to take place, the countries of the Global South will suffer as well. The food crisis that areas in the Global South are suffering is directly attributable to Russia’s blocking of Ukrainian grain exports.

Japan needs to leverage the relationships of trust it has cultivated through official development assistance and other means, and step up its efforts to encourage emerging and developing countries to reassess their relations with Russia. Such efforts will likely be a step toward restoring unity to the international community.

Focus on imminent threats

Postwar Japan has followed the path of a pacifist nation, with the Japan-U.S. alliance and U.N. centrism as the pillars of its diplomacy and security. The present peace and prosperity, combined with a stable international environment, indicate this choice was the right one.

However, the security environment surrounding Japan has never been more severe. China, the greatest threat, is attempting to unilaterally change the status quo in the South China Sea and around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. Beijing has also maintained its stance that it will not hesitate to integrate Taiwan with China by force.

North Korea has repeatedly launched missiles, and Russia continues to conduct military exercises in Japan’s northern territories, which Russia is illegally occupying.

To deal with these threats, it is essential not only to advocate peace, but also to have the deterrence and counterattack capabilities that will discourage others from invasion or attack.

Late last year, the government revised three security documents, including the National Security Strategy. The revisions marked a turning point in the government’s postwar security policy, as the security strategy clearly stipulated the possession of counterstrike capabilities to destroy enemy missile launch sites for the purpose of self-defense.

The security strategy also set forth a policy of increasing the defense-related budget to the equivalent of 2% of gross domestic product. However, it has not yet been determined how the necessary financial resources will be secured, and this remains an issue for the future.

Even if a plan is created based on the current situation, it may end up as mere talk if the budget is insufficient or if public understanding for the plan is not obtained.

The government must carefully explain that strengthening defense capabilities is a necessary measure to protect peace, and steadily do so.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 15, 2023)