New Policy Directions

The contradiction between the “widening” and “deepening” of security perplexes the Japanese security debate. On one hand, it is unthinkable that any nation in the world would attempt to invade Japan in a D-Day like landing. Only the United States could carry out such an attack, and the forces that would do this are already stationed in Okinawa. On the other hand, Japan faces these real threats as demonstrated in 1998 when People’s Democratic Republic of Korea launched a long-range missile across Japan into the Pacific Ocean. The Cold War has not yet ended on the Korean Peninsula. The ongoing abduction issue only magnifies feelings on this issue. Japan has not fully abandoned its former definitions of security, recently stating that the objective of its national defense is, “to prevent direct and indirect aggression, but once invaded, to repel such aggression thereby preserving the independence and peace of Japan founded upon democratic principles.”[1] The basis of this policy is reliance upon the United States for deterrence of such an attack.

The 1995 Kobe Earthquake response, the 1995 Sarin Gas attacks, and the attacks of 9/11 prove that traditional conceptions of deterrence are no longer fully applicable. Concerns of international terrorism, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons and their delivery technology keep Japanese defense planners awake at night. Japan cannot move beyond the Cold War paradigm, but must respond to the new security paradigm as well.

The examples represented here are only a few of a plethora of challenges facing the Japanese Gaimunsho. Christopher Hughes described this challenge best when he said,

Thus the challenge for contemporary security policy globally and across regions is to respond to intermingling issues such as high- and low-intensity unconventional and conventional military conflicts among state, intrastate, and nonstate actors; economic exclusion, disparity, rivalry, and dislocation; migration, organized crime, and piracy associated with economic integration and disintegration; and of natural and manmade disasters, infectious diseases, and environmental destruction.[2]

In short, Japan must balance a myriad of threats within the two paradigms.

Anthony DiFilippo has outlined two options for Japanese security in the post-Cold War era.[3] Either it can stay its current course with the United States, or it can work to redefine its security role in East Asia. The status quo is, of course, easier, but not without its own costs. A major change, he argues, includes abandoning the U.S.-Japan agreement in order to resolve several contradictions. DiFillippo lists five contradictions between Japanese policy and actions:

1. Opposing nuclear weapons, but relying on the U.S. nuclear umbrella

2. Opposing use of force in resolving problems, but relying on the US’s use of force to resolve problems.

3. Promoting nuclear non-proliferation, but “remaining more rhetorical than substantive.”[4]

4. Supporting the UN as arbiter of international disputes, but focusing on the U.S. for resolution of those disputes.

5. Maintaining article 9, but financing the eighth highest level of military spending on a PPP basis.[5]

DiFillipo’s recommendations are that Japan’s choices are among these two extremes: either stick it out or abandon the security alliance. He notes, “Japan’s two major security options leave little ambiguity about directions for policy development in the twenty-first century. Staying the present course, that is, maintaining the existing alliance with the United States means that Japan has selected to sustain a regional environment that perpetuates distrust and tension.” Japan seems to have chosen a path between these contradictions. On one hand, Japan realizes it needs to build relations with its neighbors in order to guarantee its security. Yakushiji Katsuyuki notes that throughout the 1990s Japan attempted to balance its choices. He said, “in the 1990s, the Foreign Ministry groped for a new post-Cold War foreign policy, looking to develop an autonomous foreign policy along with strengthening U.S.-Japan alliance.”[6] However, Japan balances this with the fear that the U.S. would abandon Japan in its greatest time of need. Lieggi and Wubbels of the Nonproliferation Center note, “If this uncertainty spurs a push for self-reliance within the Japanese government, efforts to strengthen Japan's military forces are likely to increase.”[7]

Hughes again notes that Japan is hedging its bets by both supporting the United States in hopes of receiving support in case the North Korean threat worsens. However, Japan is also working on building relations with its neighbors such as joining the revolution in military affairs (RMA); improve intelligence (as seen in recent satellite launches); participating in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF); and support the U.S. in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Richard Tanter of the Nautilus Institute calls this new buildup the “Heisei Militarization.” This new militarization of Japan is in step with the United States and its move towards a new kind of military establishment for responding to old nuclear threats and new threats such as terrorism. These changes compose what the United States Pentagon calls “transformation,” or an ability to respond rapidly to a variety of military threats. For Japan, it means building destroyers that carry up to six helicopters, in addition to other hardware that extends Japan’s reach.

This buildup and reversal towards the Cold War paradigm is not without its dangers. As Japan defends itself against military threats, it risks sparking a new Cold War in East Asia (or at least protracting the former conflict). Simultaneously, Japan is allying with an increasingly unpopular regime. Mark Selden compares the U.S. and Japan in his book, “War and State Terrorism.” He notes the U.S. has been a protagonist throughout East Asia and has built a necklace of bases around the edge of the Pacific. He describes Japan:

By contrast, a semisovereign Japan, with the no war clause in its U.S.-imposed constitution and U.S. troops permanently based on its soil, has been at “peace” for nearly six decades, albeit a peace in which it provided critical economic, technological, diplomatic, and other support for every U.S. war in the region.[8]

Prime Minister Koizumi has chosen to side with the Bush Administration as demonstrated by his loyalty following the September 11 attacks and the subsequent military actions in Afghanistan and in Iraq. There is a danger, implied by Selden, that Japan will be seen more as an aggressor as it both militarizes itself and strengthens its alliance with the United States.

For now, this balancing act between the Cold War paradigm and the new security paradigm will work. However, Japan seems to be sliding in reverse towards the Cold War mindset. If it continues on this path, Japan will need to answer the United States continuing call for revision of Article 9. According to Balbina Hwang of the Heritage Foundation, in return for security provided Japan the United States wishes to eliminate “structural factors that impede full cooperation—for example, land and basing access for military maneuvers, and constitutional limitations.[9]

Is Japan willing to accept this cost? Can Japan both defend against its threatening neighbors without causing others to feel threatened? Shall Japan be a leader in Asia, or will it cede this right to the U.S.? These tough questions are not being answered as Japan sits on a fence between the old Cold War paradigm and the new post 9/11 paradigm of insecurity.


[2] Hughes, Christopher W. Japan’s Security Agenda: Military, Economic, and Environmental Dimensions.” Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. P. 235.

[3] FiLippo, Anthony. “The Challenges of the U.S.-Japan Military Arrangement.” Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe. 2002. p. 158

[4] DiFillipo, p. 165.


[6] Katsuyuki, Yakushiji. “Japanese Foreign Policy in Light of the Iraq War.”


[8] Selden, Mark and Alvin Y. So, Eds. “War and State Terrorism: The United States, Japan, and the Asia-Pacific in the Long Twentieth Century.” Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2004. p. 35.

[9] Hwang, Balbina H. “The Evolution of the U.S.-Japan Alliance and Future Prospects.” Heritage Lectures. The Heritage Foundation. No. 861. December 21, 2004.

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