Paradigms of Security

The reality of Japanese security is that it lies between two paradigms. The first is a deeply rooted understanding of traditional security of the Cold War. Traditional national security studies have been concerned with military threats and interactions between nation-states, such as the nuclear threat that has defined East Asian and Japanese security policies for the last sixty years. According to Michael Sheehan,

During the long domination of academic international relations by realism (approximately from the late 1930s to the late 1970s), the working definition of security was a strictly limited one, which saw its nature as being concerned with military power, and the subject of these concerns as being the state, so that the concept was routinely referred to as “national security.[1]

This paradigm of security studies is central to understanding the security situation of East Asia throughout World War 2 and the Cold War era. This is especially true for Japan, which lies in an especially insecure corner of the world.

As the United States claimed victory in Europe, the focus of World War 2 shifted east. At the Yalta Conference, the United States requested Russia assist in its campaign against Japan. The Russians advanced southward into China, the Korean Peninsula, and Sakhalin Island towards Hokkaido. In return for its assistance against Japan, the U.S. promised Russia possession of most of Japan’s occupied territories including Manchuria, the Korean Peninsula, Sakhalin, and the Kuril Islands. The two nations were allies.

With the death of Roosevelt, and the rise of Truman as president, the situation drastically changed. In August of 1945, the United States dropped atomic bombs on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, swiftly ending the war while simultaneously signaling to the Soviets in an act of “atomic diplomacy.” A key concept of national security played out; the balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union began. The end of World War 2 was a race for property and influence between the United States and the United Soviet Socialist Republic. This division sparked on the Korean peninsula, a once contiguous land dominated by the Japanese nearly a century ago. The Korean War initiated the division of the Korean Peninsula just a few short years after the end of the war.[2]

In 1947, Japan ratified its current pacifist constitution. However, “the ink had hardly dried”[3] before the United States and other parties began to demand revision of the constitution in order for Japan to raise an Army and fulfill traditional security roles, especially in order to defend the new found “democracy” being inculcated in Japan. Bruce Cumings notes that a mere five years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States was again threatening to utilize nuclear weapons only a few hundred miles to the West in Korea in order to do this.[4] Although Eisenhower did not coin the phrase until 1954, the U.S. feared The Republic of Korea would become the first domino to fall to the “soviet threat.”

Meanwhile, in 1951, the United States and Japan signed documents ending the postwar occupation, but beginning another in the form of the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance. This alliance has been the backbone of Japanese security ever since. According to Yukio Okamoto, special advisor to Prime Minister Koizumi’s Task Force on Foreign Relations, “Since abandoning its sovereign right to the use of force other than for purely defensive purposes, Japan considers the alliance the sine qua non of the country’s security.”[5]

A unique aspect of this alliance is that it is extremely unbalanced. Ted Osius notes, “the original security treaty was more like a basing arrangement than a traditional alliance agreement, as a joint response was required only if an adversary attacked Japanese territory.”[6] This has allowed the U.S. to maintain bases in Japan, currently including the only permanently forward deployed aircraft carrier (U.S.S. Kitty Hawk, Yokosuka Japan) and the accompanying seventh fleet. This is only the beginning of a long list of Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines permanently stationed throughout Japan, from Misawa Air Base in the north to the dozens of bases throughout Okinawa. Why are they still here? What is the reason for the longevity of this alliance?
The U.S. military presence in Japan has fulfilled two purposes. First, the U.S. served as a nuclear deterrent for first the Soviet Union, then China, and now People’s Democratic Republic of Korea. Second, the base has also allayed fears among Japan’s neighbors of “potential” Japanese aggression and militarization. The security relationship with the United States has presented Japan with a unique opportunity to address broad security threats through a variety of means. Specifically, “the alliance framework with the United States that emerged out of the 1951 San Francisco System has proved to be the optimal instrument for putting into practice Japan’s mercantilism.”[7] This allowed Japan to focus first on economic growth (almost religiously) and later to offer Overseas Development Aid (ODA) to neighboring countries. The San Francisco Accords also alleviated Japan’s responsibility for crimes against its neighbors.

This paradigm work well throughout the Cold War period; however, it has not worked well in the interim fifteen years. Susanne Klein illustrated this point well when she said, “As long as the Cold War world order lasted, Japan’s close cooperation with the U.S. proved to be the ideal framework for implementing Japan’s mercantilism, but since the beginning of the 1990s, Japan’s alliance with the U.S. has increasingly become a target of criticism.”[8] The United States wants Japan to carry more of its own weight.

In 1989, the war between the two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States, ended. An opportunity arose for scholars to challenge the conceptions of security studies. Although Barry Buzan first proposed a broadening of the academic definition of security in the mid seventies, the end of the conflict allowed actual application. Christopher Hughes notes that, “it was not until the 1990s that alternative security concerns were able to reemerge in the mainstream security agenda.”[9] He further notes that the debate between ‘widening’ security and ‘deepening’ it still rages. On one hand, there is still a strong focus between “the defense of the nation/sovereign state from external military threats” and “freeing and protecting human welfare from all forms of potential or actualized threats.”[10]

As Germans celebrated the fall of the wall, and later reunified, the Japanese could only hold their breath. Although there was great rejoicing in Europe, and the U.S. closed dozens of bases throughout Bavaria, little changed in East Asia. Worse of all, the People's Democratic Republic of Korea lost its sponsor, and an age of instability settled across East Asia. In addition, China began to experience strong growth throughout the nineties, and has had record growth since its admission to the WTO in 2001. However, five specific events rocked the Japanese sense of security.

First, the First Gulf War in 1991 raised many questions for Japan and its security partnership with the United States. With the decline of the soviet threat, the unequal nature of the agreement became clear. The United States expected Japan to assist in the war, but because of its pacifist Article 9, it could not. Instead, Japan opted for “dollar diplomacy,” whereby it became the greatest financial contributor towards the war effort in addition to post-conflict minesweepers.[11] However, global opinion greatly criticized Japan for its lack of participation. The financial contribution was too little, too late.

A RAND Institute report noted three lessons for Japan. First, the end of the Cold War did not necessarily guarantee peace dividends. Second, Peacekeeping Operations through the UN were where the action was. Third, “Japan learned that, in a crisis, the soldier gets more respect than the banker.”[12] The events of the Gulf War shook up Japan, and fed an ongoing debate about Japanese identity and its role in the world.

The second and third major events that shook Japan both took place in 1995. On January 17 of that year, a large earthquake struck the city of Kobe, Japan. It was a major shock to the nation of Japan. It stands as the single most expensive natural disaster of all times.[13] Furthermore, it illustrated what kind of response the nation could expect from its government in a major disaster, or similarly, an attack from abroad. “They failed miserably.”[14] The San Jose Mercury News noted a couple years later that, “…more than just Kobe collapsed with the Great Hanshin Earthquake, as it is called here. Nationwide, the disaster toppled the Japanese people's self-confidence and certitude in their unique government and social system, a partnership that created so much economic wealth so quickly, but responded so miserably in a pinch.”[15] This only sealed the fate of the bursting bubble that took place throughout the 1990s.

Later that same year, just two months after the earthquake, a man-made disaster struck the heart of Tokyo. In the largest post-war attack on Japan, a handful of Aum Shinrikyo members released Sarin gas on the Tokyo Subway system. Again, the state did not know how to respond. Kaplan and Marshall note that, “The performance of Japanese police, so abysmal as to defy belief, is now part of the historical record.”[16] Together, both events illustrated how ill prepared the government were to protect the people of Japan. The latter also illustrated a new kind of threat – a threat the American nuclear umbrella or security agreement did nothing to address.

One change that resulted from the utter failure these events demonstrated was a strengthening of the Japanese Prime Minister’s office. Under Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto (1996-1998), major reform was sought, and finally achieved in 2001. A direct result of the 1995 Kobe disaster, the Hashimoto reforms included revision of the Cabinet Law to streamline authority for policy initiatives by the Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretariat along with a reorganization of the Secretariat. “The revised law supported a more decisive role for the prime minister.”[17] Lessons learned from the prior events and these changes allowed for a much different response to the next event.

On September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked in the United States, three of which were successfully flown into their designated targets, the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia. Japan’s response was relatively fast, especially as compared to its response to the Gulf War. The reforms enacted a few years before allowed for swift action – immediately the Government of Japan issued a statement acknowledging the attacks, and the National Security Council of Japan met and adopted six measures, two of which entered Japan into the “War on Terror.”[18]

This is not a comprehensive list of challenges that faced Japan throughout the 1990s, but it is illustrative of the new challenges that faced the nation. These changes forced Japan to understand new kinds of security threats beyond traditional security scares. As in the overall debate on security, Japan witnessed insecurity as demonstrated by non-traditional military threats, environmental scares, and terrorism.

[1] Sheehan, Michael. “International Security: An Analytical Survey.” Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. 2005. p. 5.

[2] Markowitz, Norman. “The Yalta Conference and International Cooperation.”, Marxist Thought Online.

[3] McCormack, Gavan. “Emptiness of Japanese Affluence.” Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc. P. 191.

[4] 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. 70.

[5] Okamoto, Yukuio. Japan and the United States: The Essential Alliance.” The Washingotn Quarterly. Vol. 25, No. 2, Pg. 59. Spring 2002.

[6] Osius, Ted. “The U.S.-Japan Security Alliance: Why It Matters and How to Strengthen It.” Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers. 2002. p. 2.

[7] Klein, Susanne “Rethinking Japan’s Identity and International Role: An Intercultural Perspective.” New York: Routledge. 2002. p. 165.

[8] Klein, p. 166.

[9] Hughes, Christopher. Japan’s Security Agenda: Military, Economic, and Environmental Dimensions.” Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. 2004. p. 7.

[10] Hughes, p. 9.






[16] Kaplan, David E. and Andrew Marshall. “The Cult at the End of the World.” New York: Crown Publishers. 1996. p. 293.

[17] Shinoda, Tomohito. “Koizumi’s Top-Down Leadership in the Anti-Terrorism Legislation: The Impact of Political Institutional Changes.” SAIS Review, vol. 23, No 1 (Winter-Spring 2003). P. 26.


No comments:

Popular Posts