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Henrique Altemani Oliveira
Japan, a Normal State?
Japão, um Estado Normal?
DOI: 10.21530/ci.v14n1.2019.887
Henrique Altemani Oliveira
This article seeks to demonstrate that Japan throughout time has made gradual adjustments
throughout time to increase its military capacities, in order to regain autonomy in relation to
its defence. With this process of “adjustment”, without constitutional reforms, Japan presently
possesses military capabilities that are similar to those of the primary global powers in terms
of budget, technologically advanced military resources, manpower, and it masters the entire
cycle for the production of a nuclear weapon. In an unstable regional scenario, entwined
with the rise of threat to Japan’s strategic and economic security and with the increase of the
possibility of being abandoned by the United States, what is preventing Japan in claiming
its defence autonomy and taking collective security actions? The first part of this reflection
introduces some concepts that indicate the contradictions, paradoxes, and fundaments that
underpin the construction of the Japanese security identity. The second part concentrates on
the analysis of the tendency of revision or of reinterpretation of the Japanese Constitution
with regards to possessing Armed Forces as a foreign policy instrument.
Keywords: Japan; Normal State; Militarization; Pacifism; Japan-USA Alliance.
Este artigo propõe demonstrar que o Japão aplicou ao longo do tempo ajustes graduais de
crescimento das suas capacidades militares para recuperar autonomia em sua própria defesa.
Com este processo de “ajustes”, sem reformas constitucionais, Japão detém atualmente
capacidades militares similares às das principais potências mundiais em termos de orçamento,
recursos materiais tecnologicamente avançados, contingentes humanos e domina todos os
1 Ph.D. in Sociology, University of São Paulo (USP). Visiting Professor at the Institute of International Relations,
University of Brasília (UnB)
Artigo submetido em 07/02/2019 e aprovado em 19/04/2019.
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Japan, a Normal State?
ciclos para produção da arma nuclear. Em um cenário regional instável, com a emergência
de riscos à sua segurança estratégica e econômica e com aumento da possibilidade de ser
abandonado pelos Estados Unidos, o que falta para o Japão assumir sua autonomia em defesa
e atuar em ações de segurança coletiva? O texto avalia, na primeira parte, alguns conceitos
que apontam as contradições, paradoxos e fundamentos que embasam a construção da
identidade de segurança do Japão. E, na segunda, concentra-se na análise da tendência de
revisão ou de reinterpretação da Constituição Japonesa no que tange ter Forças Armadas
como instrumentos de Política Externa.
Palavras-chave: Japão; Estado Normal; Militarização; Pacifismo; Aliança Japão-EUA.
Different contributions with focus on East Asia have concluded that in spite
of its economic-commercial interdependencies, the region is marked by the lack
of institutions which would be able to create even a modest sense of security. The
regional security architecture is basically embedded in military alliances with the
United States (USA), and the physical presence of its troops.
Apart from the fact that Asia is the region with the strongest presence of
nuclear states, – a circumstance which is further exacerbated by North Korea´s
recent demonstration of possessing nuclear capabilities – an extensive series of
contentious issues also became apparent, which generates an environment of
continued tension and relative instability. The Korean Peninsula and Taiwan are
the most important locations regarding such matters, and, when it comes to Japan,
the territorial disputes with Russia, China, and South Korea should also be noted,
as well as the historical resentments related to the country´s imperialist past.
Confronted with this unstable scenario, and with the worst safety environment
during the Cold War (CW), Japan considers that in the post-CW period, four
menaces that threaten its strategic and economic security have become evident:
i) the Chinese emergence; ii) the North Korean regime’s aggressiveness; iii) the
possibility of being abandoned by the USA; and iv) the relative decline of its
economy (SAMUELS, 2007, p. 258-60).
The big question which Japan faces (without Armed Forces and nuclear
capacities) relates to what and who should guarantee its security. What certainty
does the country have that the USA effectively would protect it in case of a
conventional or nuclear attack? Should Japan recover its sovereignty within
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Henrique Altemani Oliveira
the strategic-military dimension by directly assuming the responsibility for its
own defence? Are nuclear capabilities indispensable? How can economic power
be transmuted into political power? Are military capabilities a pre-requisite for
political capabilities?
These issues have become more pressing with the current USA president´s
emphasis on defending the “America First” strategy, thus making clear that his
primary interest is self-preservation with the country´s institutions and intact
values, but in order to accomplish this, it is necessary to avoid nuclear war with
China (ALLISON, 2017).
In order to guarantee its security, since 1945 Japan has applied a gradualist
strategy of increasing its military capabilities according to the i) varying increase
or decrease of the feeling of security or insecurity; ii) the different stages in its
economic growth; iii) the changes in the interests of the domestic coalition in
power, and; iv) the external possibilities.
With this process of “adjustment”, without constitutional reforms, Japan
presently possesses military capabilities that are similar to those of the primary
global powers in terms of budget, technologically advanced military resources,
and manpower. Furthermore, it masters the entire cycle for the production of
nuclear weapons, as well as nuclear launching capabilities (PARIS, 2016). What
else is required in order to officially announce its offensive capabilities, assume
its autonomy in defence-related matters, and act in collective self-defence?
The term “normal state”, or “normal country”, was introduced by the Prime
Ministers Hatoyama Ichiro (1954-1956) and Kishi Nobusuke (1957-1960) as a
“traditional nation-state”, in the defence and expectation of Japan´s reassessment
of its autonomy and national power (IOKIBE, 2011, p. 213-14). Hook (1996, p. 2)
states that Japan’s normalization process has begun in the end of the 1940s as a
result of the intensification of the CW, therefore still during the period of Allied
Occupation (1945-1952).
The definition of a new national security strategy is understood, in this regard,
as the process of transformation of the Japanese Self Defence Forces (JSDF) into
an army with the ability to act in offensive missions, and it also means to avoid
an imminent attack or to take part in collective security arrangements outside the
Japanese national territory. In other words, it corresponds to the jargon which
often has been used in relation to “normalization”, or rather “a country able
and willing to defend itself with military force, with or without U.S. assistance”
(BERKOFSKY, 2011, p. 9).
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Japan, a Normal State?
“Normalization” comprises two crucial moments; the first relating to the
demilitarization during the Occupation, while the second concerns the (re)
militarization as a process of restoring the legitimacy of the military as a public
policy instrument (HOOK, 1996, p. 173). The flexibilization of the traditional
pacifist posture does not necessarily imply a militarist and offensive tendency,
but simply that the responsibility of self-defence is assumed.
Without being able to preview how these trends of change will continue in the
future, Pyle (2007, p. 17) affirms that after more than half a century of distancing
from international politics, “Japan is revising its domestics institutions and
preparing to become a major player in the strategic struggles of the twenty-first
century”. These tendencies became much more pronounced during the mandates
of the PMs Junichuro Koizumi (04/2001-09/2006) and Shinzo Abe (09/2006-09/2007
and 12/2012-…).
On the external level, the uncertainties are centred on the continuance or
the disruption of the Japan-USA Alliance and to the reactions of the countries in
North East Asia (China and the Korean Peninsula). A priori, the very hypothesis of
normalization already creates tension, with China and Korea positioning themselves
very negatively towards such normalization. If Japan seeks autonomy in order
to guarantee its security, will the maintenance of the Alliance with the USA as
it is today not eventually frustrate the Japanese aspiration towards sovereign
independence? (HUGHES, 2015).
The objective of this article is to demonstrate that Japan has accepted the
Constitution of Peace, but never abdicated from the right to recover its plain
sovereignty, with autonomy to maintain its own defence. Through a continuous and
consistent strategy of adjustment, based on different constitutional interpretations,
Japan has become marked by conditions which permit the affirmation that it
nowadays possesses Armed Forces and no longer an SDF. Yet, confronted with a
hostile regional scenario, it seeks to maintain and consolidate a military alliance
with the USA, yet, from a position of equality and not of subordination.
The first part of this reflection introduces some concepts which indicate the
contradictions, paradoxes, and fundaments that underpin the construction of
the Japanese security identity. The second part concentrates on the analysis of
the tendency of revision or of reinterpretation of the Japanese Constitution with
regards to possessing Armed Forces as a foreign policy instrument. It concentrates
on the analysis of the specific instruments developed in order to guarantee its
security and on their adjustments throughout time.
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Henrique Altemani Oliveira
Japanese Security Identity
The Japanese security identity
, which was defined upon its surrender in
1945, was related to domestic anti-militarism, moulded by the principles of i)
not possessing a traditional Armed Force; ii) abstaining from the use of force
unless in self-defence; and iii) not participating in foreign wars. These are central
principles within its security identity that serve as a basis for policy formulation,
and especially foreign policy (OROS, 2015, p. 139-141).
The Japanese Constitution (the Peace Constitution), and particularly in its
preamble and Article 9, is a symbol of the post-CW pacifism. In popular and
academic perception, a profound belief in the “Japanese pacifism” can be detected
– even if imposed by the victors. This is how the Japanese are seen and how they
would like to be seen among themselves. In spite of recognizing the presence of
innumerable and convinced pacifists in the country, Almog (2014) criticizes the
general perception of the Japanese state as pacifist. In his perspective, the Article
9 was not inserted in the constitution with a pacifist motivation, but rather in
order to avoid that Japan would become a threat to the USA in particular, and to
the world one more time.
Although the Article 9 states that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other
war potential, will never be maintained”, the existence of Japanese troops,
euphemistically denominated as “self-defence” forces, is nonetheless mentioned.
Hook et al. (2012: p. 3-7) refer to this as a “metaphor of contradiction” and in
the same line of argument highlight how the Japanese international insertion
raises a series of conflictive interpretations and “has evinced, and continues
to evince, metaphors and polemics of change, challenge, contradiction and
In the specific case of nuclear threats, the notion of a pacifist Japan presents
a profound ambivalence. A staunch defender of global nuclear disarmament,
Japan is nonetheless very keen to stay below the USA nuclear umbrella and to
preserve its warranty of extended deterrence (VAN DE VELDE, 1988; WALTZ, 2000).
On the other hand, Japan has maintained its nuclear weaponry option since the
late 1950s, and has the knowledge to develop nuclear weapons because of its
2 A security identity is a set of collectively held principles that have attracted broad political support regarding
the appropriate role of state action in the security arena and are institutionalized into the policy-making process
… providing an overarching framework recognized both by top decision makers and by major societal actors
under which a state shapes its security practices”(OROS, 2008, p. 9; OROS, 2015, p. 145).
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Japan, a Normal State?
technological expertise. However, the country has made it very clear that it will
only develop such weaponry if it were to be abandoned by the USA (HOEY, 2016;
PARIS, 2016; OROS, 2017; ROEHRIG, 2017).
Objectively, Akimoto (2013) considers that “Japan’s security identity has been
constantly changing and elusive”. Or rather, it presents “schizophrenic tendencies”,
as it has changed from a militarist ultra-nationalist state to a pacifist state after its
defeat. As a disarmed state, it appears to want to preserve its security “by trusting
in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world”; participating in
a military alliance, it refuses to take part in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Paraphrasing Coulmy´s work (1991, p. 8-9), Martre underlines the high degree
of contradiction within Japan´s defence policy, which in practice can be translated
as a permanent ambiguity. These contradictions thus become apparent as one
accepts that Japan is “a society in movement, with long term objectives, departing
from a disastrous initial situation, resulting from the capitulation in 1945”.
Amongst these contradictions, the Japanese-American relationship as the
basis for the Japanese defence policy can be highlighted, as well as the role of the
Japanese society. For the USA, Japan has always held the role of a defeated nation,
but still constituted an ally in the confrontation with the Soviet Union (today
with China); a vassal, but also a technological powerhouse. On the internal level,
a population which is “allergic to all kinds of military engagement and nuclear
armaments” should be highlighted, yet, it is still conscious of the vulnerabilities
resulting from the lack of resources and dependency of sources and external
markets, and also recognizes the threatening presence of nuclear powers within
this unstable region.
Nevertheless, this relationship with the USA can also be interpreted, not as
a contradiction, but as a result of a continued pattern of international insertion
moulded by the adhesion to, and support for, the leading world power, “whether
this is the Middle Kingdom of China, imperialist Great Britain, revanchist Germany,
the hegemonic USA, or the post-9/11 USA conducting war on terror” (HOOK et
al. 2012, p. 35).
In this regard, the Japanese narratives about sovereignty and autonomy are
normally correlated with its hierarchic relations, no matter if it is towards Asia, the
West, or the USA in the post-war period. Its identity is therefore constituted by the
practice of comparison with the “others” (KOLMAS, 2018), or by differentiation
in relation to the other, seen as either superior or inferior (HAGSTRÖM and
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Henrique Altemani Oliveira
The reflections regarding the different approaches to identity in relation to
Japan show that the first one regards an identity which is constituted by norms
and a domestic culture, and comprises of interests that define norms, while the
other regards processes of differentiation vis-à-vis to “others”, – Hagström and
Gustafsson (2015, p. 1) conclude that the second, relational approach is more
theoretically solid as it permits that continuity and change be treated within the
same relational structure, and the authors also indicate that Japan tends to assume
a political agenda centred on strengthening Japan militarily”.
For Japan, Asia remains a reified entity with multiple meanings. On the one
hand, it is a space in which Japan can exercise leadership, – generating economic
opportunities – and on the other, it contains potential threats, not less likely to the
resurgence of territorial disputes with its neighbours (TAMAKI, 2015). Gustafsson
(2015) pinpoints that as long as China recognizes the Japanese identity as pacifist,
Japan is more disposed to maintain this idea of itself. Yet, when the anti-Japanese
feeling grows, the Japanese actors seek to distance themselves from this identity
and to “normalize” itself.
In this regard, if the regional security environment continues to evolve in a
dramatic way, the security identity of domestic antimilitarism “will grow even
more disconnected from the previous environment under which it was crafted,
which could result in a much more ‘proactive’ version of the articulated policy
of ‘proactive pacifism’” (OROS, 2015, p. 157).
It thereby becomes essential to question whether pacifism or antimilitarism
represents an identity reality which is moulded by culture and norms (OROS, 2008),
or an imposed, yet, pragmatic pacifism and antimilitarism?
For Green (2010, p. 485) the idea that culture and norms determine security
practice is evidently problematic as the surge of antimilitarism is intrinsically
connected to Japan’s devastating defeat in the war. The author broadens this
reflection considering that the realists can use “the constructivists’ insights as
intervening variables and still maintain a focus on the distribution of power as
the primary driver for change or non-change in Japanese security practice”.
Meanwhile, there is still a profound rift between those who seek to explain
“how identity is created and maintained (using identity as a ‘dependent variable’)
and those who seek to explain how identity affects policy-making (using identity
as an ‘independent variable’)” (OROS, 2015, p. 159). Merging constructivist and
realist perspectives, Komine (2014, p. 91) underscores that although constructivism
does not manage to fully comprise of the changing process in defence policy, “the
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Japan, a Normal State?
public culture of anti-militarism in Japan can be a useful lens for understanding the
trade-off between external military requirements and internal normative restraints”.
In line with the perspective of “a society in movement”, although the rebirth of
security in Japan represents a rejuvenation of thinking and conceptual approaches,
it does not constitute an outright rupture with the past. Old ideas and memories
of elites and societies in general continue to influence the Japanese thinking on
security and to generate obstacles for the establishment of defence policies. These
“legacies from the past” are i) the memories of its colonist past until the Pacific
War; ii) the more than sixty years of antimilitarism (or pacifism); and iii) the
unequal and continued security alliance with the USA (OROS, 2017, p. 24-25).
Taking such legacy into consideration, it becomes possible to infer that
adjustments or changes in Japanese security or defence policies depend on the
Japanese identity and are permeable to the regional or international scenario. In
other words, the Japanese international military agency “cannot be understood
fully without taking into account the complex interaction between the people, the
state and international society in defining ‘identity’ and ‘normality’ in the process
of determining defence and security policies” (HOOK, 1996, p. 1-2).
This rationale is reinforced by the consideration that international politics
can, and does present a broad variety of failures and misperceptions “but rarely is
it the simple product of shifts either in external balances of power or in domestic
debate” (SAMUELS, 2007, p. 294). In this perspective, the modern Japanese
history is characterized by long periods of polarized debate, culminating in a
grand consensus around the implementation of a national security strategy.
On three different occasions the Japanese leaders, on basis of internal
legitimacy and consensus, managed to device a coherent and broadly implemented
national security strategies (SAMUELS, 2007, p. 297-303). The first, the Meiji
Revolution, was related to the construction of a “rich country, strong army”; the
second, in the beginning of the 20th century, focused on Japanese hegemony in
Asia; and the third, in the CW, presented Japan as a pacifist trading state. According
to Samuels (2007), Japanese politics nowadays is, once again, going through a
process of defining a new national security strategy.
In these historical moments of consensus construction, autonomy and prestige
were the central values related to achieving national objectives, and vulnerability
the enduring reality. Recognizing the importance of vulnerability, Samuels (2007, p.
287) defends that “Japan has evolved a “strategic culture” and a national identity
in which vulnerability has long been a central feature”.
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Henrique Altemani Oliveira
In spite of the defeat and the forced reforms of the post-war, the Japanese
surviving political leaders maintained the objective of reaching national power,
yet this time with focus on economic development, characterizing a “mercantile
realism”. Nonetheless, the economic-commercial emphasis did not imply a
radical distancing from military security. The agenda with focus on economic and
technological security included the military and diplomatic spheres (HEGINBOTHAM
and SAMUELS, 1998).
Obviously, confronted with the proliferation of the feeling of vulnerability,
every amendment or reinterpretation of the Constitution is strongly focused
on Article 9. Furthermore, this dilemma is far from recent, it has emerged in
different moments since the post-war period. Nixon (1958) for example, publically
declared that the imposition of Article 9 and the disarmament of Japan were
“mistakes” (PYLE, 2007, 229). Coulmy (1991) highlights that it was an unrealistic
decision and that Article 9 quickly led to a series of problems. PM Hatoyama’s
declaration, in 1956, exemplifies this line of criticism, stating that “it is unreasonable
to think that the purpose of the Constitution is that Japan has to sit and wait for
death when it comes under attack by missiles and other weapons” (KITAOKA,
2018, p. 2).
There is a consentual perception that as a result of the defeat, the nuclear
attacks, and the pressures from the occupying forces, Japan adopted the principle of
renouncement of war (Article 9), accepted to deactivate all its military contingencies
and, with the guarantee provided by the USA-Japan security treaty, assumed a
pacifist attitude. This is basically the history of a defeated country forced to submit
itself, it eventually accepted submission as a strategy for economic recovery.
As the Security Treaty by its very nature is asymmetric and relegates Japan the
role of a dependent partner, “the fear of abandonment has been a more constant
aspect associated with the alliance security dilemma than the fear of entrapment”
(ASHIZAWA, 2014, p. 71-73). This makes room to the emergence of two different
movements: one of anxiety and insecurity regarding the USA commitment; and
the other, constituted as a pressure to ensure continuance of the USA´s presence
in Asia. Azhizawa later adds that that this fear became even stronger after the
defeat of the USSR.
The Japanese anti-militarism has never been “a pacifist security identity”,
as it both leaves room for the existence of an army in the post-war period; and
brings Japan closer to a military alliance (OROS, 2017). Furthermore, it is important
to consider, despite popular support to its pacifist ideal, Japanese Constitution
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Japan, a Normal State?
has been imposed. In this sense, Article 9 “far from representing a pacifist ideal,
amounts to no more than the victor disarming the defeated” (LUMMIS, 2013, p. 3).
Although the Japanese society is permeated by pacifist norms that shape
its identity, Japan should not be viewed as a “military pygmy”. On the contrary,
during the CW “Japan transformed itself from a burned-out ruin to one of the
world’s foremost military powers” (LIND, 2004, p. 93). In the post-war period,
Japan was sometimes seen as a military super power, sometimes as a dwarf, or a
state with an unusual and reactive foreign policy, ignoring the fact that the country
“had one of the largest defence budgets in the world, and also one of the world’s
most technologically advanced defence forces” (HAGSTRÖM and GUSTAFSSON
2015, p. 12-16).
On the basis of such complexity, when regarding the perception of the role and
the intentions of Japan, – recognized as pacifist and antimilitarist, yet participating
in a military alliance and with technologically advanced weapons – different
analysts point to the impossibility of one single theory explaining its insertion in
a region without institutionalized security mechanisms, and in which insecurity
is a present and continuous issue (AKIMOTO, 2013; INOGUCHI, 2014b). Oros’
theoretical framework, for example, is positioned in the intersection between a
and a constructivist approach, as it accepts the realist paradigm, but still
considers the concept of Japanese security identity, which is “the collectively held
principles that have attracted broad political support regarding the appropriate role
of state action in the security arena and that are institutionalized in the policy-
making process” (LINDGREN, 2017, p. 575).
Inoguchi (2014b) defends that varying aspects of Japanese foreign policy are
explained by different traditions. The objectives of survival and of maintaining the
status quo are shaped by classical realism: the transformative pragmatism seeks
to capacitate the Japanese state to act with strength and without being dependent
of the USA. Liberal internationalism, by its turn, would explain the aspiration to
strengthen international norms and institutions, cooperating with other states in
a multilateral fashion.
Akimoto (2013) recognizes that alternative theories or alternative conceptual
branches alone are not enough to Japanese reality, but mutually complementary
3 A symbolic example of the difficulties of a dissociation from the realist perspective was Nye´s (2001, p. 95)
statement about the reactions to his analysis of the East Asian security context in 1995, “Friends have sometimes
remarked on the irony that someone so closely associated with the concept of transnational interdependence
should have helped produce a report that rested heavily on Realist thinking”.
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Henrique Altemani Oliveira
within an analytical eclecticism. The author suggests that Japan embodies three
types of pacifisms: the pacifism against war in the immediate post War of the
Pacific; the realist pacifism during the CW; and the international pacifism since
the end of the CW, Together they correspond to the three traditions of the English
School of International Relations: the Kantian Idealism, the Hobbesian Realism
and the Grotian Institutionalism. The author complements this line of reason
speculating that absolute pacifism (the negation of all types of war, contrary to
the relative pacifism which justifies the need for war or the use of violence in
some circumstances) works negatively both in relation to individual as well as
collective self-defence (AKIMOTO, 2014).
Lind (2004) argues that pacifism and antimilitarism correspond to the
constructivist norms, while Japan, when recognizing threats, employs a realist
strategy of buck-passing, or rather, the transference of the costs of balancing to
others. In this regard, it becomes evident that Japan is under pressure to normalize
its behaviour. And, although this normalization might be in its interest, it is still
convergent with the maintenance of Japan-USA alliance, recognizing that China
already is stronger than Japan, but that the two (Japan and the USA) are stronger
than China (NISHI, 2018, p. 908).
The structure of the Security System
A widespread and often highlighted interpretation about Japanese behaviour
sees the country as a free-rider which, by delegating its security to the USA, has
been exclusively focused on its process of economic recovery. The present analysis,
though, operates with the presumption that the Japan-USA Security Treaty is
rather a bargain. The USA would defend and guarantee the Japanese security
while Japan would concede installations, and bases for the USA operations in
the Far East (SMITH, 2011).
Secondly, we also seek to demonstrate that Japan always has nurtured the
intention, and has been forced to amplify its military capacities in order to guarantee
its security, although it is not possible to identify a specific moment of change
(OROS, 2017, p. 35). On the contrary, this trend has constituted a response to the
need to confront possible threats (vulnerability), and also to enhance its standing
within the international system (prestige).
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Japan, a Normal State?
Thirdly, this regards a Treaty which is marked by an unequal relation which,
as it institutionalizes a mode of cooperation, has been transformed into an alliance,
and as Japan has assumed the control of military operations, it has become more
akin to a partnership with mutually beneficial and symmetric positions.
For Oros (2017), the surge of new threats in the post-CW period has spurred
a “gradual awakening” with regards to the imperative of enhancing military
capabilities. Shinoda (2011, p. 13) thus highlights that in the post-CW “Japan was
forced to review its asymmetrical alliance with United States to become a more
active player for international peace and security”.
The analysis in this section focuses on two moments, the CW and the post-
CW, due to the changing nature of the threats. We consider that the end of the
CW interrupted a period which might be characterized as “the golden age”
(1972-1989), when the Sino-American approximation made it possible for Japan
and China to establish diplomatic bonds and maintain friendly relations with the
USA vis-à-vis the USSR (VOGEL et al., 2002). Put differently, the end of the CW
broke with the dynamic of the security architecture in North East Asia, which
was based on the logic of bipolarity, thus requiring a new structure in order to
confront novel threats (BUZAN, 2003).
The Cold War
This tendency of “continuous change” in the definition of Japanese security
was initially a consequence of the fact that the Occupation Forces (1945-1952)
did not have a plan for how to maintain Japanese security.
Contrary to Roosevelt´s (1943) intentions of “unconditional surrender”, the
Potsdam Declaration (July 1945) reverted this disposition and thus avoided a
direct military occupation, with the unconditional surrender explicitly maintained
in relation to “all of the Japanese armed forces”. In any case, we can identify the
first contradiction, as we cannot speak of an unconditional surrender, but rather
of “an unconditional acceptance by the loser of conditions provided by the victor”
(IOKIBE, 2011, p. 22).
Demilitarization, democratization, and breaking the foundations of the
Japanese industry were MacArthur´s objectives. The demilitarization was
immediate, with the total demobilization of the military and police contingencies,
and the destruction of their weapons. The reformulation of the Meiji Constitution
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Henrique Altemani Oliveira
was likewise a very hasty process
, as it was formulated by MacArthur´s staff and
approved in October 1946, and implemented in May 1947, with the demilitarization
(Article 9) incorporated to the Constitution.
Had it been laid down after the beginning of the CW, Article 9 would probably
not have been inserted. The Japanese weaknesses, defenceless and demilitarized
as the country was, became clear with the beginning of the Korean War, which
pointed towards the urgency of certain adjustments; i) the rearmament and
participation in military operations; ii) the creation of a police force for defence;
iii) the definition of Japan´s security; and iv) the resumption of the industrial
arms production.
With the advance of the CW, Japanese identity changed significantly, from
being a subordinated enemy, towards being maintained in permanent submission
as a member of the alliance led by the USA against communism, with a capitalist
emergent economy and a liberal democratic political system. From the beginning of
1948, Japan´s role was thereby to serve as an advanced base for the USA military
with its nuclear arsenal. “Japan was also to act as a symbol of the benefits of
capitalism and as a beacon of democracy in communist Asia” (KELLY, 2015, p. 55).
The signature of a peace treaty in order to define Japan´s security thus became
imminent. Hereby, in September 1951 the San Francisco Peace Treaty, and the
Japan USA Security Treaty were signed. This unequal treaty maintained USA troops
on Japanese territory and permitted the projection of military power on third
countries. Yet, it did not include the commitment and the obligation to defend
Japan (PYLE, 2007). For the USA, the treaty served two purposes: to construct a
fortress against communism and to control Japan (CHA, 2009).
In 1950, Foster Dulles pressured Japan to rearm, re-establish the Armed Forces
and participate in the Pacific Pact led by the USA (CHOONG, 2015). Apart from
Article 9, the Japanese denial considered the negative popular reactions and the
priority of economic recovery. So, following an order from MacArthur, the National
Policy Reserve was created with 75.000 members and, in 1952, was transformed
into the National Security Force (COULMY, 1991; PYLE, 2007).
Because of the Japanese opposition, the Mutual Defence Assistance Agreement
(MDA) signed in 1954 maintained the USA forces in the country and forced Japan
to assume greater responsibilities for its defence. Interpreting that Article 9 would
4 MacArthur was in a hurry as he sought to rush back to the USA in order to present himself as a republican
presidential candidate (CHA, 2009).
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Japan, a Normal State?
not veto self-defence, permitting “the necessary minimum” for defence in the
case of an attack, the Japan Defence Agency (JDA) and the JSDF were created,
with a contingency of 152.000 men, much inferior to the 350.000 demanded by
the USA (MASWOOD, 1990; PYLE, 2007). Would the MDA, thus, not answer the
main question: what is the reason for foreign troops to be stationed on Japanese
territory if these would not act in Japan´s defence?
With Kishi´s pressures for a more direct commitment from the USA in the
defence of Japan, the Security Treaty, which was revised in 1960, defined the
obligation of the USA to intervene in case of hostilities on Japanese territory
(SHIMAMOTO, 2015), yet, without any reference to the question of extended
nuclear dissuasion or the nuclear umbrella (ROEHRIG, 2017). The Basic Policy for
National Defence was also established with the objective of developing defence
capacities in accordance with the country´s resources, but within the limits
imposed by self-defence.
Yet, towards the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, the two
sides felt the need for further adjustments in their relations. The USA increased
its pressures on Japan to assume a more active role, not only in its own defence,
but also in the region within the political, economic, and security dimensions.
The announcement of the probable retreat of the American forces from Asia
(the Nixon Doctrine) and the Sino-American rapprochement in 1971 intensified the
Japanese feeling of abandonment. Consequently, the country sought to strengthen
the JSDF, qualitatively and quantitatively, and to reinforce its national security
policy in a more independent manner (KOMINE, 2014).
Thereby, the National Defence Program Outline (NDPO, 1976) and the
Guidelines for USA-Japan Defence Cooperation (1978) were implemented. With
the NDPO, Japan should maintain minimum levels of defence with capacity to
resist a limited external attack without foreign assistance. The USA also made
the insertion of Japan below the nuclear umbrella official (ROEHRIG, 2017). In
order to avoid an elevated rise in defence spending, a ceiling of 1% of GDP was
established (Nakanishi, 2011, p. 121). With the Guidelines, Japan and the USA
agreed to broaden their military cooperation, with hitherto unprecedented measures
in the joint defence planning, as a response to the armed attack and cooperation
in relation to East Asian security questions that could potentially affect Japanese
security (SHIMAMOTO, 2015).
With these new guidelines, Japan did not only permit the continued presence
and support for American forces on its territory, but it also guaranteed a direct
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Henrique Altemani Oliveira
military contribution for the implementation of an American security strategy
in the Asia Pacific (HOOK, 1996). Effectively, this took form much more as an
alliance than merely as an instance of security cooperation, which justified the
change in rhetoric in referring to the Japan-USA Security Treaty as a Japan-USA
Alliance. According to Maslow (2015), these innovations concluded the process
of the formation of Japan´s security system in the post-war.
In order to supply the forces involved in the Korean War, the USA officially
authorized the production of weapons (03/1952) and returned 859 military
installations to the Japanese, “among them 314 aircraft factories, 131 military
arsenals, 25 aircraft and weapons research centres and 18 shipyards” (DRIFTE,
1986, p. 9).
The production and the prohibition of weapon exports (1967) were fundamental
to the revitalization of the economy and for the advancement of dual technologies
upon the transfer of USA military technology to Japan (COULMY, 1991, 111).
While the USA saw the production as a way to consolidate the JSDF, the Japanese
industries took advantage of this in order to gain a more central position within
the general process of economic reconstruction, and particularly in relation to
weapon production (DRIFTE, 1986, p. 10).
As dual technology can be applied to both civil and military sector, the
weapons production has been designated to the most qualified of the large Japanese
industrial conglomerates, without the investments being registered within the
JDAs budget (COULMY, 1991, p. 177-183).
Thus, through a conventional understanding, it might be claimed that there
are no weapon industries or military-industrial complexes in Japan. Although
in practice all of the large conglomerates were involved in direct production or
supply of components, few were registered as JDA producers, even though with
the export prohibition, this is the only client (DRIFTE, 1986, p. 86).
Based on the Directives of 1978, and the MDA of 1954, Japan ceded to
American pressures in 1983 and flexibilized the “three principles of arms exports”
that restricted the American access to technology and equipment. As it transferred
technology, the Japanese demands for access to the secret American defence
patents were met through the participation in the Strategic Defence Initiative
Programme (SDI) in 1988 (DRIFTE, 1986; CHIEH-LIN, 1989; COULMY, 1991;
MURATA, 2011; GRONNING, 2018). It is worthwhile to note Reagan´s description
of the SDI as “an alternative to the system of nuclear deterrence” (KATZENSTEIN
and OKAWARA, 1993, p. 114).
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Japan, a Normal State?
With the approval of the Atomic Energy Basic Act (1955), Japan reinitiated
its nuclear development research from the period of the Pacific War, yet now for
peaceful purposes. Even so, Kishi declared in 1957 that the Constitution did not
veto the possession of nuclear weapons, an official interpretation which has been
maintained by different administrations since then (CHOONG, 2015).
With the considerable resources that were invested in mastering the complete
nuclear cycle, it becomes possible to affirm that Japan has the sufficient material
resources and knowledge to quickly develop a nuclear weapon (PARIS, 2016).
Financial costs and possible negative domestic and external reactions would
dissuade the production of nuclear weapons, but in case of a rupture of the USA
commitment to extended deterrence, Japan does possess the necessary conditions
to quickly resume its development (ROEHRIG, 2017).
It can thereby be concluded that Japan does not have the intention of
possessing nuclear weapons while still enjoying the protection of the USA nuclear
Based on its economic and technological capacities, during the 1980s Nakasone
sought to transform Japan into an international actor that would play a political
role that corresponded to its economic power, with the military also serving as a
legitimate instrument of state power (HOOK, 1996). Consequently, towards the
end of the CW, Japan had become a sophisticated producer of technologically
advanced weapons, and it maintained a similar arsenal to that of the main powers,
as well as a scientific-technological cooperation with the USA. It also played
a significant role within international security by possessing high technology,
which constituted a critical resource in terms of international security matters,
meaning that its interests in reassuming a position of power were not restricted
by technology, but only by politics (VOGEL, 1992, p. 56-57).
Post-Cold War
The end of the CW and of the bipolar international system represented, on the
one hand, a movement towards its restructuring, and on the other, changes which
would compromise global stability, and/or the confidence in existing international
regimes. In the specific realm of security, the disappearance of bipolar conflict
did not spur, – as was otherwise presumed – a long era of peace and economic
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Henrique Altemani Oliveira
development, but rather the surge of new threats, also within the field of nuclear
By reaffirming its hegemonic position, the USA adopted a strategy of pressuring
for a higher degree of division of responsibilities, with different states participating
in the maintenance of international stability and prosperity (IKENBERRY, 1998).
Some trends which already had become evident in Japan were exacerbated,
such as the deepening of Japanese-American cooperation, or the reaffirmation of
expectations to reacquire plain sovereignty, and thus, to normalize itself on the
basis of a growing nationalism.
The aspirations towards regional leadership due to the relative distancing of
the USA, eventually clashed with the rapid Chinese emergence in the beginning
of the 21st century, but also with the USA policy of maintaining its presence in the
region. Confronted with the new status of China and the growing North Korean
nuclear threat, Japan resumed the strategy of strengthening its military alliance
with the USA.
In the immediate post-CW, due to the belief that Russia – with its reduced
capabilities – was the only threat, the revision of the NDPO (1995) emphasized
international cooperation (especially military cooperation), approved the reduction
of personnel and heavy material, and scheduled further reductions, including
even the probable termination of USA military presence in Japan (OROS, 2017;
NISHI, 2018).
The eruption of the War in Iraq (1990) pressed Japan to review its policies of
international insertion. After strong critique of Japan´s “check book diplomacy”
during the Gulf War, the pressures for normalization grew, and Ozawa
to call out for participation in international peacekeeping operations (PKOs)
(YASUTOMO and ISHIGAKI, 2017, p. 958).
The debate about participation in PKOs was marked by three different
positions: i) respecting the Constitution, with participation in multilateral
operations restricted to civil assistance; ii) reinterpreting the Constitution in order
to permit the assumption of greater international responsibilities, and iii) that the
Constitution already did permit such action in the case of sufficient political will
and leadership (NEWMAN, 2006, p. 331-32).
5 Ichiro Ozawa, at the time the General Secretary of the LDP and author of the work Blueprint for a New Japan:
The Rethinking of a Nation (Tokyo & New York: Kodansha International, 1994), apart from introducing the term
of a normal state also defended that Japan should assume a more active role within international politics and
within the international peace operations.
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Japan, a Normal State?
In fact, the absence of a Japanese contribution to the Gulf War reflected
an incapacity to recognize the emerging norms that stipulated the involvement
of UN members in military issues, independently of their domestic policies
(KURASHINA, 2005).
The approval of the International Peacekeeping Operations Law made it
possible to send troops to Cambodia in 1992 and, more importantly, generated
a new security role for the SDF, namely expanding the SDF’s identity from a
force with a national defence mission to one that incorporated an international
dimension” (SINGH, 2010, p. 443).
The North Korean nuclear development (1993-1994) and the Chinese missile
tests (1995-1996) in the Taiwan Strait demonstrated the importance and the
weakness of the Japan-USA Alliance and constituted the basis for the Hashimoto-
Clinton Declaration (IOKIBE, 2011, p. 230), which resulted in the revision of the
Japan-USA Guidelines for Defence Cooperation in 1997.
With this reformulation, the Alliance´s character of self-defence was reaffirmed,
but its operational scope was widened to include the broader region, or the “areas
surrounding Japan”. In practice, the JSDF assumed the role of containing foreign
troops (FUKUSHIMA and SAMUELS, 2018), yet, under the USA command (PARIS,
2016, p. 6). Nonetheless, the rather vague character of the concept of “surrounding
areas” generated much questioning and impeded its implementation.
The offensive North Korean escalation with the launching of the Taepodong 1
(1998) and the War Against Terror in the post-9/11 period removed the constraints
and permitted the approval of the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law (10/2001)
and made it possible to send Maritime SDF for logistic support for USA and
coalition troops in Afghanistan (KAWASHIMA, 2005; OROS, 2017).
Inoguchi (2008) considers that these measures and Japan´s support to the USA
in the fight against terrorism marked the beginning of a period of transformation
into a “global ordinary power”. With the continuity of the external threats, and the
growing mistrust in relation to how the USA would react in the case of an attack
on the Japanese territory, the Koizumi and Abe governments made great efforts
to increase military capabilities, reinforcing the Japan-USA Alliance and defining
a greater global role for the JSDF, and more objectively, made an amendment to
the Constitution which legitimized the JSDF and collective self-defence.
The creation of the Ministry of Defence (2007) and the establishment of the
General Chief of Staff (2010) with authority over the three branches of the JSDF
(land, sea, and air), and the reforms proposed by Abe in 2013 for the establishment
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Henrique Altemani Oliveira
of an autonomous operational command, demonstrated that Japan advanced
significantly in the direction of acquiring greater autonomy (PARIS, 2016).
Re-elected in December 2012, Abe declared that he had returned in order to
rejuvenate Japan, to surpass the long period of economic stagnation and restore
pride and national power (INOGUCHI, 2014a, p. 102). With high prestige due to
the initial success in reviving the sluggish Japanese economy, Abe introduced
the doctrine of “proactive pacifism” in a clear demonstration of the changes that
would mark his mandate.
The proactive pacifism implied that Japan would change its traditional
reactive posture and seek to anticipate concrete threats. The creation of the
National Security Council, resulting from the National Security Strategy and the
State Secrets Protection Law, was a clear sign of this ambition. Considered as
a potential watershed in Japanese strategic policy-making” these sought, – starting
with the centralization of security policies – to develop a sophisticated scheme
for crisis management with the objective of controlling alliances and reducing the
dependence on the USA. Amongst other motivations, the most threatening was
the fact that “the USA military had lost exclusive control of the air and sea near
the Chinese coast, a portentous geostrategic shift” (FUKUSHIMA and SAMUELS,
2018, p. 773-778).
The revision of the Guidelines (2013/14) assured the maintenance of the
extended nuclear deterrence for the Asia Pacific, and by including the right to
collective self-defence, broadened the role of Japan within regional security, while
still maintaining the principle of the use of “minimal necessary force” (KOMINE,
2014; KIM, 2015). In March 2016, the constitutional reform became effective,
after having been approved in the Lower Chamber and the Senate (in July and
September 2015), thus legitimizing the deployment of Japanese troops in combat
situations abroad and allowing Japan to assume a greater strategic weight in the
international scenario.
With these changes, it is possible to affirm that Japan today possesses armed
forces and that it already has become a normal state, but still maintains its adherence
to pacifism, by renouncing war and by the eradication of nuclear weapons.
Hughes (2015, p. 11) sustains that Abe acted aggressively by imposing Japan
a more radical external agenda, minded upon subordinating the Yoshida Doctrine
to the Abe Doctrine “in seeking recognition of Japan’s standing among the first
rank (...) of capitalist powers, recovery of its autonomy as an international player,
recognition as a crucial USA partner and leader in Asia”.
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Japan, a Normal State?
Although the deepening of this constitutional revision has occurred during
the Abe government, this ideational framework, defined by Kishi Nobusuke and
by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) from the point of its creation in 1955,
has not been previously implemented due to the lack of internal and external
political conditions, and due to the recognition of the country´s weaknesses and
the inherent costs of a radical change. Most of these reforms were initiated by
the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), reflecting a consensual moment between
the leadership of the LDP and the DPJ on the restoration of the country´s security
policy (ROSS, 2015, p. 7).
What is more profoundly novel, and spurring a more thorough reassessment
of the institution, decision-making procedures and the revision of Article 9, is
the intensification of the tensions between Japan and China, especially because
the dispute for the Senkaku/Diaoyu has raised a new dilemma for the USA: “for
the first time in the alliance’s history, a conflict that begins between Japan and
another power seems possible”. Until then, Japan imagined using force only for
defensive purposes, and possibly in conflicts related to the Korean Peninsula and
the Strait of Taiwan. With the new scenario of possible conflict between Japan
and China, what would Washington´s capacity to demote tensions between these
two countries amount to? (SMITH, 2016, p. 259).
The Chinese emergence was already a preoccupation for Japan. Yet, in the
second decade of the 21st century, it became viewed as a concrete threat not only
because of the claims over the Senkaku Islands, but also due to the investments
and the modernization of the Chinese military capacities and increased aerial and
maritime control of the first chain of islands, as defined in its maritime strategy.
Washington worked with the consensus that the Chinese engagement
simultaneously with the strengthening of the Japan-USA Alliance would maintain
a favourable balance of power in Asia, and at the same time legitimize its regional
military presence (GREEN, 2011). Nonetheless, this strategy seems to have collapsed
due to the increased Chinese assertiveness.
As continuous and cumulative adjustments have occurred since the promulgation
of the Constitution, the present debate about the Japanese intent to normalize
constitutes an anachronism, because “Japan has made the transition toward
becoming a normal country, while holding on to some of its old and “abnormal”
characteristics of the antimilitaristic propensity” (KIM, 2015, p. 223-24).
Considering what is normal or abnormal, Soeya et al. (2011, p. 9) speculate
that changing Article 9 is not a high priority, as “Japan has managed to live with
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Henrique Altemani Oliveira
the contradiction of Article 9 for more than fifty years and could probably do so
for another fifty if necessary”. Furthermore, “it is probably more important for
Japan to carry more of the regional and global security burden than to try to iron
out a symbolic constitutional anomaly”.
Japan has always sought to strengthen the Alliance, partly in order to maintain
its pacifist image, and in part because it does not possess nuclear weapons and
considers extended nuclear deterrence as indispensable. The Japan-USA Alliance
is still the main security anchor and Japan will only withdraw from this in case
that Washington fails as an ally (GREEN, 2007).
Even so, in the doubt of whether the USA will maintain its commitment or
whether the Japan-USA Alliance will be sufficient to maintain a favourable military
balance within the region, Japan is establishing new regional partnerships with India
and Australia, thus strengthening capacities with ASEAN countries, intelligence
cooperation with South Korea, and taking advantage of points of convergence with
Russia in order to neutralize China (SAMUELS and WALLACE, 2018).
In line with these preparations for an eventual drastic change in the security
structure, Japan has taken precautions to master the different stages of production
of a nuclear weapon, lacking only the conduction of a nuclear test (PARIS,
2016, p. 5).
Final Considerations
The recent reinterpretations of Japanese security policies, with legal approvals
from the Diet and revisions in the Japan-USA Alliance, reformulated the pacifist
system of the Peace Constitution. Japan can already participate in military
operations, with or without the USA, to defend friendly countries or to contribute
to the maintenance of international security inside or outside its region.
The tendency towards the formation of new alliances complements this new
status, especially the ‘Free and Open’ Indo-Pacific, as well as the Quadrilateral
Security Dialogue, with strategies to contain China or to compete with the Belt
and Road Initiative.
The initial question can thus be raised again: why does Japan avoid officially
recognizing the armed forces, and not the SDF, as is its foreign policy instrument?
In spite of the Japanese emphasis on highlighting that these changes do
not represent an intention of aggressive militarisation, but rather a responsible
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Japan, a Normal State?
contribution in accordance with its economic and technological capabilities to
pursue international collective security, these are viewed with much scepticism.
In this regard, the maintenance of Article 9 in the Constitution can be
interpreted as an unmistakable strategy of demonstrating the continuity of its
pacifist intentions.
An example related to this strategy was the nuclearization of India which
merged the Nehruvian pacifism with a significant dose of realism: a foreign policy
instrument, but also a way to assure a more stable strategic region. A noticeable
result, in spite of its negative consequences for the nuclear non-proliferation,
was the rapprochement with the USA and the signature of the Accord for Civil
Nuclear Cooperation.
As the changes have been mainly concentrated on the security cooperation
guidelines between Japan and the USA, there is no reason to expect a dismantling
of the Japan-USA Alliance. However, such changes reinforce the Alliance and
are aligned with each party´s wishes. It might even be claimed that in order to
maintain security in East Asia, the USA needs Japan in much the same way that
Japan needs the USA, being the concern with the maintenance of the extended
nuclear deterrence the main difference between their aims. Under this nuclear
umbrella, Japan will not pursue the development of nuclear weapons, as India did
when it lost the Soviet protection and found itself confronted with the growing
Chinese military capacities and the Pakistani nuclear advances.
Due to the fear of abandonment, Japan retains sufficient technological knowledge
and material resources to quickly develop a nuclear weapon, but it will only take
this step in case that it would no longer be able to count on USA guarantees.
Even though the Japanese population is strongly opposed to militarization
and the presence of nuclear weapons on its territory, it is nonetheless aware of
the country´s vulnerabilities to growing threats. Consequently, it tends to support
measures to maintain the country´s security.
Thus, in practice, today Japan is a country with military capacities that
are relatively similar to those of the main powers, with operational freedom to
participate in collective self-defence. The non-revocation of the Article 9 strengthens
its pacifist identity and its opposition to, and renouncement of war, while the
references in the Preamble of the Constitution to “international cooperation” and
to “its place within the international society in the struggle for international peace”
justify and impose a greater Japanese contribution in the process of maintenance
of international security.
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