Internal and External Aspects of Japanese Security

by Olga Barbasiewicz (Volume editor) Maciej Pletnia (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection 196 Pages


Security relations between Japan and its East Asia neighbors have been complicated for decades. Entering the third decade of the 21st century, Japan will have to face new security challenges posed by COVID-19 and manage its current relations with the United States, China and South Korea. Mitigating local and global security threats will be one of the most critical challenges for the future. This book focuses on internal and external factors that are influencing current Japanese security policy and analyses the security issues from numerous perspectives, including social issues and their effect on security policies, bilateral relations between Japan and its partners in Asia, and the significance of the U.S.-Japan Alliance.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • The Changing Security Policy in twenty-first Century Japan (Olga Barbasiewicz, Maciej Pletnia)
  • An Aging Demography and Foreign and Security Policy: A Case Study of Japan (András Bartók )
  • “Normalization” of Japanese Defense Policy in Light of IR Theories (Péter Bobák)
  • South Korean-Japan Bilateral Relations in the Times of COVID-19 (Justyna Filipowicz)
  • South Korea in the Quad-Plus Group: Opportunities and Prospects for Japan (Jakub Iwan)
  • Japan-India Strategic Partnership: Its Impact on the Security System in the Asia-Pacific Region in the Twenty-First Century (Anna Lelenkova)
  • Diverging Visions of Indo-Pacific Order: The Chinese-Japanese Security Dilemma (Roland Nikolaus Löchli)
  • Pacifism as the Core Value: Dilemmas of Contemporary Japanese Collective Identity (Maciej Pletnia)
  • US Troops Presence on the Island of Okinawa and Its Effect on Local Residents (Agnieszka Pawnik)
  • Index
  • Series index

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Olga Barbasiewicz, Maciej Pletnia

The Changing Security Policy in twenty-first Century Japan

The year 2020 proved to be a significant year for Japanese security policy. The full scope of challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has yet to be fully determined. It will, however, have vast consequences on the global order, including security relations. It is a threat that no country, including Japan, can face alone. As the content of this publication will prove, security relations between Japan and its East Asia neighbors have been complicated for decades, and the pandemic has had a clearly visible influence on them. This year also marked the end of Shinzō Abe’s term as prime minister, the longest in the history of Japan. Japan under new leadership will have to face not only the new security challenges posed by the COVID-19, but also manage its current relations with the United States, China and South Korea, among others. Mitigating security threats, both local and global, will be one of the most critical challenges for the new prime minister and his cabinet.

Most of the articles included in this collection deal with contemporary security issues. However, Japan’s security policy in the twenty-first century cannot be fully understood without acknowledging the significance of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, as well as the controversies surrounding it. When SCAP forces began working on a new constitution in 1945, it was widely believed that it would be best if the Japanese themselves prepared it.1 Initially, there seemed to be no hurry in preparing the draft. However, around late October 1945, MacArthur started putting slight pressure on the Japanese team, but they were not given any deadline, as SCAP understood that developing a new constitution requires time and careful consideration.2 In the end, the first draft was created by a team ←7 | 8→ of Japanese lawyers led by Jōji Matsumoto, appointed by Prime Minister Kijūrō Shidehara. It introduced only minor revisions to the Meiji constitution and was heavily criticized not only by the occupying forces, but also by the contemporary Japanese press as being too conservative. As a result, just a few days after they submitted their draft in February 1946, Matsumoto and his team were presented with an American version of the draft of the new Japanese constitution.3

The document prepared by the American team in 1946 included numerous ideas lifted almost straight from the American constitution.4 Japanese officials were initially shocked by the American draft that they received. However, within a few weeks, their attitude changed, and Shidehara was convinced that accepting the American proposal would secure the continuance of the throne. Finally, after a long debate in the Japanese Diet, the constitution was promulgated in November of 1946. It went into effect on May 3, 1947.5 It is essential to mention that the draft, even though the Americans mostly prepared it, was submitted as a Japanese proposition. That was a deliberate action by MacArthur, who knew that if the draft were submitted directly by the Japanese to SCAP, it would not have to be approved by the Allied Council for Japan. Otherwise, if Americans or any other representative of the occupation forces had submitted it, the draft would have needed to be accepted by all countries involved in the occupation of Japan.6

From the Japanese security perspective, the most crucial aspect of the new constitution was Article 9. Its origins, however, are not as apparent as it might seem. General Douglas MacArthur himself attributed it to the Japanese policymakers, particularly Baron Shidehara. Both MacArthur and Shidehara claimed that it was the Japanese prime minister who came up with the idea of the Pacifist Clause. However, since nobody else was present during their meeting, there have been doubts whether it was ←8 | 9→ Shidehara who approached MacArthur about including such regulations in the new constitution.7 Nevertheless, MacArthur was fully aware that he needed to convince Japanese policymakers that the Pacifist Clause was in the Japanese’s best interest. The General convinced them that the Emperor’s safety was at stake since Russia and Australia wanted to indict him as a war criminal. Adopting the Pacifist Clause, according to MacArthur, would help to persuade other allies to support retaining the Emperor. The Japanese Cabinet, while not entirely against the content of the Pacifist Clause, wanted it to be moved to the Preamble. However, due to American pressure, the clause remained intact.8

Article 9 was initially considered an outstanding achievement. It succeeded in accomplishing one of the critical goals of the Joint Chief of Staff that “no nationalistic or military clique or combination should again be able to dominate that country and lead it into a war of aggression.” It created conditions in which Japan’s potential for military aggression became virtually non-existent.9 Furthermore, for the first few years, the prevalent interpretation of the Pacifist Clause was that it not only prevented the reemergence of the Japanese militarism and nationalism but that it also wholly denied Japan the right to self-defense. General MacArthur himself had to announce that Article 9 does not disregard the right to self-defense.10 As the Korean War broke out in 1950, American forces had to be deployed overseas. Not to leave Japan vulnerable to both external and internal threat, MacArthur issued a directive that established the National Police Reserve (NPR), which in 1954 became the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (Jieitai). Because of the Pacifist Clause, the NPR could not be called “armed forces,” however, it essentially functioned as such. More importantly, the establishment of the NPR opened a broad discussion regarding the remilitarization of Japan and the need for amending ←9 | 10→ Article 9.11 Despite the fact that 70 years has passed since the Japanese joined the NPR framework, the debate regarding both remilitarization and the Pacifist Clause is going strong, and it is still affecting Japanese security.

Ever since the end of the occupation, the Japanese military system has been based on the US-Japan military alliance, with the US military playing a larger role than the Self-Defense Forces. The entire period starting from 1945 can be divided into five stages: the era of American occupation (1945–1949), the era of East Asia logistic base (1950–1973), the era of crucial cooperation regarding Asia-Pacific security (1974–1989), the age of globalization of the US-Japan Military Alliance (1990–2012), present (from 2013).12 During the first few years of the second stage, the issue of amending the constitution became much more public. Initially, it focused almost exclusively on the possibility of rearmament and the revision of Article 9. It was one of the crucial points of the general election campaign of October 1952. In 1954, the Liberal Party established a Constitutional Investigation Committee. Both major conservative forces, the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party, were very vocal about their intention to amend the constitution to allow rearmament of Japan.13 It should come as no surprise that the Liberal Democratic Party (Jimintō) has been a strong advocate of amending the constitution since its establishment in 1955.14

For the next few decades, the Diet rarely discussed amending the constitution, though over the years numerous LDP politicians have been firmly in favor of it. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that, instead of trying to amend the constitution, Jimintō has offered on several occasions a reinterpretation of the Pacifist Clause. The birth of self-defense forces (Jieitai) ←10 | 11→ in 1954 required a new interpretation, which asserted that the use of force must be limited to the minimum necessary; that it may be used only in the absence of any other options; and that it can be used only to repel an unjustified attack on Japan.15 Another reinterpretation became necessary after the Tokyo District Court determined in the 1959 Sunagawa Case that it was unconstitutional to maintain American bases on Japanese soil based on the Japan-United States Mutual Security Treaty. In 1960, the Supreme Court overturned this decision. It declared that the constitution does not deny the right to self-defense and that section 2 of Article 9 prohibits only war potential (senryoku) maintained by the Japanese government.16

Two other examples of such reinterpretations are worth mentioning. The lack of a military contribution from Japan during the first Gulf War in 1990 and 1991 created tension in international relations with the United States. As a result, after a long and heated debate, the Diet passed the Peacekeeping Operation Law in June of 1992. It allows Japanese SDF, under certain circumstances, to participate in international peacekeeping operations in a non-military capacity, with any use of weapons limited to the minimum necessity.17 In 2003, Japan was again urged by the United States to participate in the American operation in Iraq. In order to allow troops to be dispatched to Iraq, the government authorized the Special Measures Law on Humanitarian Assistance and Reconstruction of Iraq on July 26, 2003. This law allows the SDF to participate in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance and to provide medical care. From 2004 until 2006, a Ground Self-Defense Forces unit was stationed in southern Iraq, and the Air Self-Defense Forces assisted in Kuwait from December 2003 until September 2008.18 ←11 | 12→

During the 1990s and early 2000s, amending the constitution was not on the political agenda. It had much to do with faction politics within the LDP, since neither Yōhei Kōno’s nor Ryūtarō Hashimoto’s factions were in favor of changing the constitution. However, when Hashimoto’s faction lost its influence under the weight of political scandals, Mori’s faction became the most prominent part of LDP.19 In December of 2004, during Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s term, which emerged from Mori’s faction, LDP created a group whose sole aim was to prepare a new constitutional draft. The 2005 draft proposed, among other changes, amendments to Article 9. However, Koizumi realized that, though it pleased the radically conservative wing of his party to push for such changes, it also increased the anxiety of core voters, who were against any amendments to the constitution, especially to those regarding the Pacifist Clause.20 Furthermore, LDP’s coalition party Kōmeitō was not willing to support any amendments, though their members did vote for most of the bills that were used to reinterpret the constitution.21

In a public-opinion poll conducted by NHK in August of 2007 with regards to amending the Japanese constitution, 41 % of all respondents supported hypothetical changes. This support, even though more extensive than might have been expected, would have been insufficient to ratify the changes in a public vote. Furthermore, in response to questions regarding the necessity of amending Article 9 (9 jō kaisei no zehi), only 28 % of respondents said they would support such a change. The poll also revealed that the two groups most strongly in favor of the amendments were males aged 18 to 39 and over 60 years old.22 Despite these findings, the NHK poll ←12 | 13→ ultimately demonstrated that, even if parliament had passed any changes, public support was not strong enough to carry it out through a referendum. A poll conducted in 2009 by conservative Yomiuri Shimbun showed that 51.1 % of respondents supported a change of the constitution. However, those who supported amending Article 9 were still a minority.23

Despite being unable to pass any constitutional changes during his first term, Abe returned to this topic during the campaign in 2012. Amending the constitution became a central theme during the House of Representatives’ electoral campaign. Nevertheless, according to an opinion poll conducted by the Asahi newsarticle and the University of Tokyo, the public was sharply divided on this subject.24 According to a poll conducted more than a month later, almost 89 % of the parliament supported amendments to the constitution.25 Regardless, in 2012, Jimintō created and published a draft of the amended constitution. The proposed changes were pervasive and included most of the articles in some capacity. Regarding Article 9, the draft did not remove the Pacifist Clause entirely. However, it deleted the declaration that Japan will never have armed forces. Furthermore, it added a paragraph that states that the constitution guarantees the protection of Japanese soil, territorial waters, and air space.26 The 2012 draft remains a mostly historical document, but it represents the scope of intended changes.

Regardless of not being able to gather the support necessary for amending the constitution, during his term, Abe attempted to again reinterpret Article 9, in a goal to accelerate the remilitarization of Japan further. In April 2015, the new Guidelines for US-Japan Defense Cooperation was signed, and in September a series of new security laws that recognized the right to self-defense were enacted. Those laws were widely controversial ←13 | 14→ due to their inconsistency with Article 9. Initially, Abe wanted to revise Article 96 first, which addressed the procedure for revising the constitution, and then proceed with the revision of the Pacifist Clause. Since such a revision turned out to be impossible, Abe decided to pass the security laws. After the 2016 election, Abe and his cabinet continued to work on the revision of Article 9.27 However, as we now know, Abe was not able to accomplish what he declared during the 2012 campaign to be one of his primary goals as a prime minister of Japan. It remains to be seen if his successors will continue attempts to change the constitution and irreversibly alter Japanese security policy.

The Pacifist Clause’s influence on Japanese security policy cannot be overstated. It not only significantly limited Japan’s offensive capabilities, but perhaps more importantly, it became a basis for US – Japan security cooperation. However, the provision of Article 9 created conditions that led Japan to become an “abnormal country,” to paraphrase the infamous term introduced by Ichirō Ozawa.28 That being said, as challenges related to security change over time, so do the interpretations of Article 9. The Pacifist Clause has wide-ranging, long-term social consequences and can be at least partially attributed to strong antimilitarism, which is present among the Japanese until this day. Some of the consequences of Article 9 were, almost without a doubt, unintentional. Since it prevents Japan from maintaining military forces, it also creates restrictions on the invocation of the national emergency that, without such regulations, would involve military forces. It does not deny the existence of the n on-military emergency force, but it effectively limits the number of emergency powers.29 ←14 | 15→

The above-mentioned Article 9 is also considered a guarantee for the East Asian nations that the atrocities of war will never happen again. Even though the Japanese nation is considered pacifistic, namely the “state of peace” (heiwa kokka), the researcher claim that its security policy is not “anti-militarism” (higunji shugi), but “pacifism” (heiwa shugi).30 This thesis was confirmed in the 2010s when China was rising to power, when its military power and economy forced Japan to force their security relation with the United States of America (the US). On April 29, 2015, Prime Minister Abe, in his address, informed the general public about providing up to $2.8 billion “in assistance to help improve US bases in Guam.”31 The period prior to the Trump administration was also full of reaffirmation of the Japanese-American friendship., including the visit of Barack Obama to Hiroshima32 and Abe’s to Pearl Harbor.33 One of the causes was the radical campaign, led by Donald Trump, showing the role of Japan as a country which is insufficient in self-defense and relies on the American army. This theory of the next American President was shown by his statement: “You know we have a treaty with Japan, where if Japan is attacked, we have to use the full force and might of the United States, … If we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to do anything. They can sit home and watch Sony television, OK?”34 Although, these kinds of announcements were present ←15 | 16→ in Trump’s campaign narration, the changing global situation, and the rise of China’s power, combined with American President’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, made the US a strong partner of Japan. The withdrawal of the US from the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) destroyed the common plans for leading the group of countries that decided to cooperate on the level of economy. However, the backwardness in the field of IT development led the US to cooperate tightly with Japan in providing cyber security and development in the trade war with China. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing power of China in the economic exchange with one of the US key partners, namely the European Union (EU),35 shows that cooperation with Japan seems to be the only reasonable way to maintain keep the regional role of the US It seems that Japan assumed the winning role in the Chinese-American race for leadership. As the mediator between the two powers, moved from the position of a country that is dependent on the outside power (gaiatsu) of the US, to the position of the American partner – the guarantor of the US presence in Asia. It also helps Japan to show its position towards other allies of the US, such as the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea). The ban on Huawei 5G equipment, made Tokyo “take its own measures in the event of any security concern in 5G, according to anonymous sources. … Japan will not join any framework designed to exclude a specific country, but would reconsider if there is any change to the US plan.”36 The shift from military security to cybersecurity in its relations with the US caused Japan to behave more independently towards Seoul, when imposing a restriction on exporting chemical items to ROK, claiming that the technology could be overtaken by the North Korean regime.37 ←16 | 17→


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (June)
security policies international relations East Asia territorial disputes symbolic policy Japanese politics
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 196 pp.

Biographical notes

Olga Barbasiewicz (Volume editor) Maciej Pletnia (Volume editor)

Olga Barbasiewicz (Ph.D) Assistant Professor at the Institute of Middle and Far East of Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Her research interests are memory politics, Japanese-Korean relations and migration studies in wartime East Asia. Maciej Pletnia (Ph.D) Assistant Professor at Jagiellonian University, Institute of the Middle and the Far East. His research interests includes Japanese politics of memory, collective identity, nationalism, Japanese international relations, and the Yasukuni dilemma.


Title: Internal and External Aspects of Japanese Security
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198 pages