Japan's foreign security policy

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Final Essay

Anne Wil Donders

To what extent have successive Japanese governments been able to overcome the constraints of the pacifist norm in Japan's foreign security policy?


Having great economic power but only a small role in international security, Japan is frequently seen as an 'economic giant', but a 'military dwarf'. Scholarsoften find their explanation for this phenomenon in the structure of the US-Japan relation. They explain Japan's foreign security policy for example with the notion of Japan 'free-riding', relying on the US to take care of their security. But since the 1970s, with Japan's economy growing to be one of the world's biggest economies, this explanation seems no longer sufficient, because Japan does nolonger necessarily need to depend on the US. Constructivists have therefore put a growing emphasis on factors such as norms (Miyashita 2007, p. 101). The pacifist norm that came into existence during the post-war period has helped constraining Japan's foreign security policy in a way that Japan has not been able to become a military power. The Japanese people have consistently been against re-armingJapan partly because they still remember the horrors of the Second World War and feel content with leaving security into the hands of the US. On the other hand there is this fear of abandonment by the US, in which case the national security is completely in the (weak) hands of Japan. Others just do not want Japan to be entangled in the wild “American adventures” (Samuels 2007, p.128), whichdemonstrates the fear of entrapment. They wish for Japan to be at a greater distance from the US. However, it is said that Japan is aiming to build up the country’s military (Green and Furukawa 2000; Young 2007). To what extent can Japan be considered to have succeeded in this aspiration, keeping in mind it started from zero after the Second World War?

I will attempt to answer this question by goingover some considerable influencing aspects of Japan’s foreign security policy. I will focus on how these aspects have been developing during the period from the end of the Cold War until present. Whereas before the Cold War, prominent changes in Japan’s foreign security policy used to occur once in every five to ten years (Green and Furukawa 2000), in the past twenty years after the Cold War therehas been a great amount of changes. I will discuss how these changes influenced current Japan’s foreign policy and how they differed from the changes of the period between the end of the Second World War and the end of the Cold War. Additionally, I will look at the relation between changes in Japan’s foreign security policy and domestic opinions. The essence of this question lies in Japan'saspiration to be a 'normal' state. In able to achieve this status of the normal state, it is believed that Japan needs to build up its army and attain military authority (Young, 2007). Besides this wish for becoming a normal state, there is also the rising fear for neighbouring countries. With recent developments such as “China's military build-up” (Takahara 2005) and “Pyongyang's nuclear threat”(Cossa 2006), Japan has to either rely on the US for their national security, aim to build their own forces or both.


Article 9 of the Japanese constitution

Behind these are the shifts in Japanese perception regarding their
national security. In a poll conducted in April 2003 by Yomiuri Shimbun,
the most circulated daily in Japan, 67 percent of the respondents said Japanshould play a more active role in the area of international security and 54
percent of the respondents were in favor of revising the so-called peace con-
stitution (2 April 2003, pp. 1 and 30). Article 9 of the Japanese constitution
denies Japan’s right of belligerency as a sovereign state and prohibits the
nation to possess military forces.

It appears that the recent shift in public opinion...
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