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Japanese Security Policy: In Search for a New Consensus

Seminararbeit 2009 4 Seiten

Politik - Internationale Politik - Region: Ferner Osten



After its devastating defeat in World War II, Japan has become one of the major economic powers in the world, ending the twentieth century as the world’s second largest economy. Although Japan has grown to economic great-power status, its political weight in international politics lags far behind. Why is that? During the Cold War, Japan linked itself closely to the United States as the dominant regional force in East Asia. By renouncing war and the possibility to become a major military power again, Japan laid its national security almost fully in the hands of the United States. Japan’s dependence on U.S. power marginalized its role in world affairs. On the other hand, however, the security guaranteed by the United States provided the basis for Japan’s economic rise. Since the end of the Cold War, the parameters of the U.S.-Japan alliance have been called into question. Japan’s post-war foreign policy – known as “Yoshida Consensus”[1] – which rejected the use of military might to achieve political ends and contained several self-imposed restrictions on the use of military has been softened more and more. A development that has been documented best in the deployment of Japan Self Defense Forces (JSDF) in Iraq by the Koizumi administration. Although the U.S.-Japan alliance is arguably stronger than ever before, the role of Japan within it is probably less secure than ever before. To understand this, it is necessary to analyze the circumstances which motivated Japan to change its long-time security approach. Indeed, the Asian region has changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War. Japan is now facing several new challenges, mostly important the rise of China, that haven’t played a role during the era of the iron curtain. Do those challenges require new policies? Is there a “new” Consensus about Japan’s foreign policy? What will be Japan’s strategy for the twenty-first century? Those are the questions this paper is about. The paper is separated into three parts. First, I will analyze the factors by which Japan’s foreign policy is determined. A step that is crucial to understand possible future security options. In the second section I will present different security options, Japan has in the future. Finally, I will sum up some of the results and will present a few of my own thoughts about Japan’s future.

Japan’s Position in Asia

While East Asia is changing rapidly, there are some constant factors that have determined Japan’s security behavior in the past and that are likely to determine it in the future. First, Japanese policy is shaped by its geographic situation. As a relatively small island state Japan is dependent on trade and access to open markets. To meet this challenge properly, Japan has used diplomatic as well as economic tools during the twentieth century and one can expect it to do so in the future. Secondly, there are still some ‘history issues’[2] regarding Japan’s past as an imperial power that linger deep in East Asia – especially in China and Korea. These history issues have proven to be a major barrier for a better understanding between Japan on the one hand, and China and Korea on the other hand. Finally, Japan’s geostrategic position is a factor. Because Japan’s security is highly dependent on U.S. power, the Japanese leadership is afraid of either being abandoned by the United States (and therefore vulnerable for attack) or being entangled in U.S. security issues, the nation has no interests in (Berger, 2004, 138-142).

While those factors have shaped Japan’s security outlook already during the Cold War, there are several new ‘post-Cold War’ challenges that are likely to shape Japanese security policy in the future: (1) the rise of China, (2) a North Korean regime that is highly belligerent toward Japan, (3) the possibility of U.S. abandonment, and (4) the relative decline of Japan’s economy (Samuels, 2006, 114). In addition, the East Asian region provides good conditions for a possible security dilemma between Japan, China and North Korea. All of these states have legitimate security concerns (ibid). Furthermore, three factors seem to be crucial when it comes to Japan’s future security policy. First, the power of the United States in the Asian region is declining, which raises the question of Japan’s security in the future. Second, a rising China is challenging the U.S.’s role as the dominant strategic actor in the region. Watched from a Japanese perspective, the rapid military buildup of the PRC presents a possible security threat (a threat that could be bolstered should the U.S. continue to lose influence in East Asia). Finally, a Japan that is ambitious to achieve great-power status is very likely to trigger a serious balancing behavior by its neighbors – especially China and Korea (ibid, 120-21). But what strategic options does Japan have in such a ‘realist world’?


[1] Named after former Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru.

[2] E.g.: the Yasukuni Shrine dispute, the issue of ‘Comfort Women’ and the issue of Japanese history textbooks.


ISBN (eBook)
420 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz – Institut für Politikwissenschaft
japanese security policy search consensus




Titel: Japanese Security Policy: In Search for a New Consensus