Japan's Post-Cold War Security Policy: Bringing Back the Normal State

By Singh, Bhubhindar | Contemporary Southeast Asia, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Japan's Post-Cold War Security Policy: Bringing Back the Normal State


Singh, Bhubhindar, Contemporary Southeast Asia


Introduction

Japan's security role in both regional and international affairs has experienced a marked shift from that which it used to play during the COLD WAR. During the Cold War, Japan adopted an isolationist regional strategy of one-country pacifism. This strategy rested on two pillars: first, Japan pursued economic diplomacy while avoiding any political role in international security affairs; and second, Japan entrusted its stake in regional security to the United States. (1) However, Japanese passivity towards security affairs came under scrutiny at the onset of the post-Cold War era. The resultant vulnerability of the East Asian security environment, characterized by a possible drawdown of U.S. military forces and the uncertainty posed by the rise of China, prompted Japanese policy-makers to call for a reassessment of Japan's strategy of one-country pacifism. This reassessment introduced a greater political dimension in Japan's security policy.

The key event that led to a shift in Japanese security policy was Tokyo's embarrassing experience during the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Despite Japan's huge financial contribution to the war effort, its reluctance to dispatch non-combat personnel to the Gulf exposed it to criticism from both the West and the Arab states. (2) The Gulf War experience was a significant event for Japan, for two reasons. First, it challenged Japan to think beyond the defence of its territory and participate in defining new rules to govern the international security environment in the post-Cold War period. (3) Secondly, the Persian Gulf War demonstrated to Japan that military power still shapes international relations to a significant degree in the post-Cold War era, and that Japan was ill-equipped to deal with military crises. (4)

Following the Gulf War, the security dimension in Japanese foreign policy gained prominence. In response to the emergence of new external threats, Japan adjusted its security policy to allow for greater participation in the international security environment. It did so in particular ways. First, in 1992, Tokyo enacted the International Peace Co-operation Law, which allowed Japan to play a more active security role through greater participation in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO). The passing of this Law led to the successful deployment of 1,800 Japanese troops to Cambodia as part of a UN-sponsored peacekeeping force in 1992. (5) Secondly, Tokyo reformulated the National Defence Programme Outline (NDPO) in 1995 -- the first time since 1976. That reformulation emphasized Japan taking a greater role in UNPKOs, and the Self-Defence Force (SDF) addressing low-intensity threats such as terrorism. (6) Thirdly, in 1996, the Japanese Government agreed to enter into talks with the United States to revital ize the U.S.-Japan alliance to make it more relevant to the postCold War environment. In the new U.S.-Japan Joint Security Declaration, both countries outlined an agenda for a greater role for Japan in expanded defence co-operation, including defence planning, research and development, missile defence, and diplomacy towards China. (7)

In explaining Japan's enhanced security role in regional affairs, this article employs the concept of a "normal" state. In the conceptualization of a normal state, the omission of Japan comes as no surprise to many Japan observers. This is due to the stark imbalance in Japan's involvement in the economic versus security spheres globally since the post-war years. While it has reached the position of being the second largest economy in the world, Japan has deliberately avoided taking any major political initiative in international affairs. This imbalance in Japan's behaviour is supported and perpetuated by internal controls, such as the Peace Constitution, social and legal norms that restrict the role of its military, the limitation of defence expenditures to one per cent of the gross national product (GNP), and Japan's adherence to the three non-nuclear principles.

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