Rethinking Japanese Public Opinion and Security: From Pacifism to Realism?

By Paul Midford | Go to book overview

1
Introduction

Defense of Japan versus Overseas Force Projection

While Japan has long demonstrated a commitment to militarily defending national territory, its refusal to “become a military power” that uses physical coercion overseas for foreign policy objectives has been a hallmark of Japan’s postwar military posture of defensive defense (or senshu bōei).1 Indeed, Japan’s first formally announced postwar foreign policy doctrine, the Fukuda Doctrine of 1977, which became the primary pillar of its deep economic and political engagement with the rest of East Asia, is first and foremost a promise not to become a military power capable of projecting force overseas.2 However, Japan’s strong support for the George W. Bush administration’s “war on terrorism” and its willingness to support this war by deploying naval (and briefly air) forces to the Indian Ocean and ground, air, and naval assets to Iraq and surrounding countries for several years has raised questions about whether Tokyo is abandoning its postwar defensive defense posture and becoming a “normal” great power, willing to use military force overseas for foreign policy objectives.

Noting that “many Japan watchers—not only foreign, but also domestic— were taken aback at both the speed and the substance”3 of Japan’s reaction to the war on terrorism, Christopher Hughes suggests Japan’s “participation in the Afghan campaign and Iraqi reconstruction has set vital precedents for JSDF [Japanese Self Defense Forces] dispatch” that could presage Japan being “drawn in radical new directions.”4 More boldly, other observers claim Tokyo has already crossed its security “Rubicon”5 or believe that Japan is emerging as the “Britain of Asia,” an ally willing to fight alongside U.S. forces just as Britain does.6 Richard Samuels argues that “the Japan of old is transforming itself into an increasingly muscular nation, one less hesitant to use force.”7 Still others suggest that Japanese public opinion is becoming increasingly nationalistic and that this is driving the country to play a more active military role overseas.8

Even before the war on terrorism, scholars were starting to note a shift toward realism in Japan.9 Michael Green argued as early as 2001 that Japan

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