May 19, 2008, Andrew Oros

(Click to Enlarge) Director, Satu Limaye, left, looks on as Andrew Oros discusses Normalizing Japan on May 19, 2008.

(Click to enlarge) Sheila A. Smith, left, Satu Limaye, Andrew Oros and Yuki Tatsumi at the East-West Center in Washington on May 19, 2008.

Normalizing Japan: Politics, Identity, and the Evolution of Security Practice


What direction will Japan’s security policy take, and what factors influence this evolution? Andrew L. Oros, Associate Professor of Political science and International Studies at Washington College in Maryland, addressed these questions and others in an Asian Security seminar on May 19, 2008, at the East-West Center in Washington, a program which also featured Japan experts Sheila Smith, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Yuki Tatsumi of the Stimson Center as discussants.


Drawing from his new book, Normalizing Japan: Politics, Identity, and the Evolution of Security Practice—the latest in the East-West Center’s Asian Security Series, published by Stanford University Press—Oros argued that, contrary to popular belief, Japanese security policy has not changed much in recent years and will continue to be constrained by a “security identity” that has guided Japanese policymakers since the end of World War II. Three core principles act as central guideposts in this security identity: (1) no traditional role of the armed forces in domestic politics; (2) no use of force to resolve international disputes, except in self defense; and (3) no Japanese participation in foreign wars. In addition to Japan’s security identity, Oros also argued, the Japanese constitution and domestic politics function as similar constraints.  Taking Japan’s arms export restrictions as an example, Oros noted that while Japan produced and exported no weapons after World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars gradually led it to weaken its restrictions up to the present state of allowing the transfers of weapons components from the United States.


According to Oros, Japan’s security identity affects policy outcomes because it provides the “proper vocabulary” to allow political cooperation among different factions, parties, and ministries. However, it may also hinder Japanese policymakers who wish to deviate from the established policy path because public opinion may trigger resistance to policy innovation. But even this pacifistic security identity is evolving. According to an Asahi ShimbunConstitution Day poll this year, Oros quoted, two-thirds of Japanese citizens do not want Article 9, Japan’s controversial “self-defense” clause, to be revised—up from last year’s 49 percent. These figures lend credence to the idea that a change in circumstances does not necessarily lead to a change in identity.


Sheila Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and one of two program discussants, described the global perception of Japanese security policymaking as a balancing act between continuity and change. While Washington sees Tokyo as moving too slowly on security issues, other East Asian countries tend to see Japan as moving too fast. She added that, coincident with Washington’s approach to alliances, which has undergone fundamental shifts over the past decade, the U.S.-Japan conversation on security matters is far more “fluid” today than it was a decade ago. On negotiating Japan’s security identity, Smith noted that two areas must be considered—neither of which are unique to Japan: (1) balancing between civilian and military authority, and (2) reacting to exogenous or external events that could affect Japan.


Yuki Tatsumi, Research Fellow in the East Asia Program at the Henry L. Stimson Center and another discussant in the seminar, identified what she believed to be the focal points of debate in U.S.-Japan policies in the near-term future. First is the General Law of Self-Defense Force deployments, which she argued will not be the “cure-all” legislation that many in Washington expect it to be.  Deadlocks in the Diet, Japan’s domestic political situation, and unpredictability about actual SDF capabilities will impair this legislation’s efficacy, she said. Second is the role of the cabinet: the current structure of Japan’s cabinet office many not work if the role of national security policymakers is going to increase, and Fukuda or his successor may have to start “from Square One” given the centralization in decision-making authority established by former Prime Minister Koizumi.  Third is the upcoming revision of the NDF guidelines, which begs the question of the cabinet’s role in drafting documents with the Ministry of Defense (MoD).  And the final focal point, said Tatsumi, is Japan’s civil-military relationship, and the reorganization plan of the MoD—a tension not unlike that which exists in the U.S.’s own Department of Defense. She concluded by mentioning that Japan is currently lacking a holistic debate about how to use its SDF as a tool to promote Japanese national interest.