ABSTRACT – There exists in the popular American imagination the idea of Japan as a small, weak and pacifistic nation. Personal experience with Japanese people leads many expatriates to the conclusion that not only do the Japanese themselves believe this view of their nation and they are strongly committed to their identity as the "peace nation," but that such a population, given the inherited mental and physical wounds associated with World War II, would never allow their government to remilitarise the country. A careful overview of the scholarship shows that such a view has indeed been discussed and is called "constructivism." However, the scholarship contains compelling and quantitative analyses making the case that the competing "realist" perspective more accurately describes Japanese defense policy and shows a Japan that is remilitarising even now, and is in fact already comparable to the Great Powers in terms of military might.
In discussion of the current Japanese role in American and international security, Japan is often portrayed as a reluctant ally for the United States, and perhaps even global organisations such as NATO or the United Nations. Japan's reluctance to involve itself in "collective defense" with its partners or main allies, such as the United States, is often attributed to the post-war Japanese peace movements, even though the typical view in American scholarship is that General Douglas MacArthur "imposed" the post-war constitution on the Japanese people, with arguably its most important aspect, Article 9, which forever prohibits Japan from ever using military means to settle disputes. The idea that "We took away their stuff" is very prevalent among American popular thought, but both scholarship and personal experience of Japanese views on the matter suggest a very different genesis to Japan's pacifism.
The idea of Japan as a bulwark of pacifism or paragon of peace, example to the entirety of the international community of what a harmonious society looks like inside and out is a very alluring one to Japanese who have come of age with little or no connection to World War II, do not equate themselves with the actions of the Japanese Empire, and are searching for a post-modern definition of what it means to be "Japanese" while retaining a thread of essentialist thinking in "opinions on Japaneseness" (called nihonjinron, 日本人論 in Japanese). It is not difficult to see where this idea sprang from. The Japanese people largely see themselves as "victims" twice over- once at the hands of the military elite that lead them foolishly into a war they could not win, and once at the hands of the American military with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Speaking to Japanese about World War II is not easy. There is a great deal of anger and shame even from generations that did not experience the war first hand. Japanese "essentialism" is as much in vogue now as it was in the years after Meiji or the early years of Showa, it just comes in a much different flavor. While Japanese essentialism fed the nationalist and imperial fervor that lead to World War II, it now serves to make current generations of Japanese ask how such a great and wonderful nation, Great Japan (DaiNippon, 大日本), could have been betrayed by its leaders. Why did these leaders do what was not in tune with Japan's destiny to be a world leader? How did this elite fail to act in accordance with the essential nature of Japaneseness? For many Japanese the answers to these questions will not be given clearly or easily. They are embarrassing questions even when discussed among Japanese. To discuss them with foreigners, even individuals who have integrated into Japanese society, is almost painful.
In my time in Japan, living, working, teaching, discussing, and learning with Japanese, I formulated a thesis about why, despite having a modern air force (but not called that), a modern navy (but not called that), and a decent if low-powered army (but definitely not called that), Japan would never willingly take over its own defense. I theorised that despite the economic feasibility of taking over its own defense, the Japanese people would never allow Japanese leaders to make decisions leading to a remilitarisation of Japan. Of the many things I experience as part of the normalcy of living in Japan, nothing seems more universally Japanese than a commitment to Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. In some sections, I will speak to experience without the use of citations or footnotes. Much of the reasoning behind my thesis was based on my personal experience trying to discuss this issue with my neighbors, coworkers, friends, and students. I went to the scholarship to see if I could find academic support for my belief. In my exploration of that scholarship, I reached two surprising conclusions. First, that my theory has a name in the discourse of international security; constructivism. And second, that my thesis is completely, totally, demonstrably false.
To understand why my thesis was completely eviscerated by the scholarship, it will be necessary to explore the Japanese viewpoint concerning the "revision" or "amending" of the Japanese constitution and the history of Article 9, the current "realist" (vs constructivist) trend in Japanese defense decision making and the impotence of admittedly widespread public opposition to the growing modern "Japanese Self Defense Force," which is a world class military in all but name and legal statute. It is my final conclusion that given these factors, Japan is in fact a modern military state while "hiding in plain sight" as a "minor ally" of the United States of America.
II. Japanese Authorship of Article 9
第九条 日本国民は、正義と秩序を基調とする国際平和を誠実に希求し、国権の発動たる戦争と、武力による威嚇又は武力の行使は、国際紛争を解決する手段としては、永久にこれを放棄する。二 前項の目的を達するため、陸海空軍その他の戦力は、これを保持しない。国の交戦権は、これを認めない。
ARTICLE 9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
- Constitution of Japan, 1947
The source of Article 9 is disputed in the scholarship. The general perception among most Americans is that the Japanese have not remilitarised beyond a small defense force directly due to American authorship of the 1947 constitution. This perception holds that General Douglas MacArthur, US Army lawyers, Milo Rowell and Courtney Whitney, and others on the general's staff were responsible for the entirety or majority of the new constitution. Indeed, declassified memos from Rowell and Whitney do strongly suggest that parts of the Japanese constitution are copied whole sale from the US Constitution's Bill of Rights. While Japanese lawyers and politicians were involved to bring a sense of legitimacy to the drafting process, the American perception holds that the drafting as a whole, and Article 9 specifically, was essentially an American enterprise.
Robert A. Fisher, who traces the history of Article 9 and concludes that the Japanese Self Defense Forces are, in fact, unconstitutional, includes minutes of conversations between the Americans and the Japanese which seem to support this view. Most notably, he points to what can only be seen as "drafts" of Article 9 which his sources attribute to MacArthur:
War as a sovereign right of the nation is abolished. Japan renounces [war] as an instrumentality for settling its disputes and even for preserving its own security....No Japanese Army, Navy or Air Force will ever be authorized and no rights of belligerence will ever be conferred on any Japanese force.1
Fisher also quotes Joji Matsumoto, the head of the Constitutional Committee, as desiring to keep the language of Article 9 out of the main body of the constitution and instead include it as a "principle" without legal force in the Preamble. According to the minutes provided by Fisher, Whitney responded:
The enunciation of this principle should be unusual and dramatic. We made it in Chapter II rather than Chapter I of the Constitution in deference to the Emperor and his place in the hearts of the Japanese people. For my own part, and in terms of its decisive importance, I should prefer the Renunciation of War to be in Chapter I of the new Constitution.2
Whitney, then, certainly believed that there should have been no questions about the legal status of what finally became Article 9, and that the American drafters were uninterested in any attempt by Japanese drafters to soften its meaning. Even if there is acknowledgement among American scholars that many of the Japanese officials involved in constitutional revision earnestly wished for a "peace amendment," there has been very little in the scholarship to suggest that anyone believes Japanese officials had any significant ability to resist Article 9, let alone actively support its inclusion. Further, some scholars actually theorise that the Japanese accepted Article 9 since if the Emperor was seen promulgating a Constitution opposing armed conflict, his position would be safe from calls that he be tried as a war criminal.
Despite the difficulty of discussing issues of how Japan's pacifistic views were formed with the Japanese, there is an ownership of Article 9 by the Japanese population that is very hard to understand if one accepts the American perception of the history of Article 9. Why would the Japanese man or woman on the street so embrace a constitutional mandate forced on them by occupiers? Although I cannot speak to the views of current Japanese politicians or bureaucratic officials, my Japanese neighbors, co-workers, and friends would certainly take umbrage with the American perception. They might bring up the ultra-pacifistic post-war Prime Minister Kijuurou Shidehara. While Fisher claims that Article 9 was a revision of an earlier suggestion by MacArthur, the general himself stated in his autobiography that the provision was suggested by Shidehara, who "wanted it to prohibit any military establishment for Japan—any military establishment whatsoever."3 This alternate explanation for the history of Article 9, where it is the Japanese officials that bring forth the provision for the future of Japan, is one that resonates with the Japanese people. But is there any evidence for its truth, and why does Japanese authorship matter?
Patrick Hein is one scholar that believes the case for Japanese authorship has been settled. He says of Article 9:
...it seems safe to say that it was Shidehara himself who proposed the article to MacArthur in their bilateral meeting on 24 January 1946. Looking back it does not really matter if the acceptance not to maintain armed forces had been a trade off to save the then Emperor Hirohito from a pending war crime tribunal or not. What matters is that Shidehara followed nothing but his conscience when he proposed article 9 and according to Schlichtmann, Shidehara acknowledged himself that he had acted under no compulsion from anybody and that it was his earnest desire to "somehow use my office to carry out the will of the people." This last point is of critical importance as it reflects Shidehara's thinking that sovereignty expressed through article 9 rests with the people and not with the Emperor or its representatives.4
Yet, really, as far as an explanation of why the Japanese take such ownership of Article 9, whether or not American or western scholarship agrees is somewhat immaterial. If my experiences in Japan are as universal among Japanese as I believe them to be, then such a view of Shidehara's role in "carry[ing] out the will of the people" must be found in Japanese scholarship. Despite the fact that Japan has one of the oldest populations in the world, the vast majority of Japanese were not alive during World War II, and among those that were, many had yet to reach adulthood. For such a widespread view of Japanese authorship of Article 9, there must be a traceable history of scholarship in Japan on this point. Hein seems to acknowledge the necessity of Japanese scholarship and its impact on Japanese views by quoting Tokyo University professor Horio Teruhisu:
There's a popular view that Article 9 was imposed on Japan by the U.S. occupation. There was a private conference between MacArthur and then Prime Minister Shidehara, on January 24th 1946, from which no written records remain. There's no question now that this was the occasion in which the idea for what became Article 9 was floated, but people have debated whether it was brought up by Shidehara or MacArthur. It's [my] view that the idea came from Shidehara, the Japanese Prime Minister. This is backed up by testimony MacArthur later gave in the Senate and later, in the report by the head of the Commission on the Constitution, a group established in Japan to gather documents in order to get the ball rolling for constitutional revision. Takayanagi Kenzo, the Commission head, wrote, "I initially believed that it was MacArthur who proposed the idea for Article 9 first. But having investigated carefully all the materials that I can gather, I have come to the conclusion that it was Shidehara who proposed the idea for Article 9. [I] tried very hard to substantiate this interpretation, but the question arises, why would Shidehara propose such a move? Shidehara wanted to find some way to preserve the emperor system, and disavowing the maintenance of armed forces went hand-in-hand with that desire. Those two principles were tied together in Shidehara's thinking.5
So that settles the issue, at least in Japanese minds, of just who wrote Article 9: a Japanese prime minister, following the will of the Japanese people, not an occupying foreigner. However, just coming to understand who was responsible for the authorship of Article 9 only gets us halfway to understanding why the Japanese now view pacifism as their nation's special role in global affairs and a key part of Japanese essentialism. To get us all the way, we must consider the why of Japanese authorship of Article 9. While the American narrative would suggest that the why of American authorship of Article 9 would be to prevent the rise of some future version of Imperial Japan, what would the Japanese gain from the total renunciation of war as a means to settle international disputes and the taking on of the world's premiere "peace-based" Great Power?
For an understanding of just why the language of Article 9 was drafted by a Japanese author, Hein returns to Shidehara. He argues that the prime minister was well aware that given the nuclear reality of the Cold War, conventional militaries would be useless. Stuck between the Soviet Union to the west and the United States of America to the east, it seemed to Shidehara that security could not be maintained as it had been in the pre-war period. Even if Japan had been allowed and able to remilitarise, such a remilitarisation would not only be ineffective, but possibly provocative. Shidehara was searching for a way to bring the Japanese people the long-term peace they sought while also establishing a new and unique high-profile role for Japan in the post-war international order. There had to be a different way to promote international security, and Shidehara believed that he had found it in Article 9. Hein quotes Klaus Schlichtmann, Shidehara scholar, "Article 9 was, in Shidehara's view, to become a cornerstone of the United Nations system of collective security that would enable all nations to disarm." Schlictmann and Hein both suggest that Article 9 "is viewed as a forerunner to modern concepts of human or collective security...[by which] the UN has engaged in dissuading states from acting in a manner likely to threaten peace, thereby avoiding any conflict."6
While this certainly explains how Japanese authorship of Article 9 plays into Japanese essentialism, there was a practical side to Shidehara's authorship of Article 9. Japan had been absolutely ravaged by the war. Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been obliterated by atomic weapons, but other industrial and high-population cities like Tokyo and Osaka were almost entirely flattened. What resources it had under the empire were, for the most part, taken away after Japan's surrender. Even in the time of Taisho in the 1920s, "prosperity" was fairly restricted. As the war in China and then the Pacific War came to dominate the Japanese economy, austerity measures were extreme. Thus, just as the Japanese people desired peace, they also desired economic prosperity. Hein tells us "according to records by Whitney, former aid to MacArthur, Shidehara pursued economic aims by reducing the burden of military expenditures and revitalizing the economy instead."7
In this way, the Japanese peace narrative can best be understood: Japan is a peculiar nation, that due to its essential character and unique history, is best posed to be an example of pacifism in the international order, that this position was realised through Japanese authorship of Article 9 of the amended Constitution, and for forty five years this Japanese plan for the Japanese people has led to economic prosperity and few regional conflicts. It is no wonder that for most Japanese "being Japanese" in part entails a strong commitment to the language and meaning of Article 9.
III. Japan as a Major Military Power
It is unsurprising that expatriates living in Japan would come to the conclusion Japan has a population which would never allow the country to become remilitarised. The history of the Japanese peace narrative with its genesis in Japanese authorship of Article 9 for uniquely Japanese reasons certainly explains why the Japanese people would make Article 9 and its precepts near and dear to their hearts. If we assume that, as Shidehara believed, sovereignty in Japan rests with the Japanese people, and Japanese officials ought to follow the will of the people, Japan will either have a weak military or no military at all. According to Jennifer M. Lind of MIT, this theory has a name, "constructivism." Lind explains:
Constructivist scholars argue that through their international and domestic political experiences, states can develop norms or "cultures of antimilitarism"—an aversion to the military establishment and the use of military force. Antimilitarism becomes entrenched through the development of institutions and laws. In antimilitarist states, proposals to expand the state's military capabilities or roles will confront opposition from the general public and political groups, and will run up against institutional or legal restraints; thus proposals for military activism will be blocked.8
Looking back at my theory "that despite the economic feasibility of taking over its own defense, the Japanese people would never allow Japanese leaders to make decisions leading to a remilitarisation of Japan," it certainly appears that I am advancing a Japanese version of the theories put forth by constructivist scholars. Certainly, when I look at Japanese neighbors, co-workers, and friends, I see a "culture of antimilitarism" with "an aversion to the military establishment and the use of military force." I also see in Article 9 and its supporters "development of institutions and laws" which strengthen Japanese pacifistic thought. Given the near constant political arguments over use of Japanese advisors or peacekeepers in Iraq and the dispatch of Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force ships for purposes of anti-piracy patrols, it would also appear that "proposals to expand the state's military capabilities or roles with confront opposition from the general public and political groups..." At least initially, it is understandable why I would form a constructivist view of Japanese defense policy given my personal experiences.
And yet, Lind offers compelling evidence in the form of quantitative comparisons about the Japanese Self Defense Force which serve to demonstrate its high capability when viewed next to the militaries of "other" great powers, including Russia, China, and the United States of America. To begin with, she trounces the notion that just because Japan has stayed true to Shidehara's desire to see a prioritisation of economic power over military power, Japan must not be able to afford a world class military. She states:
Analysts often underestimate Japanese military power because they rely on a misleading statistic. In assessments of Japanese security policy, scholars often highlight Tokyo's defense spending as a percentage of GDP. Whereas other great powers spend 1.5 - 3% of their GDP on defense, Japan devotes only about 1% to defense. Studies often conclude from this measurement that Japan is militarily weak. However, defense spending as a fraction of GDP is not a valid measure of military power. A state with a large economy devoting only a small share of its wealth to defense can amass a high level of military power. Conversely, a small economy devoting even a huge percentage of its wealth to defense can generate only a limited amount of real military capability.9
One need only consider the case of North Korea in order to follow Lind's logic, a small country with almost no gross domestic product, which practically bankrupts itself maintaining a large military force which is far from world class. To further solidify the idea that constructivist theories are wrong, at least as far as Japan is concerned, it is important to consider, as Lind does, the by-the-numbers of the Japanese Self Defense Forces by looking at defense overviews in the likes of Jane's. It is important to note that, legally speaking, Japan's forces are not actually "forces" at all, but are instead part of the "national police forces" and members of the JSDF are tried for criminal acts in civilian courts. That being understood, let us look to just how these "national police forces" are military forces in all but name.
Japanese Ground Self Defense Force: The weakest of Japan's self defense forces, the JGSDF has little combat power to bring to bear in conventional land combat. If there is any force provided by the Japanese that resembles constructivist views, it is the the JGSDF. It has only one armored division's worth of modern equipment; two hundred modern battle tanks and three hundred other modern vehicles. While this may seem large to those unaware of the size of conventional land armies, it is minuscule compared to its neighbors, including its possible regional opponents. The People's Republic of China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), and the Russian Federation all have substantial ground assets. In a conventional land war, Japan would have no chance against its opponents. The Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) both have ground forces of much larger sizes than Japan despite having much smaller total land area. In the case of full scale invasion of Japan, the JGSDF would be overwhelmed, and it has absolutely no ability to move personnel or armaments to even regionally "close" theaters. Owing to the Sea of Japan's position as a "moat," Japan relies much more on its air forces and naval components for national defense.
Japanese Air Self Defense Force: The constructivist argument breaks down first when considering that the JASDF is a "powerful air force that could defend Japanese airspace from any realistic threat."10 The JASDF is equipped with one of the highest numbers of modern aircraft in the world, complete with state-of-the-art fighter jets and command and control aircraft which serve to provide battle space awareness to JASDF fighters and elements of the Japanese Maritime Defense Force (JMSDF). Japanese pilots, much celebrated in Japanese popular media, are among the world's best trained and have a significant amount of training hours in the cockpit. The JASDF also operates significant numbers of surface-to-air missiles which allow it to protect against incursions of Japanese airspace. Simply put, the JASDF appears capable of countering almost any other military power that would seek to use air power against Japan.
While even high defensive ability would appear to fall within even constructivist views, the main reason for such defensive capability is the expansion of the JASDF into the area of offensive capabilities. As former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone one stated, Japan is an "unsinkable aircraft carrier."11 The location of the Japanese islands, curved around the Western Pacific rim, allows Japan to project its air power to most of the "flash points" in East Asia with little difficulty. This includes the Taiwan Strait and the Korean Peninsula. Between the airbases located in Hokkaido near Russia, and Okinawa leading southward towards Taiwan, Japan can maintain command and control of the airspace over the waterways it uses for trade. To further extend its offensive range, Japan is now in the process of developing aerial refueling capabilities. Lind notes, quite correctly I think, that the JASDF does have notable limitations, mainly in the fact it has not been armed with bombs or missiles intended to destroy enemy airfields or air defense systems. It is likely that such clearly offensive weaponry would be too blatant a violation of Article 9, even given the realist-supported view of its hollowing out. These limitations being understood, the JASDF is still very much among the world's best air forces and would "present a serious challenge to any of their neighbors' air forces, even over the neighbor's territory."12
Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force: The constructivist theory falls apart entirely when considering that Japan's greatest military capabilities are in the area of command and control of the sea. Lind states, "[Japan's] modern warships and maritime patrol aircraft put Japanese naval power among the top three countries in the world."13 This is extremely high praise, given that the number one naval power in most minds is no doubt the United States of America. However, I would say, before we delve into the material aspect of the JMSDF, that we consider the quality of its officers and enlisted personnel, just as we looked at the high rates of training of JASDF pilots. As someone who has spent a great amount of time studying naval power and has personal experience with the naval bases in Yokosuka and Maizuru, I have long played up the professionalism and competence of the JMSDF. They are superb mariners, or as we tend to say among the surface warfare community, "damn fine ship-drivers."
Returning to the subject of Japan's naval capabilities, Lind looks at the JMSDF's four modern battle groups. They have highly sophisticated air defense and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities. This means that the battle groups need not stay in the littorals (coastal waters) of the home islands, but can instead move near enemy shores. I agree with Lind that the only naval force better equipped to move into enemy-controlled seas and stay there is the United States Navy. Not only can the JMSDF easily defend Japanese territorial waters, but it can be deployed anywhere in the region to monitor or destroy an enemy's shipping (military or commercial) with sophisticated anti-ship missiles. Along with its maritime command and control P-3 patrol aircraft, the JMSDF's ability to forward project sea power is high. Although Japan cannot project its power ashore, it is not beyond Japan's ability to effectively blockade an aggressive neighbor. Japan's fleet tonnage is greater than every other maritime force aside from the United States of America, and lags only behind the United Kingdom and the United States of America in terms of maritime force projection.
Simply put, while Japan's ground forces fit into the constructivist paradigm of military expansion curtailed by a popular culture of "anti-militarism," Japanese air and maritime forces are among the best equipped and best trained in the entire world. While the JASDF and the JMSDF have not been utilised much at all for missions that go above and beyond the minimally needed defense of Japan, the constructivist theory simply cannot account for how robust they really are. If a constructivist theory of Japan was correct, then Japan's air and maritime forces would be more in line with its ground forces. Perhaps not quite as small, but unable to engage in a protracted war.
Japan is a land of many contradictions. Scholars across disciplines have looked at these contradictions in terms of tradition and modernity, creation and destruction, public and private, as well as the military past and the current peace. I feel I have discovered another such contradiction to be found in the Japanese psyche. When it comes to remlitarisation there is a definite sense that it has not occurred. Outside of Japan, Japan simply is not considered a military power, and indeed, the idea that it could be a military power would be alarming to many in the West, despite almost seventy years having passed since the end of World War II. Yet, perhaps we can forgive those in the West, and especially Americans, for being so naive, having been taught that Japan's military power was crushed when the war ended, and because obviously the majority of Americans will never set foot in Japan.
The contradiction that is worth exploring in additional scholarship is just how such a highly armed Japan is still thought of as an unarmed Japan by its population. There is simply no indication in speaking to the vast majority of Japanese that the population has any idea that at least two of their three military forces are not only manned and equipped for last-ditch defense, but could easily undertake offensive missions that would seem to directly contradict the second clause of Article 9, "To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized."
To Japanese and non-Japanese alike, there is no Japanese military. It simply does not exist. Yet this view is fundamentally flawed with absolutely no basis in reality. Since the use of Japan as an "unsinkable aircraft carrier" in the Korean War by US Forces, Japan's military capabilities have been expanding considerably. These capabilities will allow it to more than adequately defend itself as-is even in the unlikely event of a United States drawdown of its forces currently stationed in Japan. If the Japanese people, vocal as they are in opposition of remiliterisation and in support of peace as the national business, really had the power to stop this expansion, the current forces would simply not exist as they do now. Japan is already a major military power, one that hides behind the even more massive United States military in order to appear smaller and weaker.
1. Fisher, Robert A. "Note: The Erosion of Japanese Pacifism: The Constitutionality of the U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines." Cornell International Law Journal 32 (1999), p. 397.
2. Fisher, p. 408.
3. MacArthur, Douglas. Reminiscences (1964), p. 302.
4. Hein, Patrick. "Realpolitik Versus Principled Politics: Nitobe, Shidehara, Shirasu and the Hollowing out of the Japanese Peace Constitution." East Asia: An International Quarterly 26, no. 4 (Winter2009 2009), p. 288.
5. Hein, p. 288.
6. Hein, p. 289.
7. Hein, p. 289.
8. Lind, Jennifer M. "Measuring Japan in the Military Balance and Evaluating Theories of Japanese Security." American Political Science Association (2003), p. 6.
9. Lind, p. 10.
11. Nakasone Yasuhiro. The Making of the New Japan: Reclaiming the Political Mainstream (1999), p. 256.
12. Lind, p. 13.
13. Lind, p. 13.
Author's Note: This graduate level paper earned an A in a course on International Relations. Additional note of bias, author is pro-JSDF, but also pro-Article 9.