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Japan - Introduction

Two cities in Japan Hiroshima, in the Chugoku region, and Nagasaki, in the Kyushu region underwent atomic bombings during World War II. Near the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima stands the Atomic Bomb Dome, which was registered as a World Heritage site in 1996.

Japan is in the unusual position of being a major world economic and political power, with an aggressive military tradition, resisting the development of strong armed forces. A military proscription is included as Article 9 of the 1947 constitution stating, "The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes." That article, along with the rest of the "Peace Constitution," retains strong government and citizen support and is interpreted as permitting the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), but prohibiting those forces from possessing nuclear weapons or other offensive arms or being deployed outside of Japan.

The SDF are under control of the civilian Defense Agency, subordinate to the prime minister. Although highly trained and fully qualified to perform the limited missions assigned to them, the SDF are small, understaffed, and underequipped for more extensive military operations. Its activities are confined to disaster relief and limited UN peacekeeping efforts.

Japan's national defense policy has been based on maintaining the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with the United States, under which Japan assumed unilateral responsibility for its own internal security and the United States agreed to join in Japan's defense in the event that Japan or its territories were attacked. Although the size and capability of the SDF have always limited their role, until 1976 defense planning focused on developing forces adequate to deal with the conventional capabilities of potential regional adversaries. Beginning in 1976, government policy held that the SDF would be developed only to repel a small-scale, limited invasion and that the nation would depend on the United States to come to its aid in the event of a more serious incursion.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the buildup of military forces in the Soviet Far East, including a group of islands to the north of Hokkaido, which were occupied by the Soviet Union but claimed by Japan, led Japan to develop a program to modernize and improve the SDF in the 1980s, especially in air defense and antisubmarine warfare. In the early 1990s, the government was reevaluating its security policy based on reduced East-West tensions.

The Japanese government valued its close relations with the United States, and it remained dependent on the United States nuclear umbrella. Thus, it worked to facilitate military contacts and to support the United States diplomatically whenever possible. Both the government and the public, however, supported only limited increases in self-defense capability. National security, it is believed, is fostered by international diplomacy and economic aid as much as by military might.

There are few critical issues for Japan's internal security. Conditions of public order compare favorably with those elsewhere in the world. The crime rate is remarkably low, kept that way by well-organized and efficient police forces assisted by general citizen cooperation and support.

The Japanese government reviewed the National Defense Program Outline, formulated in 1995, at the end of 2004. Suggestions that Japan was increasing military capabilities had unnerved China and other Asian countries invaded by Japan during World War II. Japan's relationship with China is undermined by frequent visits by high-profile officials to the Yasukuni Shrine.

In 04 October 2004, the Council on Security and Defense Capabilities, a private advisory group to the prime minister, made recommendations to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Japan's future defense capabilities. This report was the basis for new defence guidelines, drawn up by the end of 2004. It was only the third such review since Japan's defeat in World War Two.

The panel said that Japan should study acquiring pre-emptive strike capability. "Regarding the question of whether it is appropriate ... to possess offensive capabilities against enemy missile bases as a last resort, a decision should be made after thoroughly examining the credibility of deterrence provided by the United States." The council recommended thoroughly examining the credibility of US deterrence, the effectiveness of BMD systems, the cost-effectiveness of these systems, and the impact this will have on countries in the region.

If this was adopted as government policy, it would have been a major change in Japan's post-war defence policy. The report declared Japan could no longer expect to depend solely on US forces for protection. But the report recommended that Japanese forces designed for defense against a full-scale invasion be significantly reduced. The advisory panel also urged the government to discuss expanding an overseas policing role for the Self Defense Forces. And it recommends relaxing the ban on weapons exports to the United States and other countries, as well as on acquiring advanced spy satellites. The panel, however, came out against Japan having nuclear weapons, saying it must not pose a threat to neighboring countries.

In November 2004 November Defense Agency officials established three scenarios of possible attacks by China on Japan as the agency prepared to revamp the national defense strategy. Under the first scenario, China may attack parts of Japan to prevent aid from US forces in Japan in the case of a clash between China and Taiwan . In the second scenario, China might take military action to seize the Senkaku Islands between Taiwan and Japan [which China calls the Diaoyu Islands]. China claims that there is overwhelming evidence to indicate the Diaoyu Islands have been part of Chinese territory since ancient times. Under the third scenario, China might move to secure its interests in the East China Sea. China's oil and gas explorations in the East China Sea are being carried out in what China regards as indisputable coastal waters, the source of wrangling between the two countries over energy and territory in the East China Sea. Tokyo and Beijing dispute the development of gas fields near their maritime boundary.

The "National Defense Program Guidelines, FY 2005" were adopted by the Security Council and the Cabinet on 10 December 2004. Japan's cabinet eased a 1976 ban on exporting arms and approved joint development of a missile defense system with the United States. Although limited in scope, the actions are part of a steady move away from the country's self-defense-only military policy. Despite the changes, the Defense Agency failed to avoid a reduction in military personnel. The powerful Finance Ministry, which has final say over government budgets, insisted on cuts of five-thousand ground troops from the total force of 160-thousand. Spending was also cut by about three-and-a-quarter percent, to 233-billion dollars over five years.

The approval of the new defense guidelines came a day after the government extended the controversial deployment of non-combat troops to Iraq for another year. The dispatch of the 550 troops marked the first time Japan has sent its forces to a country at war in more than 50 years.

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Page last modified: 06-07-2021 16:52:21 ZULU