electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies

Discussion Paper 1 in 2011
First published in ejcjs on 31 January 2011

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Dealing with Complexity in Japanese Defense Politics

The Next Generation of Good Subject-Matter Questions


Daniel Clausen

PhD Candidate
Florida International University

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At a time when the trajectory of Japanese defense politics seems particularly uncertain, this article asks the question: What is the next generation of good subject matter questions regarding Japanese defense? Through an exploratory essay that reviews both the classics of Japanese defense issues and newer entries into the cannon, this essay argues that there are least four areas that are ripe for inquiry: 1) the trilateral relationship between Washington-Tokyo-Okinawa and the potential explosive effects of micro-politics in this area; 2) an examination of security rhetoric and the potential emergence of new leadership able to shape security debates; 3) an exploration of the way leaders balance internal social needs, issues of national self-esteem, and external threats; and 4) an examination of possible futures through the alternative scenario approach. The essay concludes by arguing that analytically eclectic approaches to the subject of Japanese defense politics—approaches that keep an open mind about what constitutes a 'threat' and how policy makers balance the various demands of an impatient public—will prove indispensable in understanding the evolution of security policy.


Japan; security policy; defense politics; securitization; alternative scenarios; analytical eclecticism


I would like to thank Professor Sohma Katsumi for her lecture at the Southern Japan Seminar, March 2010. Her thoughtful insights inspired me to explore this subject further through the act of writing.

Introduction: Coping with Uncertainty in Japanese Defense Politics

Recently, what seems like a relatively fuzzy picture of Japan's future defense trajectory has become even more unclear. While the issue of the Futenma air base relocation has been temporarily resolved (though the thorny problem of implementing the agreement remains), other issues seem perpetually deferred: revision of Article 9, the peace clause of the constitution; the move toward a more independent security posture; efforts to build a regional security order; evolving legal guidelines and normative frameworks on the use of force, especially the issue of collective self defense. As defense futurologists have written, even as one goes about examining the most probable trajectories analysts should also try to imagine as best as possible 'focal events' that have the potential to change the relative likelihood of future scenarios (Lockwood and Lockwood 1993). Recently, several soft focal events have changed the long-term trajectory of Japanese defense futures in subtle but still largely indeterminate ways: the displacement of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) by their rival the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the resignation of DPJ Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio over the Futenma debacle ostensibly seem like major events—though analysts warned us not to expect too much change (Chanlett-Avery et al 2009; Green and Szechenyi 2009; Konishi 2009). These quasi-focal events have occurred in a context of long-term demographic and attitudinal changes that may erode the foundation for anti-militarism (Kliman 2006); despite changing public attitudes, however, Japan's anti-militarist identity has proven surprisingly resilient (Oros 2008), even in the face of apparent provocations from China and fears of military conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Perhaps most importantly, Japan's long-term economic structural problems and its expanding public debt will also impact how the government sees its defense posture. Its declining ability to project economic leadership in the Asia-Pacific region may even create incentives for Japan to see expanded military modernization as a route to regaining much needed prestige in the region. As recent scholarship by Lebow (2008, see also Wendt 1999) suggests, any analyst interested in Japan's defense politics should not discount how issues of prestige and self-confidence impact how states relate to the outside world. With all of this uncertainty, those interested in Japanese defense politics may take some comfort in Sohma's diagnosis that policy choices will be 'deep-rooted in Japanese culture: that is, compromise, moderate and seek a sense of balance' (2010: 7). Indeed, the current consensus is that despite instances of momentary political theater, the occasional faux pas, or misunderstanding, Japanese defense policy remains relatively consistent with the past (see for example, Green 2009; Easley et al 2010). For the most part, Samuel's (2008) diagnosis that Japan will seek a policy that is neither too hot, nor too cold (the Goldilocks thesis) seems to be the most germane. In short, Japan will most likely: continue to promote Asia's nascent multilateralism within the comfortable protection of US extended deterrence, continue to promote a restrained military modernization program to hedge against a rising China, while also retaining as best as possible its commitment to its anti-militarist security identity, including 'civilian' contributions like human security and anti-nuclear diplomacy.

For the purpose of this paper, however, I would like to suspend the ease that this diagnosis—and the consensus behind it—might provide to scholars of Japanese defense politics. What if the perpetual immobilism (Curtis 1999, Stockwin 2008) of the Japanese political system truly did produce a 'focal event' in the form of severe political crisis? What if the local base politics of Okinawa evolved beyond the ability of Washington and Tokyo to manage it? What if another charismatic leader (someone similar to PM Koizumi) was able to seize an opportunity (fortuna) to radically change the dynamic of defense politics?

As part of the larger project of keeping an open mind about the evolving future of Japanese defense policy, this essay will review recent literature on Japan's security politics. While some of these articles (Chanlett-Avery et al 2009; Green and Szechenyi 2009; Konishi 2009; Sohma 2010) look at the possible role the DPJ will play in changing defense policies, others look specifically at the US-Japan alliance. One especially ambitious project conducted as part of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' (CSIS) Young Leaders program examines future scenarios for the bilateral relationship. Other essays help to shed light on the particular problems of the 'burden' of US bases on Okinawa; these articles help to shed light on how the micro-politics of bases, money, and military opposition have the potential to migrate into the macro-politics of alliance management.

By exploring this literature, I will attempt to evaluate the 'state of the art' on Japanese defense politics and to identify the next generation of subject matter questions for scholars and defense analysts. In reviewing this literature, this essay will be unabashedly speculative, exploratory, and eclectic in perspective. As the proponents of analytical eclecticism argue, detaching, comparing, and synthesizing competing explanatory sketches is a pragmatic way of denaturalizing terms of reference that at first sight may seem obvious or trivial, but that on further reflection may actually be crucial for deepening understanding (see Katzenstein and Sil 2004; Katzenstein and Okawara 2004; Carson and Suh 2004). For this reason, it is important when looking at issues of 'defense' not to automatically privilege 'external' threats like Chinese military modernization over 'internal' social threats like the erosion of the Japanese countryside or the ontological security (i.e. knowing who 'we' are) provided by the close association of workers with companies. In short, politicians may be seeking a balanced approach that deals with a number of insecurities simultaneously in ways that are hard to disaggregate. In a sense, clearing ground for a broader conception of security has always been easier for Japanese subject matter specialists than for security and strategic studies scholars more generally, since Japan has had a history of imagining security as comprehensive (for example, see Katzenstein and Okawara 2004: 102). For this reason, I believe that scholars of Japanese security politics have much to teach the broader field of security.

Though I have tried to be as thorough as possible, my exploration of the literature has led me to focus on several themes at the expense of others. For the purpose of this essay I have divided my literature review into these sections: 1) the trilateral relationship (Washington-Tokyo-Okinawa) and the potential explosive effects of micro-politics; 2) an examination of security rhetoric and the potential emergence of new leadership able to shape the security debate; 3) an exploration of the balance between internal threats to social welfare, issues of national self-esteem, and external threats; and 4) an examination of possible futures through the alternative scenario approach. I will then conclude the essay with some suggestions for key research questions for future exploration.

The Trilateral Relationship and the Radical Potential of Okinawan Micro-politics

Since the resignation of PM Hatoyama and the (temporary?) resolution of the Futenma airbase issue it seems like the US and Japan can once again settle into the mundane processes of managing its relationship. The larger question, however, still remains: Does the Okinawa base issue represent a 'black ship' for US-Japan relations (Masaaki 2003: 62)? Certainly, the strength of Okinawan activism in the recent past and the resistance of Nago's mayor to the current relocation plans for the airbase suggest that implementing the agreement may prove troublesome, but how do these micro-political questions affect the macro-politics of Japanese defense policy? Quite of a bit of scholarship encourages us to look at the issue not as a bilateral issue, but rather as a trilateral one amongst Tokyo, Washington, and Okinawa (Cooley and Marten 2006; Hook and Siddle 2003; Masaaki 2003). Those who study Okinawan base politics often point to the special position of Okinawa as simultaneously domestic and foreign within the Japanese political imagination. Okinawa has been described as the internally colonized, as the frontier within Japan's borders, and as the 'periphery within' (Hook and Siddle 2003; Toshiaki 2003). For these scholars, understanding the various ways the history and culture of the Ryukyu Islands has made it distinct from mainland Japan is indispensable for explaining why it has been the host of a little under three quarters of US forces in Japan for so long, as well as the sense of victimhood felt by Okinawans.

Throughout its history Okinawa has continuously been involved in a triangular relationship with mainland Japan and other actors: first between Japan and China, then during the Meiji period and beyond in the structural relationship between Japan and Taiwan, and now in the relationship between Japan and the US (Toshiaki 2003). For many, this history is marked by intense moments of victimization that begin with the subordination of the Ryukyu Kingdom to mainland Japan in 1609, includes the starvation period of the 1920s, stretches into the traumatic battle of Okinawa where islanders felt they were abandoned by the mainland, and then culminates in the contemporary period where the 'kichi mondai' (base problem) continues to symbolize Okinawan victimhood. Thus, the metaphor of rape was strong even before the infamous 1995 gang rape of a 12-year-old school girl by military personnel (Hook and Siddle 2003: 11). The metaphor of rape continues to signify a diminished Okinawan sovereignty and political authority.

In order to think through the future of the US-Japan bilateral relationship, one must also understand the way security politics interacts with Okinawan interests and identity. While the presence of the bases continues to symbolize Okinawan victimhood and subordination, the role the bases play in the local economy helps to keep the bases where they are. In addition to the employment opportunities the bases provide, Cooley and Marten (2006: 573-4) argue that an array of well-targeted compensation packages by the mainland help to maintain public consent; these compensations include rents for local land owners at above fair market price, 'burden-easing' payments that fund public projects, compensation for citizens who bring forward complaints, and an array of public works projects. Cooley and Marten argue that regular civil activities that focus on the bases cannot be easily separated from these compensation packages. Even though acts of protest help to maintain the culture of antimilitarism, these acts also raise the value of Tokyo burden payments to Okinawans (Cooley and Marten 2006: 571). Though Cooley and Marten perhaps characterize Okinawan identity a bit too instrumentally, their explanation does help explain the perverse dynamic between bases, public outrage, and Tokyo's financial incentives. One could even suggest that because 'Okinawan norm entrepreneurs are more likely to secure compensation payments from Tokyo if they bring complaints about incidents that evoke the most historically disruptive and socially offensive aspects of the American presence' (Cooley and Marten 2006: 576), the incentive structure of burden payments does more to feed Okinawan antipathy than to assuage it.

As this scholarship demonstrates, it's not enough to think of Okinawans as passive victims in the trilateral relationship. One needs also to understand the way popular forms of activism, including mass protest and semi-structured violence, have the potential to radically change the relationship between Okinawa, Washington, and Tokyo. These forms of activism serve as outlets for popular anger and reassert Okinawan agency in ways that resonate with Japanese popular sympathy, thus threatening Washington and Tokyo's control over the situation. One way to think about this agency is to imagine what might happen if another brutal crime on par with the 1995 rape incident occurred. As Masaaki writes: 'If a situation were to occur in which a large number of lives or property in Okinawa were threatened in an instant or in which the US troops who have been the assailants become the assaulted, the domestic political ramifications in each country would most certainly be considerable. The reaction to this situation could be so strong, that it could spread beyond the control of either government' (2003: 71). Such instances of protest and mob violence are not unheard of. For example, Aldous (2003) writes a provocative article detailing Okinwawan civic activism on and around the Koza riots of December of 1970. Around this time, when Okinawans thought US troops were being let off the hook for traffic accidents, citizens would stand watch to ensure that US soldiers did not leave the scene of an accident or that evidence did not go mysteriously missing. When a US soldier was acquitted after hitting and killing an elderly Okinawan woman in December of 1970, mob violence led to the destruction of seventy-three cars owned by US servicemen and an incursion into Kadena airbase (Aldous 2003). The 1995 gathering of 80,000 citizens to protest the brutal gang rape incident is another poignant example of the strength of popular activism. In more recent history, popular rage at Prime Minister Hatoyama's decision not to move the Futenma airbase outside of Okinawa spurred widespread protests. While it remains to be seen whether such actions will rest control out of the hands of Washington or Tokyo, one should not overlook the potential for local political agency to radically influence macro-defense policy.

Who Will Speak Security?: Examining Issues of Security Leadership

Since its inception as a merger of four smaller parties in the late 1990s, the DPJ has put up staunch resistance to PM Koizumi and the LDP's security policy of close and deep bilateral support for the US security agenda, instead advocating a more Asianist approach. In its manifesto, the DPJ promised a more 'equal' and 'autonomous' relationship with the US, including a drastic review of Host Nation Support (HNS) and the Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) (DPJ 2009: 28). Many have regarded this rhetoric during the DPJ's opposition years as little more than a tactic for raising the political costs of close ties with the US for the ruling LDP; instead of signifying a coherent ideological position toward Asianist foreign policy, this rhetoric actually hid deeper divisions over defense policy within the party. Defense scholars predicted after the DPJ's stunning victory in August of 2009 that the party would moderate its stance in order to maintain alliance cohesion and focus on domestic issues (Konishi 2009; Green and Szechenyi 2009; Chanlett-Avery et al 2009; Easley et al 2010; Sohma 2010). Though these predictions have largely proven correct, it was the failure of PM Hatoyama to moderate expectations sooner—and especially to moderate the expectations of coalition partners in the upper house—that led to the Futenma debacle, his resignation, and played no small part in the losses in the upper house election following his departure. Thus, despite early hopes that the DPJ would change Japanese politics by strengthening the executive branch and resting control away from the bureaucracies, we now see a situation much like that during the 90s and following PM Koizumi's departure in 2006—a series of political blunders, scandals, and political maneuvering leading to a stagnated political process.

In the backdrop to this political stagnation, the fifty-year old US-Japan security treaty seems to be the one constant that the Japanese people can count on. Perhaps, however, the bilateral relationship has also created negative externalities in other areas; one commentator even suggests that the alliance structure is undermining Japanese democracy (Arudou, June 1, 2010). In an editorial for the Japan Times, Arudou (2010) asks rhetorically whether the US needs to continue to keep the genie (of Japanese militarism) in the bottle through a continued US military presence. I do not think there are any easy answers to the question of what constitutes the structural base for Japanese political immobilism. At best, these associations between the close proximity of US military forces and the postwar lack of strong executive leadership tell only part of the story. The narrative of Japanese militarism has deeper roots that extend beyond the US military presence into the political relations of the Asia-Pacific region and even into the minds of many Japanese citizens (though this attitude seems to be declining through generational turnover). Creating a more complete understanding of how security issues undermine Japanese politics requires asking questions about the relationships between larger narrative structures and the role of Japanese politicians as narrating agents. Regarding larger security narratives, we need to ask how designated agents have either countered historical narratives, drawn on the resources of the narrative, or attempted to reform the narrative from the inside. In short, I think a more complete story must include an examination of the relationship between politicians—most notably prime ministers—and their attempts to 'speak security' to the public.

The Copenhagen school of 'securitization' studies—a combination of speech act theory, constructivism, and sophisticated forms of political geography—provides some important theoretical insights (Buzan et al 1998; Buzan and Waever 2003). This approach guides us to ask important questions about the act of speaking security. In particular, it asks us to think about who speaks security; but it also, asks us to consider this question in a context of facilitating conditions (social and material contexts at all levels), and in terms of an audience whose consent security speakers depend on. Thus, we might think of the prime minister, the Japanese public, and the various historical structures as involved in a dynamic relationship. The emphasis, however, is on how the prime minister and other politicians either speak or fail to speak security within this relationship.

In the recent past, it should be noted that PM Hatoyama attempted to step into the role of a securitizing agent. In his political rhetoric, he depicted US-style capitalism as a threat to the Japanese way of life (see his translated editorial in the New York Times, Hatoyama, August 26, 2009). In terms of the old alliance problem of abandonment and entrapment, where PM Koizumi came down on the side of abandonment and thus espoused greater jointness with the US, PM Hatoyama came down on the side of entrapment and thus espoused greater autonomy and enhanced citizen's rights. It was apparent, however, that while Hatoyama and the DPJ's rhetoric found an attentive audience during the heavy handed unilateralist policies of President George Bush II, the mood of the public has since shifted. In his handling of security issues, PM Hatoyama was both too stubborn in his original stance, and then when times called for change, his attempts to shift on the subject seemed like little more than indecision. In the language of the Copenhagen school, PM Hatoyama as a speaker of security failed to heed the needs of his audience. PM Hatoyama also violated several important rules of speaking security in the Japanese context, in Sohma's words, he was unable to 'seek a sense of balance' (2010: 7). Though part of the issue was the fantastic promises the DPJ had made during their historic campaign, part of the problem could also be found in the character of PM Hatoyama. Whereas PM Koizumi was patient where patience was needed and bold when opportunity allowed, PM Hatoyama always seemed aloof and ill synchronized with the needs of the situation. Thus, (in the opinion of the author) it wasn't the ideas themselves that were the issue—an equal partnership, greater engagement with Asia, greater emphasis on citizen's rights—but rather, the manner in which they were pursued. If PM Hatoyama had moved subtly, performed competently in other tasks, and waited patiently for that fickle thing called fortuna then perhaps he would have had a chance to promote his security agenda.

To return to the point made in the Japan Times editorial that US bases stifle Japanese democracy, what we might want to say is that with regards to security issues the US military presence and extended deterrence create a dilemma for politicians seeking to speak the language of security. Because the bases have been part of a structure of Japanese security from external threats for over fifty years and because significant parts of the population associate Japanese militarism with insecurity, the ability of Japanese prime ministers to speak security has not been muted, but rather, diminished. The question thus remains: Who will be the next politician to master the language of security in Japan? My early thoughts on the matter are that whoever that person is must have strong competence to govern, a sense of political theater, and the patience to wait for fortuna.

Rethinking Balances of Power: Balancing External Threat, Social Welfare, and Self-Esteem

As commentators on Japanese politics have argued (Curtis 1999; Stockwin 2008), the default setting of Japanese politics can best be characterized as gradual change based on consensus with frequent episodes of immobilism when this consensus collapses. However, one important question must be asked: Given the deep tensions between public fiscal deficits, the anxieties of the Japanese people regarding social welfare issues, and the external threats from a belligerent North Korea and a modernizing China, how long will the Japanese people tolerate a political system in gridlock, and what are the consequences of prolonged immobilism?

In a perfect world, DPJ politicians would find the ideal balance of policies to meet all of Japan's needs: the need for external security, the need to preserve the quality of life of its citizens, and the need for meaningful participation in international society. Of these three needs, at least two issues are well represented in the literature. The need for external security is well represented in research that posits 'reluctant' (Green 2001, 2009) or 'transitional' (Kliman 2006) realism as the best paradigm for explaining Japanese security policy. In this literature, the threats of a rising and modernizing Chinese military force and an unpredictable and belligerent North Korea slowly erode the foundations of domestic anti-militarism. The second issue, the need to preserve Japanese quality of life, is well represented by studies that note the importance of security savings through Japanese cheap riding on US extended deterrence (Samuels 2007; Kawasaki 2001; also see Harris 2010 and Easley et al 2010). These studies note that Japanese politicians view the one percent GDP cap on defense spending as indispensable for sustaining Japan's status as a 'living standard great power' and continuing to fight domestic economic stagnation. A third need, I would argue, is under-represented in the literature—collective self-esteem. Much literature notes the way a domestic culture of anti-militarism restrains what can and cannot be done within Japanese defense policy (Katzenstein 1996; Berger 1999; Oros 2008). What needs to be emphasized is the way this culture of anti-militarism shapes the way Japan pursues prestige within international society. These measures include Japan's 'civilian' contributions of anti-nuclear diplomacy, human security and environmental diplomacy, and official development assistance (ODA).

As recent constructivist scholarship (Lebow 2008; Wendt 1999) demonstrates, respect and standing are essential goals of mature states, reflecting the need of citizens for self-esteem though meaningful social activity. What I think remains a greatly unexplored element in Japanese politics is the way civilian contributions either provide or fail to provide Japan with opportunities for recognition. The need for esteem in international society can be seen in the crisis that occurred following Japan's performance in the first Gulf War, where Japan's hefty financial contribution but failure to dispatch troops was derisively labeled 'pay check diplomacy.' While realists would argue that this crisis was fueled by the prospect of abandonment by the US, I would argue that this crisis reached deeper than fears over abandonment. It also threatened Japan's self-image as a model global citizen. Similarly, Japan's economic decline has also diminished the extent to which citizens can take pride in the superiority of their business practices as a model for the world. With this in mind, I think that it becomes important to consider the way militarist and anti-militarist stances connect domestic society and public servants with global society—either providing or failing to provide the self-esteem Japanese citizens and elites crave.

For this reason, I suggest that students of Japanese defense politics consider less the concept of the traditional balance of power among states, and instead conceptualize the way defense politics balance the various needs of an impatient citizenry. Instead of placing the unified Japanese nation-state as an actor within the anarchic system, this explicitly more foreign policy analysis-oriented approach places the Japanese politician in an awkward position of negotiating the need for protection against external threats, with the need to meet domestic expectations for social welfare, and the need for prestige within global society. This balance is dynamic and always in flux.

Currently, the main issue is the domestic state of the economy, the issue of government deficits, and the long-term 'threat' these issues present to Japanese welfare. As Harris (2010) predicts, current DPJ maneuvers seek to leverage US military support to counter this threat: 'What I wonder is whether the DPJ's renewed interest in the security relationship is a function of its focus on deficit reduction' (paragraph 12). The strategy of minimizing defense expenditures within the blanket of US extended deterrence is wise if it leads to the reform of the economic and political system of Japan in a way that allows it to address all three needs more efficiently in the future. Any long-term failure to address the contradictions of the economic and political system means that crises in the area of domestic welfare could migrate into other areas. As the Japanese system becomes more discredited in the eyes of other countries in the region and as its ability to provide leadership on global issues with civilian leadership erodes, Japan's need for prestige in global society may lead ironically to an intensified regional security dilemma. The fall of Japanese prestige mixed with rising adulation of China may create the permissive conditions for a transition away from Japan's anti-militarist identity. In this scenario, greater military spending and shifts away from legal constraints (including the revision of Article 9) may be seen as the only way to simultaneously counter Chinese power and re-secure Japanese honor and standing within international society. Special emphasis, however, must be placed on the 'may' of this scenario. Admittedly, this scenario would go against much of the thickening of international society that has taken place through the actions of the EU, Canada, Japan, and other countries through the United Nations and various other international forums with regards to human security, collective security, and human rights; worse, this scenario fits too easily with the 'genie in the bottle' narrative alluded to above (although, I would never argue that there is anything inherently militarist about Japanese society or that Japanese civil society is any easier to dupe than other democratic public). However, the historical legacy of Japan's militarism in the Asia-Pacific region means that even minor shifts toward more assertive militarism or militarist rhetoric would exacerbate the security dilemma in the region.

Much Ado about Scenarios: Three Images of the Future

One productive way to think through the issues of Japanese defense politics is through the alternative scenario approach. As part of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) annual Japan-US Security Seminar, discussions were held and a monograph produced probing different scenarios over the next 20 years. The monograph explored three plausible scenarios over this time period: the development of a rich regional architecture, a Japan independent of the US security treaty, and a scenario that imagines the continuation of the US-Japan security alliance with greater cooperation between the two parties. As Feder (2002: 120-122; see also, Lockwood and Lockwood 1993) states, the alternative scenario involves telling plausible stories about how outcomes that are of interest to policymakers or scholars might occur; this approach is usually most effective when done with clearly specified questions that generate indicators useful for monitoring a situation. Though alternative scenarios are imaginative exercises, and thus not subject to replication per se, they can nevertheless be judged based on their 'plausibility'—implying a kind of reliability by consensus among experts. The CSIS scenarios were developed through the consensus of members of the Young Leaders program participants, and thus, represent a fairly authoritative snapshot of what might happen within the framework of each situation.

In the regional security architecture scenario, cooperation in the region is described as 'a thick weave of ad hoc arrangements' (vi). By 2030, a North East Asian Security Forum has developed to deal with the regime implosion in North Korea. In addition, on the back of the US-Japan alliance, other networks are created and enhanced (Byun et al 2010). The scenario works within the logic of liberal institutionalism in that states in the region agree to the bare minimum institutional arrangement in order to mitigate uncertainties. However, as these forums are established the benefits they provide encourages participants to further enmesh themselves within their frameworks and for the groups to find new purposes for these organizations as old mandates become obsolete. As other articles that describe transitions from realist calculations to liberal institutional logics have also noted (see for example, Suh 2004), consistent interactions in international forums can create shared interests and identities that sometimes eclipse the narrow functions of the organizations. I think for good reasons, the authors deliberately avoid exploring this territory. Even though the DPJ public materials have openly speculated about an eventual East Asian Community (see DPJ 2009; Easley et al 2010), it is difficult to speculate about how exactly historical factors will play into this scenario. Thus, 'despite growing cooperation and coordination, many of today's political problems – nationalism, territorial disputes, low levels of trust – persist' (CSIS 2010: vi). As many of the authors note, policy makers will want to retain the option of using historical enmities to rally political support over domestic opposition, even as regional forums lower transaction costs and help alleviate misunderstandings. For this reason, rivalry between countries may persist even within interdependence (for more on this concept, see Buszynski 2009).

The second scenario involves a Japan independent of the US. As the authors of the report make clear, they consider this the most implausible of the scenarios. Nevertheless, they see it as productive to think through the issues that would lead to such a situation. In the authors' estimation, the most plausible reasons for abrogating the security treaty is some kind of 'big bang' (what I referred to earlier as a 'focal event'), which could include either a US conflict with China over Taiwan, a clash between Japan and China over disputed territories, or a North Korean attack on Japan. In each of these cases, the authors suggest that the alliance could fray when one or both of the parties' expectations about the level of support from the other is slighted (a more intensified version, for example, of the first Gulf War or the North Korea nuclear crisis during the 1990s for example). In addition, cost sharing issues under economic constraints could also contribute to the gradual erosion of cooperation and the failure of one or both parties to meet expectations (Gottwald et al 2010: 9-18). Interestingly, one of the models that the authors suggest is the US alliance with New Zealand. In 1984, the US and New Zealand terminated their alliance when the government of New Zealand forbade US nuclear powered and nuclear armed ships from entering ports (Gottwald et al 2010: 15). Indeed such scenarios, where the US military presence is seen as an increasing hazard to public welfare is extremely plausible, especially to a Japanese public that is acutely sensitive to such issues. For example, following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, tourism to Okinawa sharply declined as the presence of US troops was seen as making the island a likely target for terrorists (Hook and Siddle 2003). The US adoption yet again of a robust unilateralist stance (in the style of Bush II administration) might put enormous strains on the Tokyo government to limit Japan's liabilities within the alliance. In such a context, a renewed political push for an 'independent' Japan might find a more receptive audience.

For the authors of the report, the last scenario 'status quo plus' is the most likely of the three. As the authors argue, the two countries share too many of the same interests for the security treaty to become outmoded—despite realist predictions to the contrary.

The two countries have similar outlooks about dealing with China, the Korean Peninsula (whether the issue is denuclearization or managing potential regime collapse in Pyongyang), sea lane security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and multilateralism. Shared values also facilitate cooperation. Yet even as bilateral cooperation expands, this analysis anticipates, like the first scenario, a reduced US presence in Japan (CSIS 2010: vi)

Again, just as other authors point out, continued economic stagnation from one or both countries is seen as a factor that pushes the US and Japan apart, whereas economic prosperity is seen as something that brings them together. Interestingly, this analysis rejects easy (neo)realist logics of the prioritization of external security over internal issues of social welfare. The authors agree that 'a struggling economy only makes the US more insular' (Cook et al 2010: 24). This same logic applies to Japan, though with the caveat that domestic economic woes create contradictory desires to both cheap ride on US extended deterrence and to avoid getting entangled in US overseas operations. Thus, the 'realism' that is so often ascribed to Japanese leaders is best described not as state-centric realism (such as neo-realism), but rather, as a post-classical realism (Kawasaki 2001) or as a sophisticated realism sensitive to the logic of individual (i.e. policy maker) political survival in a system where external threats and domestic expectations regarding prosperity co-exist and interact in complex ways.

In terms of the evolving rules and norms on the use of force, many of the writers in this report see at the very least guidelines for the use of the Japan Self Defense Force being clarified even as the government attempts to hold onto anti-militarist ideals. The one thing I would like to add (perhaps stating the obvious) is that the evolving nature of Japan's use of force will be influenced as much by the exigencies of the situation as by domestic considerations of identity. This relationship might be described as dialectic—and I would like to suggest also based on a particularly Japanese sense of prestige and honor. Thus, shifts in what is considered the appropriate use of force in the Gulf of Aden in counter-piracy efforts will be framed by a desire to 'contribute' (as a model international citizen) as much as by evolving notions of anti-militarism. While Oros (2008) is correct to argue that Japan's anti-militarist identity is strong, the desire to demonstrate Japan's ability to contribute as a global citizen could help this identity evolve away from prohibitions against collective defense towards alternative notions of 'restraint.' Future scholars in this area of study, then, would do well to consider how Japan's self-image is generated through interactions with global actors to create common conceptions of what is appropriate or ideal behavior in global society.

Conclusion: The Next Generation of Compelling Subject Matter Questions

What is the next generation of good subject matter questions on Japanese defense issues? How can we explore these questions in ways that generate new insights for policy makers? An examination of current and past literature on the subject suggests some fruitful grounds for inquiry. This exploratory essay, however, has by no means been exhaustive. The essay has not taken into account some of the typical issues of defense politics. It has not touched upon the state of the Japanese defense industry, including issues of export bans or evolving notions of techno-nationalism; it has not exhaustively dwelled upon whether Article 9 of the constitution will be revised; it has not discussed the nuclear issue to any great extent; and it has not discussed the degree to which defense issues have migrated away from bureaucracies into politics; nor has it discussed any military contingencies regarding North Korea. All of these issues are still important—and perhaps the concept of a 'balance of needs,' elaborated in my discussion above, may be an appropriate framework for examining these issues (or not). However, beyond the various sub-themes that remain ripe for exploration there is a growing consensus that the greatest threat Japan currently faces is from its own political immobilism within the framework of an increasingly dire economic situation. Though this threat ostensibly seems beyond the purview of 'defense,' these issues will weigh heavily on much political decision making on a range of issues for the foreseeable future. As an exploration of the three scenarios by CSIS has shown, Japan's ability to secure itself from external threats through alliance maintenance, soft balancing, as well as its ability to seek esteem within international society through civilian contributions could be greatly affected by its inability to manage its current financial and politic woes. In addition, I have also suggested that an inability to deal with these issues may in the long term result in a different Japanese security identity than we have become used to in the recent past.

Because of the complexity of the issues at hand, I believe that future analysts of Japanese defense politics will need to adopt a tool box approach that does not automatically privilege any one theoretical school, but instead uses realist, liberal, constructivist (including 'securitization') and game theory insights to inform research (see Katzenstein and Sil 2004; Katzenstein and Okawara 2004; Carson and Suh 2004). While Carlson and Suh (2004) have many useful suggestions about how to use these theories—process tracing to see which theories apply better in which situations; nesting one theory within another—I suggest a foreign policy-oriented approach that sees the policy maker as the arbiter of these positions. Taking individual decision-makers as our fundamental units of analysis would allow us to see more clearly the way domestic and international threats are balanced against each other, the way issues of power, efficiency, and identity meet, and the complex interactions between agents and structures (defined in multiple ways).

Based on my review of the literature, I would like to suggest these questions represent a first cut of the next generation of compelling research questions:

  • What are the long term consequences of political immobilism?

  • What are the long term consequences of political immobilism for the security dilemma in the Asia-Pacific region?

  • What are the special characteristics of competition within interdependence (especially where issues of prestige are involved)?

  • What potential forms of 'securitization' of external threats might help politicians (temporarily?) overcome the influences of immobilism?

  • What type of competencies (in domestic affairs, for example) might help policy makers find a more authoritative voice on security issues?

  • Which leaders in the ranks of the DPJ and the LDP have the patience to wait for and the boldness to seize historical opportunities?

  • What forms of micro-politics can potentially create 'nonlinearities' or 'focal events' that change the nature of the political situation?

  • What will be the long-term effect of economic stagnation on security politics?

  • What is the role of prestige in Japanese defense politics?

Though these questions at first sight seem not to share a 'foundation' of the kind often found within theoretical paradigms in international relations studies, there is nevertheless a coherence that underpins them and the other insights generated from this essay. Along the lines of the three iron rules of Japanese politics (compromise, moderate, and seek a sense of balance (Sohma 2010)) and Samuels's (2007) insight that Japanese policy will be neither too hot nor too cold at any one time (the so-called 'Goldilocks' position), this essay has worked from an understanding that Japanese pragmatism, incrementalism, and at times immobilism is based in a recognition of the uncertain future. Thus, just as Japanese defense politics has evolved out of a process of 'trials and errors from Japan's search for a new identity and a place in the world' (Lee 2010: B-8), we as scholars must also be willing to experiment with new approaches and to probe new ground if we are to understand the complex dilemmas that drive decision makers in the twenty first century. By taking complexity seriously within the specific purview of Japanese defense politics, we may also be able to set an example for the larger discipline of security and strategic studies more generally.

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About the author

Daniel Clausen is currently a PhD student in International Relations at Florida International University. He is a graduate from the University of Miami with a BA in English and American Studies. He completed an MA degree in Strategic Studies from American Public University System-AMU while teaching English in Japan. His current research focuses on the domestic political dynamics of Japanese defense policy, Japan’s pursuit of human security, and the relationship between development aid and conflict.

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Copyright: Daniel Clausen.
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