Comprehensive Security 2.0

(Re)applying a Distinctive Security Concept to the 3/11 Disasters

B. Bryan Barber IV, Florida International University [About | Email]

Volume 16, Issue 2 (Article 5 in 2016). First published in ejcjs on 28 August 2016.


Contemporary Japanese political leaders continue to evoke the relatively dated concept of comprehensive security in public speech, yet the disastrous events of 11 March 2011 (3/11) in northeastern Japan should have elicited a renewed debate over the concept in both politics and academia. This paper seeks to understand what role comprehensive security, as a cornerstone of the national security policy, had in securitising referent objects in the 3/11 disasters, and how it failed to do so. The six principles of comprehensive security, outlined in the original 1980 Summary of the Report on Comprehensive National Security, are utilised as explanatory variables and overlay the triple disasters of 3/11: earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear fallout. The research indicates that a lower casualty figure than otherwise expected can be attributed to the most innovative principle to comprehensive security, natural disaster management, yet other principles of comprehensive security resulted in potentially valuable resources being diverted elsewhere. Meanwhile, the gradual emergence of environmental security onto the national security agenda has ironically accelerated the production of nuclear power, which transformed on 3/11 from a security sector into a new internal threat. Five years after 3/11, the threat remains with scant discussion on reviewing comprehensive security.

Keywords: crisis management, comprehensive security, energy security, national security policy, 2011 Tohoku Earthquake.

In the 2012 elections, Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was poised to retake the majority of seats in the Diet. Meanwhile, LDP lawmaker Abe Shinzō was also poised to emerge for a second time in his career as the Prime Minister of Japan. In his campaign, Abe outlined six inherent ‘powers’ (chikara) to be mobilised for a “resurgence” of Japan (Abe 2012). The third of the six ‘powers’ was “the foundations of diplomacy and comprehensive security” (italics added) (Abe 2012). Abe and other contemporary Japanese political leaders continue to evoke the relatively dated ‘power’ of comprehensive security, yet the events of 11 March 2011 should have elicited a renewed debate over the concept in both politics and academia (Hughes 2004, p.126).

What are the successes and failures of comprehensive security, as the foundation to national security policy, through the experiences of the 3/11 disasters?1 While comprehensive security is a three-decade-old concept, it was uniquely designed for Japan, and given that many of the internal and external threats were simply exacerbated between 1980 and 2011, it remains unmistakably the conceptual foundation to Tokyo’s national security policy today. What did comprehensive security do to protect its referent objects in the 3/11 disasters? In what ways did comprehensive security fail to protect its referent objects? This paper seeks to provide a response to these questions, and concludes with an argument that Japan’s security policy, in many regards, was effective in addressing the security crises that emerged on 3/11.

How did comprehensive security develop into policy? Using policy network theory, one can observe how different networks interacted with each other in order to create a comprehensive security policy. Policy network theory is one of policy change and resource dependency, both essential for analysing security policy and the 3/11 disasters. In Compston’s (2009) definition of policy network theory:

policy change is largely determined by resource exchange involving actors and their resources, preferences and strategies, which in turn are necessarily influenced by perceptions of problems and solutions and, more contingently, by policy network-specific rules and norms (p.2).

In order to explore the policy changes which led to the construction of comprehensive security as a basis to national security policy, actors and resources relevant to security policy are examined in the following section. This elicits a clear understanding of the conceptualisation of comprehensive security and its intended meaning. Thereafter, conceptualisation of the policy is overlaid with the 3/11 disasters in the subsequent analysis section.

Comprehensive Security as a Conceptual Framework

Abe referred to comprehensive security as an inherent ‘power,’ but is it a concept or policy? In the case of Japan, considerations of comprehensive security as a security-studies concept and national security policy are nearly synonymous. Uniquely, it originated as the foundation to Japan’s national security policy, but was soon thereafter picked up by scholars abroad as an academic concept and was later adopted into the security policies in other states. Thus, it offers a smooth adaptability between being a theoretical concept and applicable policy. Applying policy network theory, this section outlines comprehensive security as the fundamental basis to Japanese national security policy, and operationalises it as such in later analysis. The historical background illuminates the network variables which, through their interactions, crafted the comprehensive security policy as an outcome.

Comprehensive security has its origins in several exogenous variables—events in the 1970s which led Tokyo to question its reliance on Washington for national security, and increase its economic vulnerability. In international politics, background variables including the U.S.’s retreat out of Vietnam, its failure to sustain the Shah’s regime in Iran, and most significant to Tokyo, a reduction of troops in South Korea all signaled American hegemony had reached its peak in Asia. Similarly, in global economics Japan was hit severely by the OPEC oil shocks, and increased exports and investment overseas meant increased vulnerability. These exogenous variables brought about new policy actors with certain preferences and perceptions of the problem into the network and added new policy preferences which “change the strategies and resource deployment in the policy network and the existing network-specific rules and norms” (Shyu 2014, p.335). From the end of the Second World War until this time, national security in Japan was heavily reliant upon the Mutual Security Treaty with the U.S., but if Washington was no longer perceived to be the relatively powerful ally it once was, a national security policy specific to the needs of Japan was needed. Thus, according to perceptions of intensified insecurity, policy change was in order.

In 1978 newly elected Prime Minister Ōhira Masayoshi assembled a research group of policymakers and university scholars to examine Japan’s national security issues, and design the essence of a new policy. This order by the Prime Minister was significant, in one sense, because it facilitated an inclusive dialogue between political elites and academics, yet in another sense, it reified a set policy community. Fawcett and Daugbjerg (2012) define ‘policy community’ as “formed when a very limited number of actors share a strategic policy agenda and possess resources, but are dependent on others to achieve their aims” (p.199). The research group was assembled from actors with various perspectives, but ideas were limited to the policy community itself, who delegated the role of security sector to others, outside of the exclusive research group.

In 1980 Ōhira suddenly died while in office, yet his successor, Suzuki Zenkō, took great interest in the national security research group’s recommendations. Suzuki proclaimed:

We must not see security from the defensive aspect alone. I consider efforts ought to be made from a wider perspective which will include the economy, diplomacy, et cetera. I myself have been investigating how to obtain the understanding of the people so as to be able to advance the so-called “comprehensive security policy” (Gow 1983, p.xv).

Suzuki proceeded with the security policy recommendations and in late 1980 created a new cabinet committee, the Ministerial Council on Comprehensive Security. Unique to most security concepts, comprehensive security had its origins in policymaking, and it would later spread to scholarly discussions.

The purpose for comprehensive security is clearly outlined in the 1980 Summary of the Report on Comprehensive National Security:2

the most fundamental change in the international situation that took place in the 1970s is the termination of clear American supremacy in both military and economic spheres (Comprehensive Security Report (CSR) Group1980).

It continues,

the era of the ‘Pax Americana’ upheld almost single-handedly by the U.S. is over, and it has given way to a new era of ‘peace maintained by shared responsibilities,’ in which all countries cooperate in the maintenance and management of the international system (CSR Group1980).

The specifics of comprehensive security are outlined in the report in six principles: (1) U.S.-Japan relations; (2) strengthening defense capability; (3) relations with China and the Soviet Union; (4) energy security; (5) food security; and (6) earthquake crisis management (CSR Group1980). This paper applies these original six principles to interpret the strengths and weaknesses of comprehensive security during 3/11 disasters. Perhaps not as relevant as the other areas, the third, ‘Relations with China and the Soviet Union,’ is updated to ‘Relations with China, Russia, and North Korea,’ as the state-level threats in the region. In fact, the report expands upon relations with the Soviet Union in great detail, yet there is no mention of relations with China aside from its inclusion in the title. At present both China and Russia exist as powers in the Northeast Asia theatre, yet three decades later the more significant of these two powers in the region is the former, rather than the latter.

Table 1: Comprehensive Security Principles
Principle Referent Object Primary Security Sector Threat
1. Relations with U.S. Nation MOFA, USFJ External: Foreign states
2. Defense Capability Nation MOD (JSDF) External: Foreign states
3. Relations with China, etc. Nation MOFA External: Foreign states
4. Energy Security Nation METI, regional utility corporations External: Foreign states & corporations, IOs (OPEC)
5. Food Security Nation MAFF, JA Zenchū, farmers External: Foreign states & corporations, IOs (FTAs), nature (famine, disease)
6. Natural Disaster Management Local, individual JMA, communications corporations, local government agencies Nature (environmental)


JA Zenchū Japan Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives

JMA Japan Meteorological Agency

JSDF Japan Self-Defense Forces

MAFF Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, & Fisheries

METI Ministry of Economy, Trade, & Industry

MOD Ministry of Defense

MOFA Ministry of Foreign Affairs

USFJ United States Forces Japan

Added into the academic discourse during the height of the Cold War, comprehensive security widened the definition of security “as the protection of life and core values of people” (National Institute for Research Advancement 1987, p.344). Comprehensive security has the potential to address both military and non-military threats, namely threats to “economic well-being, disruption of resource supplies, pollution, natural disaster, crime and terrorism” (Fukushima 1999, p.108). In order to address threats presented within the concept of comprehensive security, military, economic, and societal security sectors would need to be combined, thus the ‘comprehensive’ modifier to the term.

The intended meaning of ‘comprehensive’ can be clarified further, as there has been a key misinterpretation by Western scholars of this term which has resulted in an oversight of the complexity of the networks that influence the policy. The translation of the original Japanese term ‘sōgō’was probably done by aids within the Ōhira Cabinet, given that the English translation appears around the same time the original Japanese Summary Report was released. This is important because there are slight variances in the nuance to the terms ‘sōgō’ and ‘comprehensive.’ ‘Sōgō’ implies integration of elements, creating a synergy by working together. While the English ‘comprehensive’ could indeed imply such, it more often implies a wide-reaching breadth, or completeness. ‘Sōgō’3 is more aligned with ‘inclusive’ or ‘integrated.’ When modifying the term ‘security,’ it is something created through varied mobilisation to address threats, yet not necessarily omnibus and certainly not synonymous with ontological approaches to security. Rather, ‘sōgō’emphasises the security sectors, and not the referent object(s). Thus, multiple security sectors are collaborating in a network to collectively improve and ensure the security of the referent objects. Placing the emphasis on the security sectors rather than the referent objects additionally makes comprehensive security unique among other security concepts in international security studies.

Buzan et al. (1998) praise the innovativeness of comprehensive security, but they also critique the concept based on their erroneous interpretation:

When one reads through actual Japanese calculations and reasoning about threats and efforts, the function of the concept seems to be mainly to stress the interconnectedness of problems to ensure that Japan does not have to deal specifically with problems that are painful (usually historical) or that demand types of action Japan wants to avoid (usually political-military) (italics added) (p.173).

For a comparison, part of former Prime Minister Suzuki’s statement is reiterated here:

I consider efforts ought to be made from a wider perspective [to ensure security] which will include the economy, diplomacy, et cetera (italics added) (Gow 1983, p.xv).

The ‘efforts’ Suzuki refers to in this statement are obviously by the security sectors and not the referent objects. If Buzan et al. (1998) had properly interpreted the intended meaning of ‘comprehensive,’ they might not have assumed that ‘comprehensive’ is the ‘interconnectedness of problems,’ but of the security sectors.

As the foundation for policy, comprehensive security has received criticisms from both those on the political right and left in Japan. Those on the right view it as a way to remain militarily dependent on the U.S. for armed security, and place resources in diplomatic and economic initiatives. Those on the left view it as a smokescreen for the eventual buildup of its own military forces (Hughes 2004, p.126; Gow 1983, p.xvi). The enabling of an ensemble of actors as security sectors has undoubtedly contributed to these criticisms, as resource dependencies—when “an actor wants or needs something that is controlled by another actor”—coupled with the actor’s individual preferences and strategy, can more easily be obfuscated (Compston 2009, p.19). In actuality, however, an increase in both defense spending and development aid has occurred in the last three decades (Hughes 2004, p.126; Gow 1983, p.xvi). By the turn of the century, however, debates over comprehensive security have dissipated, thus making it less contentious, yet still evoked as a conventionalised norm in national security policy by political leaders to this day.


At 2:46 P.M. on 11 March 2011 a magnitude 9.0 earthquake erupted off the coast of northeast Japan, lasting nearly six minutes (Kingston 2012a, p.1). Within minutes to an hour, a massive tsunami poured onto 300 miles of the coastline, in some areas reaching as far inland as three miles. To date, the death toll is over 18,000 people—nearly 3,000 of whom were never found. Over half a million people were displaced from their homes (Kingston 2012a, p.1). It was to become the most expensive natural disaster in world history, costing almost three times the $125 billion (US) in damage caused by Hurricane Katrina (Kingston 2012a, p.2). Despite the superlatives and shocking statistics associated with the earthquake and tsunami, most in the international community became particularly concerned with the meltdowns and hydrogen explosions at three of the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which was battered by both the earthquake and the tsunami.

In fact, the three disasters were the result of a chain reaction, from earthquake, to tsunami, to nuclear disaster. While the causal relationship between earthquakes and tsunami are nothing new and certainly unpreventable as natural events, the added nuclear disaster introduced a new threat into the consciousness of society not only in Japan, but also around the world. It evidenced a preventable threat humans had created for themselves, through energy consumption needs. Energy security policy was now brought into question.

U.S.-Japan Relations

In the original comprehensive security Summary Report, the prioritisation to maintain close cooperation with the U.S. is explained in that “Japan shares with the U.S. the aspirations for the free and open international order” (CSR Group 1980). The document walks a fine line between admitting Washington is not strong enough for Tokyo’s complete reliance on national security, yet at the same time,

it is necessary for Japan to build more comprehensive Japan-U.S. alliance relations as a whole and more concrete cooperation in the military field (CSR Group 1980).

It was a well-calculated position in readjusting to the decline of U.S. relative hegemony in Asia.

As of 2015, the U.S. has maintained several military bases and roughly 50,000 troops on Japanese soil. While foreign assistance came from military forces in other countries, the United States Forces Japan (USFJ) was readily available to assist in the disaster-hit region as soon as the following day. Interestingly, when the public, both domestic and overseas, began to question the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) handling of the nuclear crisis in Fukushima, it was American military surveillance aircraft which provided information and imagery analysis of radiation levels as well as aerial photographs of the power plant (Ames and Koguchi-Ames 2012, p.208).

The mobilisation of USFJ, labeled Operation Tomodachi, was a tremendous success both with regard to disaster recovery and American soft power in Japan. Many found that it reinvigorated Japanese support for the Security Alliance with the U.S. (Curtis 2012, p.17). In contrast to the postwar America Occupation in Japan, U.S. troops were under the command of Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), which symbolised a change from leadership to a more equitable alliance.

The name, ‘Operation Tomodachi,’ was coined by Paul Wilcox, a U.S. military retiree serving as the Japan Country Director at the U.S. Pacific Command Headquarters in Hawaii (Ames and Koguchi-Ames 2012, p.207). The decision of the USFJ not only to apply a term meaning ‘friend,’ but moreover, maintain its expression in Japanese, “tomodachi,” sends a noteworthy signal of the robustness, amity, and equitable roles desired from the longstanding alliance between Japan and the U.S. Beyond just the direct implications in affected areas, Operation Tomodachi was in many regards reassuring for the Japanese that the first principle in the comprehensive security Summary Report was durable, and loyalty to the Security Alliance paid off. It also illustrates a key exemplar of how Japan’s national security policy can be used to analyse foreign policy, as they are intrinsically linked, particularly with regards to the Security Alliance.

The USFJ’s willingness to mobilise at such strength for Japan illustrate a success for comprehensive security. The demonstration of U.S.-Japan relations being at the utmost importance for Japan worked in effect as a soft power tool for Washington and the USFJ, who felt obliged to support when the disaster occurred. Tokyo has maintained that Washington is its most important ally through the end of the Cold War and after 9/11. As a result, the Americans utilised their resources for rapid assistance. The acceptance for assistance was a win-win; the referent objects, being the local people affected by disasters, were able to retain some degree of security by an increased scope of security sectors which included USFJ resources. The images of the USFJ, the U.S. as a ‘friendly’ ally, and also the JSDF through cooperation with the USFJ improved dramatically through Operation Tomodachi. Meanwhile, the Japanese political leadership was perceived as outperformed by these other security sectors and began to decline in public opinion soon thereafter. While criticism of the central government may well be warranted, Tokyo deserves praise for securing the referent objects by allowing the use of USFJ resources, yet undermined its own credibility as a security sector at the same time.

Strengthening Defense Capability

The second principle outlined in the Summary Report dealt specifically with the strength of the JSDF. While the language within the report focuses specifically on external security threats and how the JSDF must be strengthened, it was the internal security threats on 3/11 which resulted in the JSDF’s most full-scale operation to date (Tatsumi 2012, p.3). The JSDF’s budget has hovered around one percent of Japan’s GDP since the mid-1970s, but has steadily increased in total volume. In 2012, the JSDF budget was $59 billion (US), making it the fifth largest military budget in the world (Perlo-Freeman et al. 2013, p.2).

The JSDF was dispatched within hours of the 3/11 earthquake, and JSDF reservists were also mobilised for the first time since the system was created (Tatsumi 2012, p.12). At its peak, JSDF deployment was 106,000 personnel, tending to communities affected by the earthquake, the tsunami, and also tending to the quarantined zone around Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (Tatsumi 2012, p.3). The JSDF was the principal security sector involved in search and rescue, and search and recovery. When this operation was wrapping up, they proceeded with cremations and removal of bodies. In total the JSDF located nearly 20,000 survivors—nearly 70 percent of the total survivors found, and recovered 9,500 bodies—about 60 percent of the casualties (Tatsumi 2012, p.13). Overall the JSDF had four missions: (1) rescue and recovery; (2) transport assistance; (3) livelihood assistance; and (4) emergency rehabilitation assistance (Tatsumi 2012, p.13).

What was most effective in the JSDF dispatch was the speed at which large numbers of JSDF members could reach the affected communities. Second was the ease in which cooperation was achieved between the JSDF, the USFJ, and NGOs. The JSDF proved to be highly capable and in fact, the popularity of the JSDF as well as enlistment numbers dramatically increased after the 3/11 disasters (Simpson 2014). Yet, some have questioned whether Tokyo was excessively dependent upon the JSDF in disaster relief. Military responses to domestic large-scale disasters are increasingly common worldwide, but similar to most armed forces, the JSDF is not specifically trained for large-scale natural disaster relief efforts and management (Hofmann and Hudson 2009, p.29). A broader government-wide disaster response is preferred, as it is questionable as to whether the JSDF, by itself, has sufficient resources to address the full range of disaster response planning (Bosner 2013).

Relations with China, Russia, and North Korea

The Summary Report states “the Soviet Union is the only country for the time being that could pose a threat to Japan” (CSR Group 1980). At present, this assessment might be widened to include not only Russia, but also China and North Korea as external state-level threats to Japan’s security. The Summary Report explains that

[t]he crux of having relations with the Soviet Union is to avoid making the Soviet Union regard Japan as either a weak or a threatening country (CSR Group 1980).

By strategically avoiding a posture of weakness, Japan has advanced the technological and armed potential of the JSDF. This may have inadvertently diverted resources which could have been apportioned towards natural disaster prevention and crisis management. Furthermore, while difficult to detect, it potentially had a negative impact on Japan’s image in these three states, which in turn resulted in a meeker humanitarian response to the 3/11 disasters than what Japan may otherwise have received.

China has also become an indirect threat to Japan’s energy security. Over 90 percent of Japan’s crude oil comes from the Middle East, via the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea (Burrett 2014, p.164). Due to China’s increased consumption of oil and natural gas, the price of imported crude oil rose by almost 400 percent from 1998 to 2006 in Japan (Scalise 2012, p.141). This increased global competition for energy resources motivated the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) to target greater production of domestic nuclear energy (Scalise 2012, p.141-42). This competition for energy resources has also intensified a territorial dispute between the two powers in the East China Sea via a classic case of “gunboat diplomacy” (Klare 2008, p.221). At the heart of this dispute over uninhabitable islets is access to offshore hydrocarbon deposits nearby. Meanwhile, the JSDF has also focused naval operations on the maritime disputes in the South China Sea among China and ASEAN members. This, too, has diverted more comprehensive security resources toward defense, which otherwise might have been channeled to natural disaster crisis management.

Lastly, mention should be made of the fact that these three threats are nuclear states while Japan is not. The Japanese public is greatly opposed to developing or obtaining nuclear weaponry, yet it has nuclear reprocessing plants which could produce plutonium and a considerable amount of highly enriched uranium (Horner 2013; NTI 2014). While there is no direct link between obtaining the technology for nuclear weapons and the Summary Report, it does mention the vital importance of securing uranium resources overseas (CSR Group 1980). Most experts agree Tokyo’s stockpiles of plutonium and uranium could be converted into military use within a matter of weeks to months (Cirincione 2007, p.105). Maintaining what has been commonly identified as ‘the Japan option,’ or “being one screwdriver’s turn” from producing a nuclear weapon, is congruent with the outlined objective to avoid a defense posture neither weak nor threatening (Brumfiel 2004, p.432).

To be clear, China and Russia were among the long list of states which offered humanitarian assistance after the 3/11 disasters, yet such a long list of states offered humanitarian assistance that it would have been conspicuous for these two neighbours not to do so (Al-Badri 2013, p.61). The Summary Report’s recommendation to maintain a posture which is neither weak nor threatening is challenging, yet Tokyo has largely succeeded in doing so with a formidable, yet constrained military power and tightknit alliance with the U.S. While the Soviet Union is no longer a player and Russia’s presence is not nearly as dominating as its predecessor, Northeast Asia is a crowded region in terms of powerful states and one nuclear rogue state as well. This Machtpolitik environment has intensified the perception of state-level external threats to Japan from 1980 into the twenty-first century, and thus, diverted resources which might have been channeled and utilised for relief and disaster preparedness on 3/11.

Energy Security

Energy security is the principle whereby we find the alarming metamorphosis of a security sector into an internal threat to the referent objects. The Summary Report unequivocally states, “it is necessary to… promote the development and use of nuclear energy” (CSR Group 1980). In May 2006, METI drafted a New National Energy Strategy which outlined the goal to increase production of nuclear energy 30 to 40 percent (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development/International Energy Agency 2008). In 2010, this goal was raised to 50 percent (World Nuclear Association (WNA) 2014). Additionally, it called for “doubling the zero-emission power source ratio from 34 percent to 70 percent” and “cutting the CO2 emissions from the residential sector by half” (METI 2010). This goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was based on environmental pressures from the Kyoto Protocol and other commitments, which ironically resulted in a stronger reliance on nuclear sources for energy (WNA 2014). Policymakers’ plan to rely on nuclear power was viewed as a strategic necessity and a ‘lesser of two evils’ in which the risks associated with domestic nuclear energy were preferable to the risks associated with relying on foreign sources for fossil fuel resources (Scalise 2012, p.144). Moreover, it was done in order to comply with emerging norms among other developed, mass-energy consuming states in Europe and North America.

The history of nuclear energy development in Japan goes back well before the concept of comprehensive security. From the 1950s, policymakers had begun to press ahead for a nuclear energy program. The OPEC oil shocks of the 1970s exacerbated this pressure. At the time of 3/11, Japan had a total of 54 nuclear reactors, and was one of the top four nuclear energy producing countries in the world. The six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant were all completed between 1970 and 1979—thus predating the emergence of the comprehensive security-based policy; but most reactors (both active and suspended) in Japan have been constructed since 1980 (International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 2014). From 1980 to present, 37 nuclear reactors were constructed and added to the national grid (IAEA 2014). Prior to the comprehensive security policy, there were 20 reactors constructed and added to the grid, including all six reactors at the Fukushima plant (IAEA 2014).

In early 2011, nuclear energy accounted for almost 30 percent of the country’s electricity. Most of Japan’s nuclear power plants, like Fukushima Daiichi, were constructed near the coastlines to utilise cool ocean water in case of emergencies. TEPCO, the regional utility company which managed Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, faced immense criticism for its mismanagement both before and after the disaster. To some extent, Japanese officials have attempted intentionally to distance the nuclear power sector from national security policymakers. This is due in part to the ‘nuclear allergy’ among the public, which is a significant part of the national postwar identity. Therefore, in Japan neither the Ministry of Defense (MOD) nor the JSDF have any role in the development, management, or security of its nuclear power plants (Tatsumi 2012, p.27). On account of this, the MOD and the JSDF had no training on managing accidents at nuclear power plants. TEPCO, along with government oversight authorities in METI, compromised security by underestimating and downplaying earthquake and tsunami risks at the plant, despite credible warnings from seismic geologists, thus clearly illustrating that human error and risk mismanagement resulted in the nuclear crisis turning out worse than it could have been (Kingston 2012a, p.6).

What is evident from this brief empirical analysis is that comprehensive security exacerbated Japan’s reliance on nuclear energy to overcome reliance on imported fossil fuels. Coupled with this were increased energy consumption and environmental commitments to reduce CO2 emissions. While many have criticised the placement of nuclear power plants such as Fukushima Daiichi on coastlines susceptible to earthquakes and tsunami, this strategic placement is considered resourceful and a precautionary measure, as nuclear energy production requires tremendous amounts of water for cooling. Moreover, if there were a nuclear meltdown at a higher elevated and inland plant, runoff would be a concern, potentially widening the geographic spread of fallout effects on inhabited land. This does not imply that contamination of ocean water is not a concern; but surveyors concluded that meltdowns at a coastal, lower elevation would result in less terrestrial permeation.

Food Security

The Summary Report calls for raising the food self-sufficiency ratio through the creation of “buffer stocks” in the short-term, which has largely been a failure in the last three decades (CSR Group 1980; MAFF 2013, p.7). To analyse this principle with regard to the 3/11 disasters, it is best to separate the three disasters and examine them separately. Firstly, earthquakes can have a tremendously detrimental effect on agriculture, such as damaging irrigation systems, causing soil liquefaction, mudslides, damaging stock areas, power outages, and damaging transport routes. On account of the 3/11 earthquake alone, Japan faced shortages in milk which could not be transported; feed for livestock could not be distributed; and over four million chickens died due to the cold on account of power outages (Kuroki et al. 2011).

The tsunami, backed by 10 billion tons of water, wiped away everything within its path leaving behind 25 million tons of debris (Tossani 2012, p.258). Approximately 23,600 hectares of farmland were flooded in seawater, which left salt in the soils and brackish puddles in the fields. Most of the land was used for farming rice, and the particular crop commonly grown in the region was one of the most sensitive to salinity stress (Plett 2012). The agricultural areas directly hit by the tsunami accounted for approximately three to four percent of Japan’s total rice production (Martin 2011). Tokyo responded by creating a supplementary budget for the farmers affected the tsunami, which included (1) subsidising part of the cost necessary to recover farm land; (2) grant aid to resume farming; and (3) interest-free loans (Hori 2012, p.7). By April 2012 roughly 90 percent of tsunami-affected farms were cleared of debris and by March 2013, 40 percent of the land was able to resume cultivation (Hori 2012, p.7). In total, the Japanese government paid 30 thousand yen (approximately $380 (US)) for every 0.1 hectare of damaged farmland (Hori 2012, p.7).

The nuclear disaster presents conflicting interests among comprehensive security principles. The need for energy security led to the nuclear energy policy, yet the nuclear disaster presented a new threat to food security. Fukushima Prefecture is one of Japan’s largest prefectures in area, yet the name-association with the power plant alone has stigmatised the entire prefecture. All three prime ministers since 3/11 have on various occasions tried to relieve radiation concerns by eating strawberries, cucumbers, peaches, and rice produced in Fukushima Prefecture in events open to the media (and open to ridicule), yet this has done little to reassure consumers, especially abroad.

The causal relationship between food security as a principle of comprehensive security and its effect upon the 3/11 disasters is mostly inconclusive, but this analysis illustrates that government actions have been vastly reactionary, with no strategic planning financially or otherwise for a quick economic recovery in the agriculture sectors after 3/11. Much remains to be analysed with regard to the stigmatisation of the ‘Fukushima brand,’ as this effect could linger for decades, if not longer. On a broader scope of such analysis is the stigmatisation of all Japanese-grown produce, grains, and fish on global markets.

Earthquake Crisis Management

The sixth principle was undoubtedly the most innovative and unexpected at the time. No country had ever incorporated natural disaster management into its national security policy. In 1980, observers “scratched their heads” at the inclusion of earthquakes, tsunami, and typhoons as threats to security (Yasutomo 2011). Yet today countries around the globe are developing security strategies for natural disasters, as well as climate change and pandemics. The sixth principle of comprehensive security is particularly what sparked a trend for the widening of security studies, and the inclusion of the environment as both a threat and referent object.

The inclusion of natural disaster management as the final principle of the Summary Report is proof in itself that the principle, the policy, and comprehensive security succeeded in promulgating preparedness and essentially saved lives and livelihoods, yet what were some of the specifics of the principle which have been applied over the last thirty years? The principle states,

[c]ountermeasures for large-scale earthquakes should include, first, an improved ability to predict earthquakes, and, second, the compilation both of micro-zoning maps showing the main causes of earthquake-related damage and of damage scenarios conceiving various types of disasters (CSR Group 1980).

It continues,

disaster-control considerations should be reflected in urban and regional planning, transport and traffic policies, communications policies, and all other relevant policy measures (CSR Group 1980).

The sixth principle of comprehensive security is indeed, the most comprehensive with regard to the various security sectors involved. It is also the only principle whereby the referent object is the individual and the local community.

By 2011 Japan had developed the most sophisticated and high-technology earthquake- and tsunami-warning systems in the world, which relied on satellite communications and hundreds of real-time monitoring stations (Ishiwatari 2012, p.3). Central in this operation is the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), which disseminates earthquake and tsunami information from its 239 monitoring and detection stations to local disaster management authorities and the mass media. On 3/11 the JMA was able to issue its earthquake warning less than nine seconds after detecting the first seismic primary wave (Ishiwatari 2012, p.8). For most, there was a 15 second-to-one minute warning before the main shock had hit (Ishiwatari 2012, p.8). While the JMA issued a tsunami warning three minutes after the 3/11 earthquake, it underestimated the height of the imminent tsunami (Ishiwatari 2012, p.3). This was an improvement from the past, however; the JMA was not able to issue tsunami height estimates until 1999 (Ishiwatari 2012, p.5).

Within this brief amount of time, bullet trains were stopped and alert systems were sounded on all cell phones, televisions, and radios, assuming power was on. This improved the capability for people notified of an earthquake to turn off gas utilities and seek shelter, and people notified of a tsunami to seek high ground. Overall this saved lives, but at the same time it exposed a key limitation in the existing disaster management system. While people were generally familiar with disaster survival through drills and literature provided by local governments, warning systems presented a bias, however, towards those who were equipped with a notifying electronic device, and had the physical means to seek shelter. Research on the tsunami casualties indicates 57 percent of deaths were adults over age 65, many of whom could not drive, did not own mobile phones, or were not watching television or listening to the radio when the tsunami approached (Nakahara and Ichikawa 2013, p.71). Many were also disabled, or simply too slow to outrun an approaching tsunami.

Given Japan has both some of the most dynamic seismic activity on earth and advanced technological resources, it is no surprise it is also one of the world’s most prepared nations with regard to early-warning systems. Emergency drills are common in schools, workplaces, and even nursing homes (Rauhala 2011). One year after comprehensive security was introduced, in 1981 strict earthquake-resistant building codes were enforced. After the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, which struck densely populated areas in and around Kobe, such codes were further strengthened in 2000, specifying construction standards and requiring periodic inspections (Rauhala 2011).

Katayama (2004) argues that the Great Hanshin Earthquake was a monumental learning experience for disaster mitigation policy in practice:

[E]arthquake risk before the Kobe earthquake generally pivoted on lifelines, networks, systems and simulations. Although these problems are still important, after the Kobe earthquake we have come to realise that strength of structures is the crucial component in Japan’s earthquake risk mitigation even today (p.1).

Similarly, after this 1995 quake, Japan “put enormous resources into new research on protecting structures, as well as retrofitting the country’s older and more vulnerable structures” (Glanz and Onishi 2011, p.A1). Given the Great Hanshin Earthquake was the largest natural disaster to hit Japan between the announcement of the comprehensive security policy in 1980 and the 3/11 disasters, it served as the most useful reference case for implementation of the comprehensive security strategies. The earthquake crisis management response after the 3/11 disasters was highly influenced by the lessons learned from the disaster in Kobe. Given the Great Hanshin Earthquake affected an urban area and had a substantial economic effect on the national economy, the experience reinforced the understanding of natural disasters as threats to national security, already outlined in 1980, but seen in practice 15 years later.

The 3/11 disasters can be contrasted with other recent natural disasters of the twenty-first century. In the 2010 Haiti earthquake, approximately 160,000 perished. In the 2004 Sumatra earthquake and tsunami, at least 280,000 deaths occurred. While the 3/11 disasters were more devastating to infrastructure and costlier, the current death toll (including those missing) is less than 20,000. An adequate comparison to other major natural disaster events—while certainly deserving of further research—is well beyond the scope of this project, but nonetheless it can be concluded that the prioritisation of natural disaster preparedness and management should be credited for the relatively low death toll from the 3/11 disasters. While a tremendous amount of media and academic literature has criticised the shortcoming that became apparent after the disasters, the situation would have been worse if natural disasters were not interpreted as threats in national security policy.


Prior research on the 3/11 disasters has rarely evoked the unique Japanese concept of comprehensive security, and tends to neglect prior national security policy measures (Clancey 2012; Kingston 2012b; Scalise 2012; Vivoda 2012; Berends 2013; Hayashi and Hughes 2013; Oppenheim 2013). This paper utilises the initial comprehensive security Summary Report to elicit six principles which together construct the concept, and overlays these principles onto the 3/11 disasters. The analysis indicates that lives were saved due to strategically designed security sectors, particularly with regard to the sixth principle. Rapid economic recovery due to strategically designed security sectors, however, has not been achieved. Government efforts for economic recovery specified for the affected region have been developed ex post facto, with preventive measures poorly considered beforehand. Long-term economic recovery is still not achieved over five years later. Additionally, inclusion of the energy security principle resulted in the disregard of potential threats. While much has been written with regard to the lingering nuclear situation, government opaqueness and TEPCO’s mismanagement, this paper has intentionally avoided delving into this discussion, as comprehensive security was the only aspect being evaluated. What has emerged is the new internal threat emerging from a security sector. Nuclear energy is an important issue in post 3/11 politics in Japan, as the external threats to energy security in 1980 are still present today, only exacerbated if anything. What has edged its way onto the security discussion agenda is environmental security, which ironically, accelerated the production of nuclear energy power plants as a security sector prior to 3/11.

Table 2: Comprehensive Security Principles Impact upon 3/11 Disasters
Comprehensive Security Principles Results
1. Relations with U.S.
2. Defense Capability
3. Relations with China, Russia, & North Korea
4. Energy Security
5. Food Security
6. Natural Disaster Management

Key: Positive = +; Negative = -; Inconclusive = ○

More than five years after the 3/11 disasters, debates continue in Japan over the use of nuclear energy, the legalities of the JSDF participating in collective security operations overseas, and food self-sufficiency in relation to TPP negotiations and membership. Recognising the successes and failures of comprehensive security as the basis to Japan’s national security policy could be the first step to rebooting and improving upon the security stature.

By dissecting how different networks interacted using policy network theory, the inception of comprehensive security at the end of the 1970s reveals the unique circumstances in both time and space. By claiming comprehensive security is a ‘uniquely Japanese concept,’ the spatial character is understood, but the international political events of the late 1970s serve as the temporal characteristic. The innovativeness of the concept proves a keen awareness of this spatiality and temporality. A similar keen awareness is needed today. There is no need for casting the policy aside in favour of an entirely new one; rather, experiences such as the 3/11 disasters can bring about a similar innovativeness for a more sensible application of security sector resources. In other words, a reexamination could potentially elicit the type of ingenuity illustrated when the policy first emerged in 1980, and thereby, the security sectors in the aforementioned current debates on nuclear energy, collective security, and TPP can be integrated in a most productive way.

Finally, this paper has demonstrated, in a cursory manner, that comprehensive security—as an overarching basis for national security policy—has the potential to provide a ‘backdoor window’ to analyse Japan’s foreign policy, as well as domestic state-society relations and politics. Further research can develop deeper insights on how Japan’s capricious sense of security plays out in decision-making, and also how this existence leads to innovative and progressive security policy.


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[1] Throughout this paper, ‘3/11 disasters’ refers to the 11 March 2001 earthquake, tsunami, and meltdown of three nuclear reactors in the Tōhoku region of Japan.

[2] Hereafter, Summary Report.

[3] Sōgō is a common prefix in Japanese to describe, for example, general hospital (sōgō byōin), multipurpose development (sōgō kaihatsu), and integrative learning (sōgō gakushū).

About the Author

B. Bryan Barber IV is a Ph.D. Candidate in International Relations at the Green School of International and Public Affairs, Florida International University. He has an M.A. in Asian Studies (Florida International University) and an M.Sc. in Geography (Oklahoma State University). Mr. Barber was a resident of Iwate Prefecture at the time of the 11 March 2011 earthquake, and remained there until July 2013. His research interests are in Japanese foreign policy and security policy, energy security, and Asian geopolitics. He is currently working on a dissertation on normativity in Japan’s foreign policy with Muslim states in Asia.

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