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Japan's Security Policy and the War on Terror:Steady Incrementalism or Radical Leap?

Christopher W Hughes


CSGR Working Paper No. 104/02


August 2002


Japan’s response to September 11, consisting of the enactment of an anti-terrorism law and the despatch of the SDF to the Indian Ocean in support of the US and other concerned states, has generated an intense debate on the future of its regional and global security role. For those opposed to the remilitarisation of Japanese security policy, SDF despatch is questioned on grounds of its constitutionality, the wisdom of using force for responding to terrorist phenomena, and as leading to the further integration of Japan into US global military strategy. For those that are desirous of the ‘normalisation’ of Japanese security policy, GOJ actions have been applauded as avoiding the ‘Gulf War syndrome’ and an important step towards Japan contributing to coalition actions for international stability. Opinions are also mixed on the implications of Japan’s actions for the overall future trajectory of its security policy. On the one hand, Japan’s participation in the campaign is seem to confirm the traditional incremental expansion of its military security role—the anti-terrorism law predicated on UN resolutions, limited in time, and avoiding an overt breach of the prohibition on the exercise of collective self defence. On the other, Japan’s actions are seen as a marking a watershed in its security policy, as they create a precedent for future operations in support of the US in the bilateral context of the US-Japan alliance, and de facto exercise of collective self defence which will lead eventually to its de jure recognition.

The objective of this working paper is to analyse and evaluate in detail these debates on the future of Japanese security policy. It argues that Japan’s security policy is likely to proceed along a path which falls in between the two extreme scenarios outlined above. The events of September 11 were an extreme confluence of circumstances, and Japan has undoubtedly built into its reaction to September 11 a number of opt-out clauses that ensure it can return to the path incrementalism. But Japan has also indeed set a precedent for its security policy which could lead to the transfer of the principles of the anti-terrorism law to the US-Japan alliance, and has opened up new avenues for the exercise of collective security and cooperation with the UN, creating potentially radical effects for its security policy over the longer term.The study examines the issues of the trajectory of Japan’s individual, bilateral alliance and multilateral security policy; the dynamics of the US-Japan alliance; the motivations of the key Japanese and US political, bureaucratic and military actors; the shifting policy-making structure in Japan; the reaction of East Asian states to Japan’s actions; and theoretical questions concerned with alliance politics, and security policy-making.

Keywords: Japan; September 11; war on terror; US-Japan alliance; SDF; UN.

Address for correspondence: Dr Christopher W. Hughes
University of Warwick
Coventry CV4 7AL