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Countries that rely on others for military capabilities or security guarantees face questions of 'defense ownership' in national strategy and domestic politics. This paper develops the concept of defense ownership and examines different campaigns for ownership in current South Korean and Japanese security policies. South Korea's defense ownership campaign focuses on national autonomy while Japan's focuses on international reputation. Traditional factors of security policy such as national capabilities, external threat perception, and ally reliability do not explain the differences between these campaigns. The ownership campaigns can, however, be understood within the context of South Korean and Japanese national identity debates about the appropriate role and position of the state in international affairs. In South Korea, the focal points of national identity debates are eventual unification with North Korea and overcoming a history of treatment as an international object rather than international actor. In Japan, national identity debates concentrate on regaining Japan's status as a 'normal' country and filling the vacuum of national pride once filled by the Japanese economic miracle, especially in the present context of a rising China. The paper concludes with recommendations for avoiding nationalist-driven policies that could cause spirals in regional security relations.