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  • The Development of Japanese Security PolicyA Long-Term Defensive Strategy
  • Bhubhindar Singh (bio)

japan, u.s.-japan alliance, regional security, northeast asia[End Page 49]


This essay examines the developments in Japanese security policy that have been undertaken by the Abe government since December 2012.

main argument

Challenging the dominant negative analyses of Japanese security policy under Shinzo Abe, particularly from China and South Korea, the essay makes two key points. First, the security policy developments are not specific to Abe’s administration but instead are part of a long-term trajectory that started at the onset of the post–Cold War period. Second, Japan’s emergence as an active security actor is a source of regional stability, as the measures the country has implemented are arguably a defensive response to the rising instability in Northeast Asia. Japan’s democratic identity, the resilient pacifism within Japanese society, and the continued robustness of the U.S.-Japan alliance support this conclusion.

policy implications

  • • Japan’s long-term trajectory to widen its security policy in the post–Cold War period is best understood beyond the notion of remilitarization. While the escalating tensions in Northeast Asia have motivated Japan to expand its security policy, this process is limited by a range of domestic factors that ensure it pursues a defensive policy.

  • • It is important for Tokyo to recognize that any development in its security policy inevitably raises concerns among its neighbors. For Japan to be accepted as a responsible actor in security affairs, the leadership must refrain from behavior that escalates bilateral tensions as a result of Japan’s unresolved historical legacies.

  • • Defense diplomacy is an important way for Japan to engage with its immediate neighbors, namely China and South Korea. Greater interaction between the defense establishments of these three countries at the bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral levels will help build trust in the region. [End Page 50]

In a speech delivered at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., in February 2013, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe confidently declared that “Japan is back.”1 This was in reference to Abe’s goal of reviving Japan’s moribund economy and restoring the country’s place in the international community as a responsible contributor to global affairs. The reactions to Japan’s “return” have been both positive and negative. While Abe’s push to implement a robust economic policy termed “Abenomics” has been relatively positively received, even though doubts about its success have increasingly dominated the debates in Japan and beyond, Abe’s actions in the political and security domains have attracted considerable negative attention.2 This essay focuses on this latter area and attempts to unpack the implications of the expansion of Japan’s security policy for the Asia-Pacific. This issue is important because Abe’s victory in the December 2014 elections will certainly result in the continued growth of Japanese security policy despite the uncertain growth of the country’s economy under the Abenomics program.

Since starting his second tenure as prime minister in December 2012, Abe and his team have taken significant steps to expand Japanese security policy. For the first time, a National Security Strategy document was published, and it was introduced together with an updated National Defense Program Guidelines that outlined five- and ten-year targets for Japan’s defense policy.3 The strategy in these documents called for the following: augmenting Japanese naval capability through the expansion of the submarine fleet and destroyer-class ships, including additional Aegis destroyers; strengthening Japanese air patrol and surveillance capabilities through the acquisition of additional early warning aircraft and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles; strengthening aerial refueling and transport aircraft; boosting the country’s air force capabilities with the F-35A Joint Strike Fighters; and finally creating an amphibious island defense force. To complement Japan’s force modernization, Japan and the United States decided to revise the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation for the first time since 1997. When passed in 2015, the [End Page 51] defense guidelines will strengthen bilateral defense cooperation in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) for maritime security around Japan; cyberdefense; missile defense; and United Nations peacekeeping...


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