- Japanese Security Policy—An Uncertain Future after Abe
Andrew Oros's recent book Japan's Security Renaissance: New Policies and Politics for the Twenty-First Century is a much-needed update on the recent changes in Japanese security policy. Described by Oros as addressing the period "from Abe to Abe," the book focuses on the policy evolution and institutional adjustments that have accompanied the changes in Japan's national security policymaking between 2006 and 2016. By providing detailed accounts of both domestic political shifts within Japan and external security developments, Japan's Security Renaissance analyzes the small and incremental steps that have cumulatively resulted in substantial changes in Japan's national security policymaking.
The book divides the "from Abe to Abe" years into two periods: 2006–12, which spans Shinzo Abe's first term as prime minister (2006–7), the transition of the ruling party from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in 2009, and the end of DPJ rule in December 2012; and 2012–16, with Abe returning as prime minister and solidifying governance by a ruling coalition of the LDP and Komeito (the left-of-the-center political party supported by Soka Gakkai). In the discussion of the first period, Oros gives a much overdue acknowledgement to the changes in Japanese national security policy made under DPJ rule. Such changes include the 2010 National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) in which Japan took the first step toward reorienting its defense posture from that of a garrison state focused on a Soviet/Russian invasion attempt from Hokkaido to one with greater operational flexibility to address the requirements for the defense of remote islands in the southwestern part of Japan. This improved flexibility includes the "dynamic defense force" concept and the government's decision to apply the comprehensive exception to Japan's acquisition of F-35As from the "three principles of armed exports," which paved the way to establish the "three principles of defense equipment" in April 2014. It is often the case that the incumbent Abe government is wholly credited for the reorientation of Japan's defense posture and the relaxation of the weapon export rules. Oros sheds light on [End Page 178] the concrete groundwork that the DPJ government laid for these changes, which is often underappreciated.
In his discussion of the above two periods, Oros introduces three "historical legacies"—Japan's inability to reconcile with its neighbors over its behavior during World War II, the antimilitarist sentiment that emerged after the war and still persists strongly to date, and the complex nature of Japan's alliance with the United States—as the critical factors that set the parameters for Japan's national security policymaking (see chap. 2). In his discussion of the period between 2006 and 2012 in chapter 4, for example, Oros makes a convincing case that the DPJ leaders' initial desire to alter some of the fundamental principles of Japan's foreign policy, including equalizing Japan's relations with China and the United States, was frustrated by the complex nature of the U.S.-Japan alliance. In chapter 5, he illustrates the constraining power of another historical legacy—postwar antimilitarism in Japanese society—in his examination of the various concessions that Abe had to make in his efforts to reinterpret Article 9 of the constitution and the government's follow-on efforts to pass the new peace and security legislation.
The book's conceptual framework of the three historical legacies goes a long way in helping explain postwar Japan's security policy choices. The persistent antimilitarist sentiment and the resistance to any move by the government that could be perceived as limiting civil liberties have been on full display several times since Abe returned to power in December 2012. Protests against the Specially Designated Secrets Protection Law in December 2013 and large-scale demonstrations against the Peace and Security Legislation in 2015 show that such sentiment is so strong that even Abe has not been able to overcome it. I concur with Oros's assessment in his concluding chapter that the underlying forces he frames as historical legacies will continue to exert influence in limiting security policy...