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  • Renaissance?
  • James E. Auer (bio)

"In the area of military security, 'Japan is back.'" So begins Japan's Security Renaissance, Andrew L. Oros's impressively detailed and nuanced account of Japan's post–Cold War security. It is a welcome, scholarly work. I have admired the author's academic achievements for well over a decade and do not disagree with many, if any, of the facts he lays out. His presentation is so detailed that a number of the findings were beyond my knowledge, and I learned a lot by reading this book.

I am a former U.S. naval officer who sailed with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) from 1963 to 1978 and who analyzed Japan's status as a U.S. military ally from 1979 to 1988 from an American perspective in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon. From 1988 to 2014, I was a researcher and instructor of U.S.-Japan relations at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, but I still consider myself more a sailor than a scholar. Since I am also a staunch supporter of the U.S.-Japan alliance, I was very pleased to find my view of the increasing sophistication in Japan's defense policy during the second Abe administration reinforced in the book. While I very much hope Professor Oros is correct that this past decade constitutes a renaissance, I am not yet ready to so characterize the evolution of Japanese defense policy and capability overseen, if not engineered, by Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi, Yoshihiko Noda, and Shinzo Abe. Even though it might be true that Japan is (a little more) "back" as a military power, I am reluctant to say that the developments of the past decade, or at least the past four years of the Abe administration, are as or more significant than key events of the previous six decades.

I could not agree more with Professor Oros's statement that what he labels Japan's security renaissance is not about Japan becoming more "normal" (p. 10). I also agree that what Japan has done over the last 50 years is "normal for Japan" (p. 10), although I would insert "only" prior to "for."

Quality academic scholarship may well trump my biased analysis as an American who believes strongly in the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance to both countries. But looking back over the last 65-plus years, I see Japan's national security policy and defense capabilities as considerably improving in fits (hindered or overseen by, among others, the Asahi Shimbun and Prime [End Page 185] Ministers Takeo Miki, Toshiki Kaifu, Yukio Hatoyama, and Naoto Kan) and starts (thanks to Diet member Hitoshi Ashida, who later became prime minister, and by Prime Ministers Nobusuke Kishi, Yasuhiro Nakasone, Junichiro Koizumi, Yoshihiko Noda, and Shinzo Abe). The quality of the three Japan Self-Defense Forces, especially the JMSDF with which I am most familiar, is slowly but steadily improving, despite restrictions on defense spending. Although Chinese provocations have emboldened Prime Minister Abe to increase defense spending slightly in the last four years, the Japanese defense operations and defense budget increases of the 1980s were in my mind the most significant to date. As far as national security policy itself is concerned, the impressive developments of the last four years under Abe have strong precedents going back as far as the adoption of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution.

Professor Oros might not agree, but I believe that Article 9 is not abnormally restrictive, even though a significant number of Japanese believe that it is. Perhaps few of them realize that General Douglas MacArthur's 1946 directive to his government section that Japan would have no armed forces for any purpose "including self-defense," which he claimed was suggested to him by then Prime Minster Kijuro Shidehara, was modified by Hitoshi Ashida in the House of Representatives before the constitution was adopted to include a loophole for self-defense. MacArthur's legal adviser told him that if the revised wording were allowed to stand, Japan would be able to legally justify armed forces for self-defense. MacArthur not only allowed the revised...


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