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  • Japan Rearmed: The Politics of Military Power by Sheila A. Smith
  • Christopher W. Hughes (bio)
Japan Rearmed: The Politics of Military Power. By Sheila A. Smith. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 2019. xii, 333 pages. $29.95.

Japan Rearmed joins a series of recent and very important volumes that seek to trace the direction of travel of Japanese security policy since the cold war and right through to the era of Prime Minister Abe Shinzō and President Donald J. Trump. Sheila Smith has for some time been one of the shrewder observers of Japan's foreign and security policy, capable of moving between the purely academic domain and that of policy-leaning research institutes. Hence, Smith displays in this volume an excellent ability to zoom out to see the bigger picture of Japan's security trajectory but also to offer detail on the minutiae of the policymaking process in Japan. The book is going to be indispensable and accessible reading for many years for anyone interested in Japan's security policy, whether a Japan expert or someone just generally interested in Japan's rising military profile.

Smith's essential argument is that something very important is stirring in Japan's security policy and in related changes in its military establishment. Japan is increasingly returning the role of the military to a central position within Japanese statecraft and is even being obliged to contemplate its actual usage if previously reliable security parameters—and especially the assurance of the U.S.-Japan alliance—fall away. The result, according to Smith, is that the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) are emerging as a far more effective military in their own right, but also that they provide a stronger platform for U.S.-Japan alliance cooperation regionally and globally.

Japan Rearmed unfolds these arguments in five core chapters. The first traces the evolution of Japan's military from the demilitarized stance in the immediate postwar period to the end of the cold war and the rebuilding of military power through the JSDF and gradual expansion of U.S.-Japan alliance cooperation. This chapter, of course, provides the essential context and baselines to demonstrate the subsequent shifts in Japan's military stance over the last three decades. The second chapter examines the JSDF's growing role in overseas dispatch missions since the 1990s, including minesweepers to the Persian Gulf in the aftermath of the Gulf War, UN peacekeeping missions in Cambodia and elsewhere, support for the international coalitions after 9/11 in the Indian Ocean and in Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion, antipiracy missions in the Gulf of Aden, and new links with security partners in the Asia-Pacific. This chapter demonstrates the ways in which these missions have boosted the legitimacy and influence of the JSDF [End Page 448] in the security policy process and forged the way for an expanded Japanese international military presence.

The third and fourth chapters look at the changing domestic policy set up around Japan's development of its military power—focusing on the reorganization of the defense bureaucracy, the JSDF itself, and the upgrading of its doctrines and capabilities—and the domestic legal and constitutional framework for JSDF operations. These chapters are distinguished by some excellent empirical work and very balanced judgment. The sections on the reinterpretation of Article 9 of the constitution and national security legislation in 2014 and 2015 are particularly valuable, presenting all sides of the argument but refusing to be drawn into some of the policy and academic tropes that the events have very little significance in altering Japan's fundamental military course.

The final main chapter on the U.S.-Japan alliance is another fine section of analysis, outlining Japan's attempts to solidify the alliance, but it is also closely attuned to the fact that Japanese leaders are highly sensitive to the risks of abandonment, and especially under the Trump administration. Hence, in contrast to much of the consensus that has emanated from policy and academic circles, Japan Rearmed indicates that all is not necessarily rosy in the U.S.-Japan alliance garden.

The conclusion to the volume reiterates many of the arguments highlighted at the start of...


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