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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:33 03/09/2007
Commentary (December 13, 2004)

New Defense Policy Moves Japan away from Pacifist Stance

Linsey Brancher (Presenter, BBC News)
Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)

On 10 December, the government announced plans to conduct a radical overhaul of its defense policy in the new National Defense Program Outline. The document marks a clear departure from the highly limited and largely reactive security policy Japan has maintained since the end of World War II. The National Defense Program Outline was formulated in 1976 and reviewed once previously in 1996.

Lindsey Brancher: This new defense policy seems to be a big move away from the pacifist constitution Japan is renowned for.

Sean Curtin: Yes, I think you are right. This new National Defense Program Outline is a major policy document, most of which has been leaked over the past few months. If we want to briefly define what it does, we can describe it as shifting Japanese defense policy away from being largely reactive and pushing it in the direction of becoming more proactive. Importantly it also names both North Korea and China as potential military threats. This is the first time that any defense policy document has specifically named a country. We can also characterize this review as being a response to the post-9/11 world, focusing policy more on the new threats that are seen as menacing the globe, chiefly terrorism. Another discernible feature is that it more closely aligns Japan's defense policy with that of the United States. There are also plans to reduce restricts on certain arms exports.

Lindsey Brancher: Does this new policy confirm Koizumi as the nationalist everyone says he is?

Sean Curtin: I don't actually think that he has ever sought to disguise his very nationalistic credentials. In fact, many commentators say that he is the most nationalist prime minister of the postwar era. I think one way we can interpret this new policy is to see it as another plank in his strategy to shift Japan away from its pacifist past and to turn it into a more modern and regular military power. We can also see this approach in the Iraq troop dispatch extension that was announced yesterday. The defense review is another significant step towards Koizumi's goal. All these various strands of his strategy are beginning to come together and pick up momentum for changing Japan's constitution, which is currently a war-renouncing constitution.

Lindsey Brancher: Indeed. In this ever changing and unpredictable world, North Korea and China have been pointed out as major threats. This must also be a reaction to the changing nature of military threats?

Sean Curtin: Yes, it is indeed. We have actually witnessed this in the last few days, the North Korean abduction issue has dominated the Japanese news and this has made Japanese people feel uneasy about the isolated country. However, the situation with China is very different. I don't think we can say Japanese people are worried that China is going to attack them or that the country is unstable. The difficulty with China is that its military strength and power is growing and this makes people feel that there needs to be a Japanese military counterbalance, and this is also what this document is seeking to do. I think one of the problems with this document is that policymakers are going to have to be very careful about how they discuss China in terms of a threat. This is because political ties are already very tense. Koizumi is barely on speaking terms with Chinese leaders and rarely meets them. If the government wants to avoid further antagonizing China, it will have to be careful how it handles this issue.

The above discussion was originally broadcast on BBC World's Asia Today programme on 10 December 2004.

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