A Theoretical Analysis of Japan’s Changing Security Identity

Through the Application of Analytical Eclecticism

Daisuke Akimoto, Soka University Peace Research Institute [About | Email]

Volume 13, Issue 1 (Article 10 in 2013). First published in ejcjs on 24 May 2013.


How can political science and international relations theories elucidate the ambiguity and complexity of Japan’s security identity? This paper offers a theoretical analysis of Japan’s vague security identity through the lens of analytical eclecticism as suggested by Peter Katzenstein in 2008. The reason this research employs analytical eclecticism is because it reconfirms that existing theories of orthodox international politics (classical/neo-liberalism and classical/neo-realism) and existing alternative approaches (constructivism) are incomplete in themselves, but are mutually supplemental within an eclectic research method. In an attempt to prove the applicability of analytical eclecticism and to investigate Japan’s changing security identity, this paper proposes four theoretical models of Japan’s security identity (a pacifist state, a UN peacekeeper, a normal state, and a US ally). By substantiating the validity of analytical eclecticism and visualising Japan’s elusive security identity, this paper attempts to make a contribution to the study of Japanese politics and to the application of international relations theory.

Keywords: analytical eclecticism, Article 9, Japan’s security identity, SDF.


Japan’s security identity has been constantly changing and elusive. Indeed, to the casual observer, it may seem to have exhibited schizophrenic tendencies (Dupont 2005; MacCormack 2007: 191-204). In spite of its infamous status as an ultra-nationalistic militarist state during the Pacific War, Japan became a pacifist state following its defeat in the Second World War and thorough disarmament during the occupation period. Based on the ideals of the so-called Peace Constitution, the Japanese government was determined to preserve its security by ‘trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world’ (NDL, The Constitution of Japan). However, Japan started rebuilding its self-defence capabilities in response to requests from the United States after the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. Although it was a part of the US-led alliance system during the Cold War, Japan refrained from making a military contribution to either the Korean or Vietnam Wars. Despite the unstable international security environment during the Cold War, Japan did not complete its military normalisation and never dispatched its Self-Defence Forces (SDF) overseas even for United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO).

Nonetheless, the end of the Cold War and the outbreak of the 1990 Persian Gulf Crisis forced the Japanese government to reconsider its conventional security policy, especially its policy on overseas dispatch of the SDF. The United States, in particular, exerted pressure on Japan to deploy the SDF in the Persian Gulf, but the Japanese government failed to pass the 1990 UN Peace Cooperation Bill through the Diet. Japan’s inability to make a human contribution to the UN-authorised military action led to international criticism. This spurred the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan (MOFA) to create a new legal framework to allow the SDF to participate in UNPKOs, which ultimately resulted in the enactment of the International Peace Cooperation Law, or the International Peacekeeping Operations Law (the so-called PKO Law). In 1992 Japanese peacekeepers were dispatched to Cambodia, and subsequent Japanese governments have continued to make contributions to UN-sponsored PKOs. As a result of the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 and the US-led War on Terror, Japan dispatched the SDF to the Indian Ocean and Iraq. Emergency Legislation, moreover, was created in 2002 and 2004 in case of armed attack from outside of Japan. Furthermore, in 2007 the Japan Defence Agency (JDA) was upgraded to the Ministry of Defence Japan (MOD), and the Japanese government passed legislation that specified the processes that must be undertaken for a national consitutional referundum. The latter was a necessary step for constitutional revision, and thus potentially Japan’s military normalisation.

These developments highlight the fact that Japan is not only maintaining its security identity as a pacifist state, based on the Peace Constitution, but is also becoming a normal state with a normal military capability commensurate with its economic power. In fact, Japan’s annual military expenditure is one of the highest in the world (ISS 2009: 447-452). Notwithstanding the progress of military normalisation, it is unlikely that Japan will become an aggressive military power or a nuclear state. Significantly, in spite of its military alliance with the United States and membership of the United Nations, its ability to exercise the right of collective self-defence and participate in the collective security system has been strictly prohibited by Article 9 of the 1947 Constitution. Thus, Japan possesses a complicated, and seemingly paradoxical, security identity. Here, two questions immediately arise. First, how does research on Japanese security policy deal with the complexity of Japan’s security identity? Second, do theories of international relations provide a satisfactory explanation for this changing, and seemingly contradictory, security identity?

A problem in applying international relations theories to an analysis of Japan’s security policy is that none of them alone is sufficient for providing a comprehensive and systematic perspective. As dominant theories of international relations, classical realism and neo-realism (Morgenthau 2006; Waltz 1979, 1993, 2001) provide detailed explanations of why Japan began normalising its military capability and supporting a military alliance with the United States. Realist theories, however, do not elucidate why Japan has been hesitant to complete its military normalisation and to develop nuclear weapons. In contrast to these realist schools, analyses based on classical liberalism (idealism) and constructivism expound on how and why Japan’s complete rearmament has been prohibited by the influence of anti-war pacifism and a post-war culture of anti-militarism (Berger 1993, 1998; Katzenstein and Okawara 1993; Katzenstein 1996). These normative perspectives, however, do not account for Japan’s at least partial military normalisation process and the continued embrace of the military alliance with the United States. Moreover, the normative constraints on Japan’s security policy themselves have been weakened by a domestic desire for rearmament in a changing international environment.

Meanwhile, the premise of another orthodox theory, neo-liberalism, explains why Japan’s pacifism has shifted in order to make an international contribution (Krasner 1983; Keohane and Nye 1977; Keohane 1984; Berger 2007). Whereas extreme anti-war and anti-militarist pacifism, consistent with classical liberalism, negates the existence of the SDF and its overseas dispatch for any purpose, Japan’s PKO policy is compatible with neo-liberalism with its focus on multilateral cooperation for international peace and security, and affirms the utilisation of Japanese military power for post-conflict peace operations. Yet, like other theories, neo-liberalism is not perfect; it cannot explain why Japan could not participate in UNPKOs until 1992 and why it supported the US-led wars on Afghanistan and Iraq.

Thus, each theory of international relations is incomplete, and each provides only a partial explanation of Japan’s security identity. The problem for the theoretical analysis of Japanese security policy and security identity, therefore, lies in the lack of an eclectic and comprehensive approach in the existing scholarship. Although earlier research provided thorough analyses of a few or particular theoretical perspectives on Japan’s security identity (Funabashi 2004; Hughes 2004; Weeks 2004; Inoguchi 2008; Middlebrooks 2008; Oros 2008; Llewelyn, Walton and Kikkawa 2009; Soeya 2011), these analyses have been theoretically limited. Accordingly, this paper aims to contribute to closing this research gap in the study of Japan’s security policy and international relations theory by demonstrating the applicability of a theoretically eclectic approach. To this end, the methodological utility of analytical eclecticism will be examined in relation to multiple forms of Japanese security identity in the past, present and the future.

Methodological Applicability of Analytical Eclecticism

The concept of analytical eclecticism for the scrutinising of Japanese security policy was first articulated by Peter Katzenstein. Due to ‘broadening of the theoretical spectrum’, research on Japan’s security policy has differed from analyst to analyst (realist, liberalist and constructivist) and tends to have ‘sidestepped metatheoretical debates’ (Katzenstein 2008: 3). As an alternative research method, Katzenstein proposed the application of analytical eclecticism as follows:

Some writings on Japanese security may, in the future, be able to take a more eclectic turn, by incorporating elements drawn from three different styles of analysis – the testing of alternative explanations, the rendering of synthetic accounts, and historically informed narratives (ibid).

In fact, the necessity of analytical eclecticism can be found in international relations theories and approaches. First, the significance of an eclectic approach can be identified in the analysis of E. H. Carr, one of the founders of classical realism and international politics. Although his main work, The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919-1939, is regarded as one of the major texts of classical realism, previously ‘simplistic reading of Carr has begun to be re-evaluated as a number of scholars have pointed to areas of common concern of both ‘idealists’ and ‘realists’ (Rich 2000: 198). Indeed, Carr’s ‘motives in writing the book were both realist and utopian’ (Dunne 2000: 221). In spite of his stance as a critic of utopianism, Carr dedicated the book to ‘the makers of the coming peace’, that is, to the creators of utopia (ibid). Moreover, Carr’s other well-known work, The Conditions of Peace (1942), includes the tenets of idealism, in other words, the conditions for utopia (Wilson 2000: 185). Furthermore, whereas Carr’s main argument focused on a criticism of the extremely idealistic nature of international relations theory developed after the First World War, he also pointed out the limitations of realism itself (Carr 1949: 89). Carr likewise asserted the importance of balanced analysis with both realist and utopian perspectives. He unequivocally emphasised the importance of the combination of both idealism and realism, and repetitively underlined this point thus:

Immature thought is predominantly purposive and utopian. Thought which rejects purpose altogether is the thought of old age. Mature thought combines purpose with observation and analysis. Utopia and reality are thus the two factors of political science. Sound political thought and sound political life will be found only where both have their place (ibid: 10).

Political science must be based on a recognition of the interdependence of theory and practice, which can be attained only through a combination of utopia and reality (ibid: 13).

Significantly, Carr reached the ‘conclusion that any sound political thought must be based on elements of both utopia and reality’ (ibid: 93). His insistence on the need for a combined method of analysis in the study of political science and international relations provides strong support for the methodological validity of analytical eclecticism.

Likewise, writings of other major realists indicate an eclectic underpinning of their realist logic. The arguments of Thomas Hobbes, a renowned realist, also contain liberal elements. Hobbes considered human beings to be egoistic in their natural state, where they engaged in a ‘war of all against all’ (Hobbes 1962: 24, 143). At the same time however, he also argued that human beings would be able to work together to establish an artificial state, a Leviathan, by means of cooperative social contracts, in opposition to their egoistic individualism (ibid). As Tomoko Okagaki (2000: 67, 81) pointed out, this perspective is similar to that of neo-liberalist viewpoints, which insist that international cooperation is possible even though states egotistically pursue maximisation of power and interest. Similarly, the analyses of Thucydides offer both idealist and liberalist perspectives. For instance, Bruce Russett noted that the observations of Thucydides on the nature of democracy are ‘more familiar in contemporary liberal-institutionalist and idealist paradigms that compete with realism’ (Russett 1993: 62; Tsuchiyama 2000: 59). Notably, even Kenneth Waltz, the founder of neo-realism (structural realism), acknowledged the theoretical unassailability of the idealist logic that advocates for establishing a world government as a means of abolishing international wars, although he considered this unattainable in reality (Waltz 2001: 228).

In addition to classical and structural realism, neo-liberalism, the English School and constructivism also underline the efficacy of eclectic approaches. First, neo-liberalism acknowledges some neo-realist conditions, such as the significance of national interest as a state goal, and the existence of anarchy in the global system (Kegley and Wittkopf 2006: 44), although neo-liberals are positive that sustainable international cooperation is possible even under anarchy (Keohane 1984). In this regard, neo-liberalism is theoretically eclectic in comparison to the realist schools. Second, the so-called English School also demonstrated the possibility for analytical eclecticism. For instance, Hedley Bull’s analysis shows that, although anarchy is the nature of the international system as neo-realists argue, international order exists in an anarchical society (2002: 22-50). Bull divided traditional political philosophy into three types: the Hobbesian (realist tradition), the Kantian (universalist tradition), and the Grotian (internationalist tradition) (ibid: 25). He maintained that it is important to balance the perspectives of realism (the Hobbesian tradition) and liberalism (the Kantian tradition) with an emphasis on the importance of internationalism in influencing international relations. Third, constructivism, a ‘liberal-realist theoretical approach’ (Kegley and Wittkopf 2006: 52), also indicates the utility of eclectic analysis. On the one hand, constructivism accepts the conditions suggested by realism and neo-realism, such as the significance of states as key actors in international politics, and the self-centredness of states in pursuit of their national interests (ibid). On the other hand, constructivism theoretically stems from idealism and liberalism (Wendt 1999: 1) and underscores the significance of the ‘institutional transformation of identities and interests’ (Wendt 1992: 391-425, 394). Indeed, the culture of anti-militarism as an analytical framework (Berger 1993, 1998) is composed of both classical liberalist and constructivist perspectives. Constructivism, therefore, employs an eclectic approach in an attempt to ‘bridge the gap between neo-liberal and neo-realist theories’ (Kegley and Wittkopf 2006: 53). In this sense, the constructivist approach is even more eclectic than the realist and liberalist perspectives. As examined above, each theory of, and approach to international politics, demonstrates the methodological applicability of analytical eclecticism. Hence, analytical eclecticism can be applied to a comprehensive analysis of Japan’s security identity.

Japan’s Security Identity in Terms of Analytical Eclecticism

As shown so far, a theoretically eclectic approach can be methodologically applicable and effective. Indeed, some earlier research has employed an eclectic approach in the analysis of Japan’s security policy. For example, William Heinrich Jr. (1997) applied a ‘multilevel analysis’ combining ‘domestic and structural factors’ to examine Japan’s security policy. Yoshihide Soeya (1998) in his analysis showed that Japanese security policy has been influenced by both normative constraints and structural imperatives. Soeya referred to the significance of a combined analysis of Japan’s ‘dual identity’, arguing that ‘both realism and constructivism (social norms of pacifism and the political culture of anti-militarism) are relevant in explaining Japan’s security thinking and behaviour’ (ibid: 231). Also, Jennifer Lind (2004: 92-121) utilised an eclectic approach and argued that Japan’s pacifism, or culture of anti-militarism, is a constructivist norm and that Japan’s buck-passing policy was a realist strategy. Similarly, Amy Catalinac (2007) employed eclectic explanations of Japan’s security policy by offering analyses from the perspectives of neo-liberalism and neo-realism. Catalinac pointed out limitations in both theories and advocated ‘identity theory’ as an alternative constructivist approach. Likewise, Richard Samuels (2007: 128) provided an eclectic analysis and proposed four stances regarding Japanese security policy (neo-autonomists, normal nation-alists, pacifists, and middle-power internationalists). Yet these are not perspectives on Japan’s national security identity but on Japanese attitudes towards security policy. Moreover, both neo-autonomist and normal-nationalist perspectives can be conceptualised as part of the classical realist perspective which focuses on Japan’s security attitude as a normal state. Although these analyses above support the utility of analytical eclecticism, they did not examine Japan’s security identity specifically from this perspective.

The phrase ‘security identity’ as a term in political science is defined as ‘a set of collectively held principals that have attracted broad political support regarding the appropriate role of state action in the security arena and are institutionalised into the policy-making process’ (Oros 2008: 9). In essence, the very analysis of identity can be considered as following a constructivist approach (Catalinac 2007), and analysts tend to examine Japan’s security identity from a few or particular theoretical perspectives, describing it as a pacifist state, a normal country, a normal military power, a global civilian power, or a global ordinary power (Funabashi 2004; Hughes 2004; Samuels 2007; Inoguchi 2008; Middlebrooks 2008; Oros 2008; Llewelyn, Walton and Kikkawa 2009; Soeya 2011). As already mentioned however, much of the early research focused on analysing a few or particular theoretical perspectives and was unable to offer a comprehensive perspective on Japan’s changing security identity in a holistic manner.

In short, eclectic analyses in the existing literature are limited to a couple of theoretical dimensions (realism, liberalism and constructivism) and have not offered theoretically systematic perspectives on Japan’s multiple security identity. Unlike previous scholarship, this paper integrates all these theoretical perspectives (classical/neo-liberalism and classical/neo-realism) and proposes four models of Japanese security identity (constructivism) as shown in Table 1: Japan as a pacifist state (classical liberalism), as a UN peacekeeper (neo-liberalism), as a normal state (classical realism), and as a US ally (neo-realism). As a set of eclectic methods, these four perspectives will help to clarify and analyse Japan’s changing security identity.

Table 1: Four Models of Japan’s Security Identity
Pacifist State
a. Classical Liberalism
Article 9 (1947 Constitution)
Renunciation of War
Culture of Anti-Militarism
Unarmed Neutrality (Unattained)
UN Peacekeeper
b. Neo-Liberalism
The Preamble (1947 Constitution)
The Right to Live in Peace
International Cooperation
The PKO Law (1992)
Normal State
c. Classical Realism
Desire for Power
The SDF Law (1954)
Military Normalisation (The Right of Self-Defence) (In Progress)
US Ally
d. Neo-Realism
Balance of Power
Bilateral Security Treaty (1951)
The Right of Collective Self-Defence (Not Exercised Yet)

Note: This table rules out latent security identity, such as Japan becoming an unarmed neutral state, a militarist state, or a nuclear-armed state, as these potential outcomes are unattainable at this point. However, such potential can form part of Japan’s security identity as a pacifist state and a normal state.

a. Classical Liberalism: Japan as a Pacifist State

Classical liberalism (idealism) explains why Japan has been reluctant to become a major military power and has instead remained a pacifist state. It also provides an explanation for why Japan has been reactive with regard to foreign and security policies (Calder 1988). Japanese pacifism, inscribed in Article 9 of the 1947 Constitution, stipulates the renunciation of war and the non-possession of armed forces. Japan’s constitutional pacifism can be seen as classical liberalism, since both concepts stem from anti-war idealism. The significance of the Peace Constitution as a basis for non-violent pacifism has been espoused by academics acting as constitutional protectors. This argument is the antithesis of the normal state debate (Kimijima 2003: 17). This paper, however, regards Japan as a relative pacifist state rather than as an absolute pacifist state. Before the Peace Constitution was promulgated, Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida stated that its peace clause renounced even the right of self-defence. Nevertheless, Yoshida changed his stance and eventually recognised Japan’s possession of the right of self-defence (NDL, Proceedings of the 90th Imperial Parliament Session). Although it is possible to justify Japan’s absolute pacifism from the perspective of constitutional law, the Japanese government has consistently adopted a relative pacifism as Japan’s security policy. Therefore, Japan as a pacifist nation now means it adopts a relative pacifism which recognises the right of self-defence.

Theoretically, idealism and (classical) liberalism can be used interchangeably because the advocates of liberalism were inspired by idealism after the First World War. Basically, idealism as classical liberalism is based on the belief that human beings inherently possess a good nature, and this is the reason for peace and cooperation (Kegley and Wittkopf 2006: 30). In relation to anti-war idealism in Japan, Thomas Berger (1993, 1998) observed that the ‘culture of anti-militarism’ has been deeply rooted and prevalent in Japanese society to an extent which constrains the excessive increase of Japan’s military capability. Likewise, Jitsuo Tsuchiyama (2007) argued that the renunciation of war described in Article 9 has had a normative influence on Japan’s security policy. Without doubt, Japan’s post-war pacifism (anti-war, anti-militarist and anti-nuclear pacifism) has been a core norm in post-war Japanese politics which has constructed Japan’s security identity as a pacifist state.

Furthermore, Japan’s anti-militarist pacifism is similar to Kantian idealism. In his essay, Perpetual Peace, Immanuel Kant (1939: 4, 6) proposed preliminary articles for perpetual peace, such as: ‘no state shall by force interfere with either constitution or government of another state’ (Article 3 of Chapter 1) and ‘standing armies shall in time be totally abolished’ (Article 5 of Chapter 1). A resemblance can be identified between Kantian pacifism and Japan’s anti-war pacifism based on Article 9 of the 1947 Constitution. First, both Article 3 of Chapter 1 in Kant’s Perpetual Peace and Paragraph 1 of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution express the ‘illegalisation of war or use of force’. Second, the purpose of Article 5 of Chapter 1 in Perpetual Peace and Paragraph 2 in Article 9 of the Constitution is disarmament. In this sense, Kant’s classical liberalism and Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution share a fundamentally similar anti-war and anti-militarist philosophy.

The renunciation of war stipulated in Article 9 is in line with international moves towards the illegalisation of war, such as, the Covenant of the League of Nations (1920), the Paris Non-War Pact (1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact), and the Charter of the United Nations (1945) (Nasu 2004). But in comparison with these international anti-war arrangements, Article 9 is not only anti-war but also anti-nuclear, due to Japan’s experience of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Abe, Ukai and Morisu 2006: 71-72). Japan’s anti-war pacifism, reflected in Article 9, was viewed in theory as the type of unarmed neutrality advocated by opposition parties and pacifist intellectuals (Miyata 2004). As well, those who adhere to Japanese constitutional pacifism tend to seek to protect Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, and moreover, try to internationalise it (Ohta and Nakazawa 2006). Indeed, on the basis of anti-war pacifism, some Japanese politicians, academics and peace activists have attempted to abolish nuclear weapons by internationalising the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Hiraoka 1996).

Anti-war pacifism and the culture of anti-militarism forbade any overseas dispatch of the SDF, symbolised by the Upper House resolution of 1954 (NDL, Proceedings of the 19th Diet Session). On the basis of anti-militarist pacifism, the Japanese government banned Japan’s arms exports, adopted three non-nuclear principles, and placed a ceiling on the defence budget of 1% of GNP. This clearly indicates that the anti-militarist pacifism of Article 9 has functioned as Japan’s ‘defence constraint’ (Keddell 1993). On the basis of Article 9, Japanese citizens took legal actions on various occasions claiming that the existence of the SDF and the Japan-US Security Treaty was unconstitutional. For instance, the Suzuki Case (1952) on the National Police Reserve, the Sunakawa Case (1959) on a US base, the Eniwa Case (1962) on the SDF, the Naganuma Nike Case (1969) on an Air SDF (ASDF) base, and the Hyakuri Case (1977) on an ASDF base were all rooted in anti-war pacifism. The Japanese courts, however, sidestepped a clear judgement on the constitutionality of the SDF and the Security Treaty, arguing that these issues were highly political and subject to governmental action (tōchi kōi) (Beyer 1993). Moreover, anti-militarist pacifists argue that Japan’s participation in UNPKOs should have no connection with the SDF (Ōta 1992: 108-109).

Japan’s anti-war pacifism and culture of anti-militarism have acted to prohibit the SDF from participating in international peace operations. Notably, the 1990 UN Peace Cooperation Bill, which aimed at sending the SDF to the Persian Gulf, was scrapped due to strong opposition in the Diet based on anti-war/anti-militarist pacifism (Dobson 2003). Significantly, even after the Japanese government created legal frameworks to dispatch the SDF to UNPKOs, the Indian Ocean and Iraq, exercise of the right of collective self-defence has been restricted (Hardacre 2005). These factors indicate that anti-militarist pacifism as a defence constraint has been, and will remain, influential until Article 9 is revised or deleted by constitutional amendment. Although there have been shifts towards international pacifism and Japan has normalised its military capability, anti-militarist pacifism remains an influential normative restraint in forming Japan’s security identity as a pacifist state.

b. Neo-Liberalism: Japan as a UN Peacekeeper

From a neo-liberal perspective, Japan’s security identity can be described as that of a UN peacekeeper. Japan’s contributions to UNPKOs and UN-authorised peace operations after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq can be interpreted as foreign and security policies based on neo-liberalism. As Gō Itō (2007) argued, the term ‘international contribution’ (kokusai kōken) was a key phrase in legalising the dispatch of the SDF to UNPKOs. Theoretically speaking, the term ‘international contribution’ is compatible with the neo-liberal argument that international cooperation is possible even within an anarchic international system (Kegley and Wittkopf 2006: 40-42). Japan’s security policy, which contributes to international cooperation on the basis of the Preamble of the Japanese Constitution, is therefore congruous with neo-liberalism and liberal internationalism (O’Hanlon 2007). Likewise, Thomas Berger (2007) argued that the motivation behind Japan’s international contribution is fundamentally based on the liberal philosophy of international relations theory. Berger described Japan’s policy towards international peacekeeping as ‘Japanese liberalism’ or ‘pragmatic liberalism’ (ibid: 260-261). Whereas Japan’s classical liberalism as anti-militarist pacifism prohibited the SDF from participating in international peacekeeping operations, Japan’s neo-liberalism and international pacifism based on the Preamble of the Constitution has facilitated Japan’s participation in post-conflict peace operations.

The Preamble of the UN Charter and its counterpart in the Japanese Constitution share similar norms that construct international pacifism. The former reaffirms ‘fundamental human rights’, the ‘dignity of the human person’ and ‘better standards of life in larger freedom’ (United Nations, The Charter of the United Nations). The latter reconfirms ‘the banishment of tyranny and slavery, oppression, and intolerance’ and ‘the right to live in peace, free from fear and want’ (NDL, The Constitution of Japan). Both Preambles seek the attainment of international peace based on human rights and the right to live in peace. Japan’s participation in UNPKOs is, therefore, consistent with international pacifism as represented in the two Preambles. From a neo-liberalist perspective, Japan contributes to post-conflict peace operations not only out of national interest, but also out of international interest. As a supportive argument to this view, Michael Pugh (2004) claims that PKO policy is not necessarily dependent upon national interest but more on ‘altruism’ based on international interest (Ishizuka 2008: vii). Similarly, Roland Paris (2004) applied ‘liberal institutionalist theory’ to peace-building operations (Ishizuka 2008: vii). In this way, UN peace operations, such as preventive diplomacy, peacekeeping and peace-building as defined in An Agenda for Peace by Boutros Ghali (1992), are compatible with neo-liberalist perspectives.

Furthermore, peacekeeping and peace-building operations based on the premise of international pacifism are consonant with the concept of ‘human security’, which is consistent with the neo-liberal paradigm. In fact, there is a similarity between the Preamble of the Japanese Constitution and the concept of human security. The Preamble states, ‘we recognise that all people of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want’, while the purpose of human security is to attain ‘freedom from want, freedom from fear’ (Commission on Human Security 2003). In other words, both the Preamble of the Japanese Constitution and the concept of human security are consistent with neo-liberal international pacifism and therefore justify Japan’s contributions to UN peace operations. In fact, the Japanese government dispatched the SDF to the Indian Ocean and Iraq by referring to the Preamble as a legal basis as well as to UN resolutions. Thus, Japan’s participation in UN-authorised peace operations is based on the international pacifism of the Preamble, congruent with a neo-liberal international cooperation, which indicates Japan’s security identity as a UN peacekeeper.

c. Classical Realism: Japan as a Normal State

Classical realism, or human nature realism, provides explanations for why Japan has pursued a security policy aimed at becoming a normal state that possesses normal, or stronger, military power. Classical realism insists that each state egoistically pursues its own national interests such as economic and military power (Morgenthau 2006). From such a realist perspective, Japan has sought to maximise not only its economic power but also its military power. For instance, Herman Kahn (1970) predicted that Japan would become a superstate by normalising and strengthening its military power. The argument that Japan desires to become a normal state has been a central issue in Japan’s security policy debate. Indeed, conservative Japanese politicians have insisted on the necessity of Japan’s military normalisation (Ishihara 1989; Ozawa 1994; Koizumi 2003; and Abe 2006). Similarly, analysts of Japanese politics have focused on the same issue (Green 1995; Hook 1996; Dupont 2004; Hughes 2004, 2009; Pyle 2007; Samuels 1994, 2007; Oros 2008; Middlebrooks 2008; and Soeya 2011).

Certainly, classical realism supports the fact that the LDP government pursued not only a maximisation of economic power but also the normalisation of military power. Retrospectively, the original purpose of establishing the LDP was to revise the Peace Constitution so as to normalise Japan’s military power. The Hatoyama-led Democratic Party and the Yoshida-led Liberal Party ostensibly merged to establish the LDP because they needed a two-thirds majority of seats in the Diet to revise the Constitution (Abe 2006: 27-29). On 15 November 1955, the LDP announced that the party aimed to revise the 1947 Constitution and expand Japan’s military capability (LDP 2009).

According to classical realism, even leftist political parties tend to pursue national military power. E. H. Carr (1949: 20) contended that once a leftist political party comes to power, the party abandons theoretical utopianism and becomes more realistic. Indeed, the Japan Socialist Party (JSP), notable for its absolute pacifist policy of unarmed neutrality, which opposed the Japan-US Security Treaty and the SDF, changed its policy once Tomiichi Murayama of the JSP became prime minister in coalition with the LDP in 1994. Murayama overturned JSP policy and recognised the existence of the SDF and the Security Treaty (NDL, Proceedings of the 130th Diet Session). Thus, the arguments of classical realism are supported not only by the LDP’s security policy but also by the example of the policy shift of the JSP.

From the perspective of Japan as a normal state, Japan’s remilitarisation through the establishment of the National Police Reserve (1950), the Police Preservation Corps (1952) and the Self Defence Forces (1954) can be interpreted as the first stages of military normalisation. The second stage of military normalisation can be recognised as developing after the end of the Cold War. The disappearance of military threat from the Soviet Union provided an opportunity for the Japan Defence Agency (JDA) to normalise Japan’s military power. In particular, the dispatch of the SDF overseas since 1992 can be interpreted as part of the process of becoming a normal state. In this respect, Japan’s participation in UNPKOs has been based on realistic motives which desire the maximisation or normalisation of military power, and this is only but a first step. With regard to this point, Katsumi Ishizuka (2008: 48-50) observed that Japan's participation in UNPKOs contributes to Japan's national interest as well. It is also possible to conceive that the Japanese government has intended to gain international prestige, specifically a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC) by making contributions to UNPKOs. Since being a permanent UNSC member would contribute to enhancing Japan’s political influence in international politics, Japan’s participation in UNPKOs is based on a realistic motivation, namely the pursuit of national interest (Drifte 2000), rather than altruism.

The third stage of the normalisation process became evident after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the subsequent US-led War on Terror. Whereas Japan’s relative national power has been declining (Dupont 2001: 6), Prime Minister Jun’ichiō Koizumi attempted to maximise Japan’s military power in a Gaullist manner (Envall 2008). The Koizumi government swiftly enacted the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Legislation and in the same year dispatched the Maritime SDF (MSDF) to the Indian Ocean. Likewise, the Iraq Special Measures Legislation was created in 2003, and in the following year, the Ground SDF (GSDF) was deployed in a non-combat zone in Iraq (Shinoda 2007a). In 2007, the JDA was upgraded into the Ministry of Defence (MOD), and the National Referendum Law was enacted as a step towards constitutional revision. This series of moves towards Japan’s military normalisation exemplifies the arguments of classical realism. Moreover, recent political events such as the Senkaku islands issue and the missle launch of North Korea all the more stimulated Japanese right-wing conservative politicans who have pushed for a resurgence of nationalism. This trend has also facilitated Japan’s military normalisation as well as maximisation of national interest (East Asia Forum, 17 September 2012). In short, from a realist perspective, it can be claimed that Japan has been moving away from its pacifism, based on the Peace Constitution, towards becoming a normal state, based on classical realism and a domestic desire to maximise national interest.

d. Neo-Realism: Japan as a US Ally

Classical realism supports the argument for Japan as a normal state and for Japan’s militarisation from a domestic perspective. On the other hand, neo-realism, or structural realism, supports Japan’s military normalisation, as well as its security identity, in terms of being a US ally. Indeed, neo-realism stresses the significance of a balance of power and thus justifies the Japan-US alliance. It also argues that an international structure of anarchy (Waltz 1979, 2001) and the presence of the United States as a hegemonic state (Gilpin 1981) determine the behaviours of other countries. From a structural realist perspective, it is possible to argue that Japan’s security policies have been shaped by this international structure. Kenneth Pyle (2007: 18-21), for instance, has analysed how Japan’s foreign and security policies have been determined in response to changes in the international structure. The anarchic self-help system and the Cold War structure forced Japan to conclude the Japan-US security treaty and remilitarise. Japan’s pacifist intellectuals argued that the security treaty should be comprehensive rather than partial (Kersten 1996). Still, the fact that Japan chose a partial peace treaty indicates that the international structure and the presence of the United States as a hegemon determined the direction of Japan’s post-war security policy. Although Japan has not armed itself with nuclear weapons, Japan has depended on the US ‘nuclear umbrella’ through the Japan-US military alliance. Thus, structural anarchy influences Japan’s security policies, namely remilitarisation with the SDF and a military dependence on the United States. As structural realism supports the hegemonic stability theory, US hegemony made it possible for Japan to focus on its economic development through the Yoshida Doctrine.

Even in a post-hegemonic world, external pressure, mainly from the United States, and changes in the international environment have determined Japan’s foreign and security policies (Akaha 1993). For neo-realists, the Cold War structure facilitated Japan’s policy on official development assistance (ODA) for countries in the Western camp. Because of its structural military dependence on the United States in (Johnson 2004), Japan’s security policy, in spite of its Peace Constitution, has been influenced by external pressure, especially from the United States. Japan’s responsive security policy and incremental militarisation are thus attributed to its military dependence on the United States. In order to reduce criticism of being a ‘free rider’ in an anarchic world, Japan was forced to share strategic burdens with the United States. Furthermore, structural transformations such as the end of the Cold War and the 1991 Gulf War caused Japan to reconsider its security policy (Inoguchi 1991, Waltz 1993) and eventually enabled the SDF to participate in UNPKOs. Thus, Japan’s participation in UNPKOs was determined by external pressure (gaiatsu), particularly from the United States (George 1993). Indeed, Prime Minister Murayama (NDL, Proceedings of the 130th Diet Session) stated that the reason why the JSP changed its security policy and recognised the constitutionality of the SDF and the Japan-US alliance was because of the collapse of the Cold War structure.

As significant as the end of the Cold War structure, the 2001 terrorist attacks and the outbreak of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq also brought about incremental shifts in Japan’s security policies. For instance, the unusually speedy passage of two legal frameworks, the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Legislation and the 2003 Iraq Special Measures Legislation, indicates how international structure and external pressures determine and influence Japan’s security policy (Shinoda 2007a). As Tomohito Shinoda (Shinoda 2007b) has shown, Japanese security policy and public opinion in the post-Cold War period became more realistic due to the changing international environment. Likewise, Paul Midford (2011) has demonstrated that Japanese public opinion has evidently shifted from anti-militarism to an ‘attitudinal defensive realism’ since 9/11. Thus, a structural realist perspective indicates that Japan’s UN peacekeeping policy has been not only based on the egotistic or altruistic nature of the state but also on the structural nature of the international system. The international system and the United States in particular have placed considerable external pressure on Japan. As a US ally, Japan has responded to these international pressures in its security policy-making processes.

In essence, the applicability of all four theoretical models of Japan’s security identity: Japan as a pacifist state, a UN peacekeeper, a normal state, and a US ally, is evident. These four perspectives on Japan’s security identity, based respectively on classical liberalism, neo-liberalism, classical realism, and neo-realism, will assist in providing comprehensive theoretical explanations for the analysis of Japan’s changing security identity.

Implications for the Future of Japan’s Security Identity

Although it is difficult to crystal-gaze into Japan’s security identity in the future, it is theoretically feasible to identify and analyse possible scenarios in terms of analytical eclecticism. The possible scenarios are: Japan as a non-violent state, as a UN centrist state, as a completely normal state, and an equal US ally. From the perspective of classical liberalism, it can be argued that Japan should revise the current Peace Constitution in order to make the SDF and the Japan-US military alliance explicitly unconstitutional (Inoue 2006). In this scenario, Japan would become a non-violent state in a condition of unarmed neutrality, without any military alliance with the United States. This scenario, however, is unlikely to happen, considering the weakened political influence of the Japanese Socialist and Communist parties. As a pre-condition, this might require the establishment of an international security organisation in Asia or of a functional world government that could provide sufficient security for non-violent states. Although it remains theoretically possible, like the theory of world government this scenario seems unattainable in practice at least in the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, from the perspective of neo-liberalism, it is fair to argue that Japan could become a UN centrist state, able to participate in all UN peace operations, after a constitutional revision. For instance, Ichirō Ozawa (2006) suggested that Japan should establish a UN stand-by force to contribute to the UN collective security system. Although re-organisation of the SDF into a UN stand-by force is technically feasible, this scenario would require Japan to participate in UN-authorised military operations, and therefore Japan might need to normalise its military capability. Thus, if it wishes to become a UN centrist state that can make a full military contribution to all UN peace operations, including military sanctions under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, Japan might need to become a normal state. In this scenario, Japan might abrogate its military alliance with the United States to become a completely UN centrist state.

As has been suggested already, if conservative politicians revise Article 9, Japan will not fail to become a normal state with ordinary military power commensurate with its technology and economic power. This paper argues that Japan has been becoming a normal state, but that constitutional amendment will be required to complete this process. As a completely normal state, Japan would be able to contribute to both UN-authorised and US-led military operations. Still, as Yukio Hatoyama (1999, 2009) has suggested, a normal state would limit its military commitment based on national interest. Takashi Inoguchi (2008) has analysed how Japan has become, and will remain, a global ordinary power. He has also predicted that a future Japanese government will revise the current Constitution by 2020. If Japan normalises its military capability as a normal state or as a global ordinary power, it may also desire to maximise its military power (Mearsheimer 2001). In this scenario, it is conceivable that Japan might even seek to possess nuclear weapons (Waltz 1993).

By revising or deleting Article 9, Japan would become an equal US ally that could make a full military commitment to a US-led war in the future. The United States has pressured Japan into normalising its military capability so that Japan can contribute to the bilateral military alliance. Therefore, the United States would welcome a scenario whereby Japan becomes an equal US ally (INSS 2000). Still, it is possible that Japan might seek to become a militarily independent state while remaining a US military partner. Even so, in this scenario, Japan as a US military partner would remain loyal to decisions made by Washington. From the structural realist and geopolitical viewpoint, a military alliance with the United States would remain a critical part of security policy even after constitutional revision. Again, in order to become an equal US ally, Japan would need to become a completely normal state by revising Article 9. In all of these scenarios, the theoretical implications of analytical eclecticism are profound and meaningful here in investigating the past, present and the future of Japan’s security identity.


This work has investigated the applicability of analytical eclecticism, as proposed by Peter Katzenstein, to the study of Japan’s security identity. The paper started with an overview of Japan’s compositive security identity and its elusiveness. It was stressed that Japan’s security identity has been changing and has sometimes been contradictory. As was pointed out, at the end of the Pacific War, Japan was transformed from an aggressive militarist state into an idealistic pacifist state. In the process of deliberation over the current Constitution, Japan chose to become a relative pacifist state rather than an absolute pacifist state. In the face of the Cold War structure, Japan as a pacifist state decided to become a US ally and began normalising its military capability towards becoming a normal state. In the post-Cold War world, Japan then decided to make a contribution to UNPKOs as a UN peacekeeper. With these transitions in mind, the main research question raised in the introduction was how political science and international relations theories might provide a systematic understanding of the complexity of Japan’s changing security identity.

In an attempt to seek a solution, this research critically examined orthodox theories of international relations and pointed out their limitations. One theoretical problem that was clarified is that each theory remains incomplete and provides a limited perspective. Nonetheless, this paper demonstrated that each theory and approach can be mutually supplemental and that a theoretically eclectic approach is possible and applicable to the study of Japan’s security identity. Significantly, four theoretical models of Japan’s security identity (constructivsm) – as a pacifist state (classical liberalism), a UN peacekeeper (neo-liberalism), a normal state (classical realism), and a US ally (neo-liberalism) – were then proposed in order to provide a comprehensive theoretical analysis. The applicability of the eclectic approach was tested by examining these four theoretical models, and these perspectives were found helpful for a more systematic understanding of Japan’s security identity.

In addition, the paper presented possible scenarios of Japanese security identity after constitutional revision. It is not absolutely possible to predict future scenarios, but the eclectic analytical method assisted in visualising each of four theoretical possibilities: Japan as a non-violent state, a UN centrist state, a completely normal state, an equal US ally. The four theoretical models proposed in the paper will remain valid until a future Japanese government revises Article 9. Moreover, analytical eclecticism will remain effective in the analysis of Japan’s security identity into the future. The originality of this study, therefore, lies in the fact that this research has germinated four theoretical models of Japan’s security identity, has demonstrated the utility of analytical eclecticism, and has used this method to provide a more systematic and comprehensive explanation of Japan’s security identity than has been offered thus far. In this way, this work contributes to the application of international relations theory to the study of Japanese security identity.


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About the Author

Daisuke Akimoto is Assistant Professor at the Soka University Peace Research Institute in Japan. He holds a PhD (Asian Studies and International Relations) from the University of Western Sydney, an MA (Peace and Conflict Studies) from the University of Sydney, and a BA (Humanities) from the Soka University Japan. His research interests include Japan’s pacifism and security policy, Japan-Australia relations, international peacekeeping operations, and nuclear disarmament.

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