Debating Japanese Defense

"Japan's Self-Defense Defense" by Joseph S. Nye

CAMBRIDGE – Since the end of World War II, Japan has been ruled by an American-written “peace constitution,” Article 9 of which prohibits war and limits Japanese forces to self-defense. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now seeking legislation to enable Japan to reinterpret the constitution to include “collective self-defense,” whereby the country would enhance its security cooperation with other countries, particularly its closest ally, the United States.

Critics view this as a radical departure from seven decades of pacifism. But Abe’s central objectives – improving Japan’s ability to respond to threats that do not amount to armed attack; enabling Japan to participate more effectively in international peacekeeping activities; and redefining measures for self-defense permitted under Article 9 – are actually relatively modest.

Fears that the move would lead to Japanese involvement in distant US wars are similarly overblown. Indeed, the rules have been carefully crafted to prohibit such adventures, while allowing Japan to work more closely with the US on direct threats to Japanese security.