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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Where Power Projection Ends: Constraints and Restraints on Japanese Militarism

  • Author(s): Le, Tom Phuong
  • Advisor(s): Uriu, Robert
  • et al.

Over the last 15 years, Japan’s security policy has undergone significant qualitative and quantitative changes. Prime Minister Abe’s strained relationship with China, and subsequent promotion of collective self-defense and increased power projection capabilities has renewed alarmism of Japanese remilitarization. Realists contend the changing international security environment and increased nationalism have led to the erosion of antimilitarism norms and the emergence of “normalizing” security policy. This scholarship stands in stark contrast to the commonly accepted narrative proposed by political scientist Thomas Berger and historian John Dower that post-war Japan is defined by a culture of pacifism. Scholars have provided reasons for why Japan should militarize without consideration of how the government and public conceptualize militarization. Military capabilities might not be directly linked to threat.

This dissertation addresses the question, what determines the direction and content of Japanese security policy? First, I argue social-structural, technical, political, and normative factors constrain and restrain the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). Path-dependent factors such as an aging and declining population, weak military-industrial-complex (MIC), sensitivity to East Asian states, and a culture of antimilitarism create an environment that makes it difficult for the government to pursue greater power projection capabilities. Moreover, several of these material and ideational constraints and restraints are constitutive, further reinforcing the antimilitarism environment. Second, I contend “normal” security behavior – i.e. power balancing, self-help, and general acceptance of military force – is subjective, reflecting the prevailing assumptions of realism more so than the logic of many states. Japan has adopted a new normal that internalizes an emerging international human security norm, creating a unique security posture that contributes to the international community through peacekeeping operation and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief while adhering to the domestic antimilitarism environment. This security posture is one of a myriad of possibilities, to which I refer to as “multiple militarisms.”

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