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What Self-Defense Buildup is Japan Allowed? ‘Minimum’ in Constitution is Relative



(Part 4 of 7)

I started this series as an attempt to debunk seven myths about Japan’s national security policy. Living in a democracy, and in peace time, a number of Japanese people have understandably not given much thought to national security issues, especially the possibility and dangers of war. The consequence, however, is citizens sometimes being persuaded by false arguments from the liberal media or from domestic or foreign critics.


Read the other parts of the series here:

Myth 1: Myth 1: Japan has no national security policy, and Tokyo only blindly follows the United States.  

Myth 2: Japan’s alliance with the US is dangerous—Japan might become “entrapped” in America’s “global strategy.”  

Myth 3: Constitution allows Japan to build military forces – just ask MacArthur


Myth 4: The Constitution of Japan allows only “the minimum level of self-defense capability.”



Almost immediately after the end of the Occupation, the Japanese government was attacked in the Diet by the Opposition Socialist and Communist Parties. They charged that the Safety Forces (which became the Ground, Maritime, and Air Self-Defense Forces in 1954) were violations of the Constitution.


Although the Liberal Democratic Party has long maintained that the Constitution, including Article 9, should be amended, the fundamental law has so far not been changed.


In an attempt to deal with political objections, successive governments since 1952 have maintained that Japan is allowed to maintain only a minimum level of self-defense capability.


Since the threats to Japan have increased over time with the growth particularly of Soviet military capability during the Cold War and Chinese military power in the 21st century, Japan has increased the minimum levels accordingly, although not nearly as much as the threat would require if Japan were required to defend itself autonomously.


Even the relatively dovish Koichi Kato once stated, while he was Minister of State for Defense, that, without the alliance with the United States, Japan would likely have to spend more than twice as much annually. That would be equivalent to 2-3% of its gross national product for national defense, rather than limiting defense spending to less than 1%of GNP.



With truly small levels of Self-Defense Forces, Japan alone could not necessarily defeat a massive conventional attack on its territory, and certainly has no capability to deal with a nuclear attack.


The only way Japan’s own defense capability can be considered as the minimum necessary for self-defense is to assume that the US will do whatever is necessary in Japan’s behalf, and that Japan’s self-defense forces will only need to complement American military efforts.


Although Japan is supposed to have the capability to provide for its territorial defense since the Security Treaty of 1960, that capability was lacking then and remains so today.  


Indeed, in the National Defense Program Outline of 1970 (Boei Keikaku no Taiko), it was stated that Japan would deal with a small-scale invasion of its territory by itself, but would rely on the US-Japan security arrangements in case of a major attack.


But it is hard to imagine what country would initiate a small-scale invasion of Japan. If Russia during the Cold War or China today were to militarily challenge Japan, the scale would likely be far more than a small-scale invasion. China is already challenging Japan in the Senkaku Islands. Japan is making strong efforts to deal with this Chinese threat, but even now the threat could be much worse if China’s leaders believed the US would not support Japan if Chinese efforts increased.




JAMES E. AUER is the President and Director of the Auer U.S.-Japan Center [AUSJC] and Emeritus Professor of Vanderbilt University.  The AUSJC hosts Japanese researchers annually at its offices on the Vanderbilt campus, conducts the annual U.S.-Japan (Defense/Dual Use) Technology Forum for American and Japanese businessmen in Nashville and, since 2004, an annual U.S.-Japan Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) Forum in Washington, D.C.

He served in the U.S. Navy from 1963 to 1983 in a number of positions including visiting student at the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Staff College (equivalent of the U.S. Navy War College) in Tokyo and serving as executive and commanding officer of guided missile ships of the U.S. Seventh Fleet. From April 1979 until September 1988, he served as Special Assistant for Japan in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

He holds an A.B. degree from Marquette University and a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. In December 2008 he received the Japanese Government’s “Order of Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon.” 

In December 2015 he was named as the first foreign recipient of the annual “Sound Opinion (Seiron) Grand Prize” by the Fujisankei Communications Group.



This article was first published at Seiron Magazine 4, 2016



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