America and Japan's 'War' Plan: Defend and Deter

There is a clear distinction between war as an instrument of policy and self-defense to protect Japan and its people.

Japan is on its way to strengthening its deterrence through increased military capabilities, along with political reform. Yet its U.S. security relationship needs to be updated for the twenty-first century, especially to address China’s rapid arming and regional ambitions. As Japan reforms its defense policies, it is up to both the United States and Japan to build a Collective Self-Defense strategy with a relatively unobjectionable strategic goal: protecting the interests, territory and the lives of the citizens of our two nations. In order to develop such a strategy, we must address and analyze the development of Japan’s security structure and constitution, emerging threats to security, legislation promoting cooperation, as well as methods for strengthening deterrence.

Japan’s Security Architecture Revolution

The years since 2011 brought major changes in Japan’s security structure. Japan’s new National Security Council (NSC), a new and definitive National Security Strategy, new rules governing export of military articles, a defense-budget increase and robust participation in bilateral exercises Dawn Blitz, Iron Fist, Cope North and other achievements infused our alliance with reinvigorated energy and promised enhanced deterrence. The twin capstones are Japan’s 2014 approval of Collective Self-Defense and the creation of new, epochal Alliance Defense Guidelines in 2015 to realize greater capability and greater deterrence. More work remains to be done to fully implement Collective Self-Defense within our alliance. How the United States and Japan will shape the future depends on understanding the issue and what is needed to practically and effectively execute Collective Self-Defense.

The Issue and the Constitution

It all depends on what “war” means. Collective Self-Defense as an issue emerged from the Japanese constitution’s proscription against “war” as an instrument of national policy. “War as an instrument of policy” grew from the writings of Carl Von Clausewitz in the early nineteenth century. General MacArthur and the members of his staff were certainly cognizant of those writings as Clausewitz’s theories and writings were—and remain—a staple of military education. The good general was convinced that the advent of the atomic weapon made “war” obsolete as an instrument of policy. “War” as an instrument of policy is distinctly different from Self-Defense, but that distinction was lost in the immediate postwar mood. After all, there was nobody left to fight.

The concept of foregoing “war” as an instrument of policy—and its extension to foregoing Collective Self-Defense—was further shaped by the emergence of the Cold War between 1945 and 1950. That time featured such historical figures as Emperor Hirohito, General MacArthur, Prime Minister Yoshida, Josef Stalin and Kim Il Sung. Each had a part to play, some for good, some for evil, in shaping this issue. It is topical again as a result of the Japanese government’s 2014 reversal of a 1972 executive decision foregoing Collective Self-Defense and the new 2015 Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation.

The Japanese Constitution was drafted in 1946 at General MacArthur’s headquarters. It featured rapid staff action and frank exchanges between U.S. and Japanese officials. Indirect but close collaboration between the Supreme Commander and the Emperor helped ensure its acceptance. Perhaps the most critical product of this collaboration was the Emperor’s renunciation of divinity. Thanks to the strengths of Japan’s culture and the coherence of its society, Japan adopted land reform, created labor rights and ended feudalism. This stands in stark contrast to our recent lack of success in helping democracy emerge elsewhere in the world.

The prevailing world view in 1946 shaped all of our activities in Japan. We were barely half a year from the end of the war. The United States was lord of all it surveyed across air, land and sea. The last battle of that war saw the U.S. Navy with over 1,000 ships at the Battle of Okinawa alone. We had sole possession of the atomic weapon. Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech was still a month away. The Soviet blockade of Berlin was two years away.

There was a belief that we had seen the last of war. The dream of outlawing war—“renouncing it as an instrument of national policy” as in the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928—emerged again. The United Nations promised an elimination of critical League of Nations flaws. After the devastation of the second global conflict in forty years, perhaps we could successfully legislate against a recurrence. Confident of the emergence of an enduring peace underneath our possession of the atomic weapon, convinced that war was now so terrible that it could not happen again, and with nobody left to fight, we quickly sent our forces home, rapidly demobilized and imposed disarmament on Japan.

In this atmosphere, the Japanese Constitution came into force in 1947. Prime Minister Yoshida presented it to the last Imperial Diet and declared that Japan would henceforth depend on the United Nations and renounce war even for the purpose of self-defense.

Article 9 of this document stated: