Japan’s Foreign and Security Policies: Alternatives, Drivers and Implications


(4-6 October 2005)

The purpose of this executive summary is to briefly describe the highlights of the “Japan’s Foreign and Security Policies” conference. This event was unique in being the first sole-sponsorship APCSS conference conducted in the AOR.

The Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) conducted a conference entitled “Japan’s Foreign and Security Policies: Alternatives, Drivers and Implications,” from 4-6 October 2005 at the New Sanno hotel in Tokyo, Japan. Approximately 40 participants attended this conference. Participants included currently serving U.S., Japanese and other country (e.g., ROK, Singapore, Australia) government officials as well as policy analysts and subject matter experts (SMEs) from government research institutions and universities. The major institutions represented by participants included: US Forces Japan, US Department of State, US Embassy Tokyo, Japan’s Foreign Ministry, Japan’s Defense Agency, Japan’s National Institute of Defense Studies, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Seoul National University, Japan Institute of International Affairs, and several prominent universities and research organizations. (See attached agenda and attendee list).

This conference focused on the options Japan has in its foreign and security policies, the factors shaping those options and the choices Japan will have to make, and the implications of Japan’s decisions. The goals of this conference were to:

  • Examine the ongoing debate within Japan about foreign and security policy alternatives available to the country in order to determine what direction will most likely be taken by Japan;
  • Consider the various factors that shape decisions and the direction taken by Japan regarding its foreign and security policies and the relative importance of those factors;
  • Assess the implications of possible alternative directions and factors on the US-Japan alliance and key Asian security issues.

Key Findings


  • China’s rise, growing Sino-Japanese tensions, and the North Korean nuclear and missile threats loom increasingly large in influencing Japanese foreign and security policies. Examples of Japanese actions emanating from this changed threat assessment include a move to deployment of missile defense, southwestward movement of Japan’s ground forces, addition of amphibious capability and restructuring of forces to be lighter and more mobile.
  • Political changes in Japan, such as the electoral decimation of the Communist and Socialist parties as well as changes in the leadership of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan signify the public’s new realism regarding the security environment.
  • There is a growing Japanese consensus, among both the public and political parties, in favor of amending Article 9 of the constitution to allow Japan’s participation in collective defense. The LDP’s landslide victory in September 2005 national elections and the leadership change in the defeated main opposition Democratic Party of Japan could potentially pave the way for bipartisan support for constitutional amendment. Within Japan, however, there is considerable debate about what constitutional revision, particularly of Article 9, will mean to policy decisions.
  • The Japanese policy environment for an expanded foreign and security policy role is mixed. Public opinion, the increasing centralization of decision-making in the Prime Minister’s office and Cabinet, and marginally enhanced inter-ministry coordination bode well for a more coherent, forward-looking Japanese international role. Japan’s massive budget deficit, however, is a key constraint to any substantial changes in the missions, roles, and capabilities of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) as well as Official Development Assistance (ODA).
  • The US is seeking a broader international role for the US-Japan alliance. In this context, the SDF must respond to the emerging challenges of transformation—in other words it must become a normal armed force capable of implementing a revolution in military affairs (RMA). This RMA must respond to five likely threats to Japan: missile attack; terrorist attacks; unconventional operations (guerrilla or commando attacks), invasion of outlying islands, and large scale natural disasters.


  • The tension between Japan’s alliance with the US and its participation in regional multilateralism was raised by several participants. Japan has sought to bridge this tension by emphasizing trans-Pacific multilateralism that includes the US rather than East Asian regionalism that excludes it. Japan’s interest in regional politico-security multilateralism is seen as a supplement to the US alliance, not a substitute for it. Japan’ interest in forms of regional economic multilateralism persists, and has occasioned US criticism. Some participants warned that such US criticism undermines Japan’s efforts, allowing China to fill the vacuum. It would be in US interests to have Japan rather than China shaping regional economic efforts.
  • Japan is comfortable with a US dominated international security order, and does not seek a multipolar order as do other states in the region (e.g., China, Russia). Japan’s focus seems to be on improving its status and role within the alliance rather than searching for an alternative to the alliance. However, simultaneously, Japan is searching for independent policies.


  • The US-Japan alliance remains vital and strong. However, there is little prospect of Japan being “the Britain of the Far East.”
  • Japan is attempting to increase its role within the alliance. However, there remain formidable obstacles to Japan fully participating in “collective defense.”
  • Japan has not yet formulated a strategic approach to the alliance. And in this context it is finding agreement with the US on the Defense Policy Review Initiative (DPRI) to be extremely difficult. If DPRI does not progress it has the potential to limit cooperation on missile defense and sour overall relations.
  • The concerns expressed by some of Japan’s neighbors of a remilitarized and aggressive Japan are without foundation.

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