After the 3/11 Catastrophe: Whither the Japanese Peace State?

For the past several years, foreign policy circles both inside and outside Japan have been anxious to determine whether Japan should or would develop new strategies to deal with a changing security environment in Asia. The catastrophic impact of the 3/11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster has only heightened the sense of anxiety over Japan’s future direction. At a time of great uncertainty about Japan’s future and the implications for its foreign policy, one might instead look to Japan’s national identity for signs of continuity and consistency.

For decades, Japan’s outlook and external behavior have been shaped by its identity as a “peace state” – a pacifist state associated with the so-called Yoshida Doctrine of cheap riding on U.S.-provided security while concentrating on economic development. That identity runs deep in the Japanese outlook, acting as both a guiding compass and an ideological constraint on state behavior. As the scholar Richard Samuels describes it, an identity is “a platform of ideas about a nation’s place in history and its people’s aspirations for the future.”[1] For Japan, its identity as a peace state means that it is “essentially a reactive or adaptive state” which is not interested in becoming a great military power.[2]

This peace state identity has been consistently evoked in Japanese discourse and followed in practice, even as Japanese defense policy has seen increased debate and contestation in recent years, argued Mike M. Mochizuki at an April 14 Policy Briefing on “Identity and Rising Asian Powers: Implications for Regional Cooperation,” organized by the Sigur Center for Asian Studies. Read more of this post

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