Japan’s Security Identity: From a Peace State to an International State

Japan's Security Identity

Author(s): Bhubhindar Singh

ISBN:           9780415463362

Publisher:  Routledge

Year:           2013

Price:           £85.00

Reviewed by Akihiro Ogawa, Visiting Professor, Department of Japanese Studies, Stockholm University, Sweden

Bhubhindar Singh’s Japan’s Security Identity: From a Peace-State to an International-State (2013) makes an important contribution to the literature concerning contemporary Japanese security politics. Broadly, the book focuses on the changes that occurred in Japanese security policymaking, and as a result, the role of the Self-Defense Force (SDF) during, and after, the Cold War period.

Japanese security policy has been tightly framed by the country’s official policy of pacifism, as asserted in the Preamble and Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. In the Preamble, the Constitution states that all citizens and all nations of the world have the right to live in peace. Article 9, furthermore, declares that the Japanese people have forever renounced war as a sovereign right of the nation. Accordingly the land, sea, and air forces, as well as any other military potential, will never be maintained. Furthermore, the right of belligerency of the Japanese state will not be recognized.

As a result, from just subsequent to the ending of World War II until the late 1980s, with the rescinding of the Cold War era, Japan’s security policy was minimal. Japan’s security policy was solely based on the Yoshida Doctrine – a perception of Japan as a merchant nation. The doctrine rested on three principles: the prioritization of economic development, the adherence to the Peace Constitution, and a reliance on the United States for security. However with the ending of the Cold War, Japan became increasingly active in international security politics. One of the triggers to Japan’s involvement in international security matters was the country’s experience in the Persian Gulf Crisis, between1990–1991. This was the first major international crisis since the end of the Cold War. Tokyo’s belated and apparently reluctant contribution of $13bn to the Allied war effort was dismissed as passive checkbook diplomacy, for which Japan faced severe criticism from the international community (Catalinac, 2007). After the crisis, when Kuwait thanked a long list of nations for their help, Japan stood out by its omission. This incident created a substantial controversy in Japanese political circles.

From the end of the Cold War, and up until the present, Japan has played a part in numerous new security roles. For example, under the International Peace Cooperation Law, Japan’s SDF performed many humanitarian and disaster relief duties in the 1990s. Following this, in the first decade of the new millennium, Japan proactively participated in the US-led “war-on-terror”. Japan’s SDF was also deployed to Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. In the contemporary world, Japan’s maritime SDF has subsequently joined international efforts in combating the rise of piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

Singh’s book focuses on the ongoing changes and challenges to Japan’s multiple security roles, especially in terms of its expanding security policy, as played out in the military-strategic dimension of the country’s regional and international political life. In order to understand these changes, the author develops an identity-based model with which to view Japanese security policy. The use of an identity-based model to analyze the Japanese context is however nothing new in the literature (see, for example, Oros, 2008). Indeed, the author himself refers to Andrew Oros’ (2008) argument concerning security identity, which can be defined as the collectively held principles that provide the overarching framework for determining a state’s policy, especially in the domain of security affairs. In other words, a country’s security identity is understood as part of a collective identity that itself can be found in the state’s larger national identity (p.41).

Interestingly, instead of relying on the leading realism-inspired explanations of the Japanese security paradigm, the book focuses on the shift in the “role conceptions”, or security-identity perceptions, that determine Japan’s participation in regional and international security affairs. To this end the author argues that this change can be explained by a transformation in Japan’s security identity, from a peace-state security identity held during the Cold War period to an international-state security identity that emerged with the collapse of the Cold War. This new identity promotes a more active security role for Japan. Consequently, the author recognizes this development as the international-state security identity (p.7). In this sense, the book is theoretically linked to a social constructivist understanding of security politics developed, for example, by Katzenstein (1996) and Campbell (1998). Consequently, the book provides an updated account of this theoretical framework in using the contemporary example of Japan’s security profile.

In reviewing the overall structure of the book, Chapter 1 gives the reader a general overview of the argument. Chapter 2 provides a concise literature review of International Relations theory and Japanese politics, and thus serves to situate the book within the literature. Chapter 3 develops the core argument by focusing on the idea of security-identity as a key theoretical foundation to Japan’s security policy. In analyzing these changes in the formulation of Japanese security policy, Chapters 4 to 6 use three normative contexts as examples – the territorial conception of national security, regional and international security, and the security policymaking regime. Chapter 7, finally, offers a summary of this discussion as a conclusion.

In reading the book, I was particularly interested in Chapter 6, which discusses Japan’s institutional culture, extending an original argument made in Chapter 3. Japan’s unique institutional culture is analyzed in the context of three core elements – the agents involved in the security policymaking process, the role of the United States in this process, and the decision-making processes involved in the formulation of security policy. The author argues that the institutional culture found in Japan during the Cold War often showed a lack of desire in characterizing Japanese self-defense, which was in turn supported by the Japanese peace-state security identity. This identity was distinguished by an inevitable reluctance in Japan to carve out an active security role overseas, a high level of pressure from the United States, and a policymaking process dominated by the Yoshida School of politicians. Furthermore, Japanese bureaucracy suffered from immobilism in terms of implementing an activist security policy. However, in the post-Cold War period, and with the emergence of an international-security identity, Japanese institutional culture led to the entrenchment of an internal dynamic that helped re-orientate Japan’s security policymaking regime.

The author points out that this strong internal dynamic was a result of numerous factors. These include, but are not limited to, the increased dominance of revisionist politicians in the policymaking process, greater centralization of decision-making in the area of security policy with its inclusion in the Kantei (Prime Minister’s Office), a spirited Cabinet, and individual politicians. This also occurred because of a concomitant decline in the dominance of bureaucracy, and a greater involvement of the Japan Defense Agency/Ministry of Defense (the Agency was upgraded to a Ministry in 2007) and the SDF in the security policymaking process (p. 154-155).

The book is a revised version of the author’s doctoral dissertation, which was submitted to the University of Sheffield where Professor Glenn Hook built up a rich tradition of Japanese security politics scholarship. The book is well written and informative, and it is worth to read.


Campbell, D. 1998. National Deconstruction: Violence, Identity, and Justice in Bosnia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Catalinac, A. 2007. Identity and Foreign Policy: Comparing Japan’s Response to the 1990 Gulf War with its Response to the 2003 US Invasion of Iraq. Politics and Policy. 35(1): 58-100.

Katzenstein, P, ed. 1996. The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics. New York: Columbia University Press.

Oros, A. 2008. Normalizing Japan: Politics, Identity, and the Evolution of Security Practice. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Suggested citation:  

Akihiro Ogawa (2014). Review of Japan’s security identity: From a peace-state to an international-state, by Bhubhindar Singh, East Asian Integration Studies, Vol.7, no.4, Internet file: https://asianintegration.org/index.php?option=com_joomlib&task=view&id=115&Itemid=75