Abstract Japan is on the verge of what would be a dramatic shift in defense posture. The ‘spear and shield’ structure of the US–Japan alliance, at the center of its security policy for most of the postwar era, is being revamped by a move toward autonomous defense. Why would a country confined to a largely passive and Americanocentrist posture for more than half a century suddenly change course? I argue that autonomy is for Japan the only way out of an unprecedented ‘entrapment-abandonment dilemma’: any attempt to prevent defection by the United States in the face of an increasingly assertive China heightens to an unacceptable level the risk of Japan being dragged into a US-led conflict in the Korean Peninsula, and vice versa. Japan’s ability to wield the spear would likely have destabilizing consequences for the whole Asia-Pacific region. Since its defeat during the Second World War, Japan has relied on the overwhelming military power and offensive projection capabilities of the United States. The country has maintained an ‘exclusively defensive defense’ policy that precludes military potential in excess of the minimum necessary for self-defense. This alliance structure, labelled ‘spear and shield’, is changing. Japan recently reorganized its Self-Defense Forces (SDF), resulting in greater jointness between ground, air, and naval branches. Tokyo also approved the creation of an amphibious brigade and is planning for the acquisition of strike capabilities. Altogether, these developments indicate that Japan’s defense posture is on the verge of an unprecedented transformation toward greater autonomy from the United States. A new spear could be emerging in East Asia. The topic is important because Japan’s move toward autonomous defense may have destabilizing consequences for the whole Asia-Pacific region. A more autonomous Japan may jolt the alliance with the United States and generate tensions between the two allies due to the growing US fear of being entrapped in a Sino-Japanese conflict. Japan’s new defense posture may also damage relations with neighboring countries, China in particular. Beijing fears more than anything the revival of Japanese militarism and regards Japan’s growing autonomy as a warning sign. The question is: How could it be that a country confined to the same passive and Americanocentrist defense posture for more than half a century suddenly changes course? In this article, I argue that the explanation lies in a combination of specific regional threats and intra-alliance dynamics. Until recently, Japan used the classic strategy of alliance management to guarantee its security. When the country feared entrapment in US-led conflicts, it put forward the pacifism and antimilitarism of its population to resist embroilment. In periods of doubt about US security commitments, Japan played a more active role within the alliance framework to show the United States its value as an ally. For the first time today Japan faces the simultaneous prospects of entrapment and abandonment: the former in regard to growing tensions in the Korean Peninsula and the latter vis-à-vis an increasingly assertive China. In this context, the past alliance management strategy is counterproductive and even dangerous. Any attempt to prevent abandonment increases the risk of entrapment to an unacceptable level and vice versa. A more autonomous defense posture is the only way out of this ‘entrapment-abandonment dilemma’. By reducing Japan’s dependence on the alliance, greater autonomy reduces the fear and cost of potential abandonment by the United States. It also mitigates the risk of entrapment by strengthening Tokyo’s bargaining power and control on US decision-making process related to a possible Korean contingency. This article proceeds as follows. I first review the academic debate on the evolution of Japan’s security policy and lay down my argument based on the literature on alliances. The second section analyses the evolution of Japan’s defense posture during the Cold War and its most recent developments in light of the argument, and highlights the domestic constraints the country faces in reaching full-fledged autonomous defense. The article concludes by discussing the implications of Japan’s move toward autonomy for the alliance with the United States and regional dynamics. 1 Theoretical basis of Japan’s autonomous defense In this section, I provide an overview of the Japanese security policy since 1945 and discuss how scholars have explained its most recent evolution. I intend to show that the large majority of scholars emphasizes the constraining effect of domestic norms of antimilitarism and pacifism and takes Japan’s reliance on the alliance with the United States as a given. I then build my argument on Tokyo’s move toward autonomous defense, which challenges the insistence on both the alliance and norms, based on the academic literature on alliances. 1.1 Overview of Japan’s security policy since 1945 Having been disarmed by the occupying powers, Japan agreed in the 1951 Mutual Security Treaty to provide the United States with basing rights on its territory in exchange for security guarantees, which were officially granted by Washington at the time of the revision of the treaty in 1960 (Calder, 2009). The establishment of the SDF in 1954, promoted by Washington in view of the evolving geopolitical situation in East Asia, was accompanied by a parliament resolution that banned the dispatch of troops overseas. In 1956, the government decided not to recognize the right of collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of the United States in cases Japan itself was not attacked (Tsuchiyama, 2007). Finally, the 1957 Basic Policy for National Defense confined the SDF to an ‘exclusively defensive defense’ posture that precluded the possession of a military potential in excess of the minimum necessary for self-defense (Samuels, 2007, 65). Thereby was born the asymmetric ‘spear and shield’ alliance structure. The United States used bases in Japan to protect the country and project military power around the globe. Japan provided host nation support to US forces and defended its territory through a static military posture, while being unable to assist the United States abroad. This allowed Tokyo to focus on the pursuit of economic power and of a multi-dimensional and cooperative approach to security while relying largely on the United States for national defense (Singh, 2013). This security arrangement put Japan in a position of strong dependency on the United States and led to international immobilism. Japan became more active after the end of the Cold War by dispatching troops overseas in UN-mandated missions. During the summer of 1991, after the end of the First Gulf War, the country sent minesweepers in the Persian Gulf. The SDF were then dispatched to various locations as parts of UN peacekeeping operations, starting in 1992 with Cambodia (Tsuchiyama, 2007). In the late 1990s, a series of regional crises led Tokyo and Washington to revise the guidelines for the operationalization of their alliance. This allowed Japan to provide rear-area support to US forces, both on the Japanese territory and around Japan but out of combat zones, in the event of regional contingencies with important consequences on Japan’s security (Singh, 2013). The geographical and situational scope of the use of the SDF was expanding. Japan continued to enhance its international role during the 2000s. In response to the 9/11 terror attacks, Tokyo sent warships in the Indian Ocean to provide fuel to the US-led coalition in Afghanistan for the first SDF dispatch related to an active combat situation since the Second World War (Oros and Tatsumi, 2010). Two years later, ground troops were sent to Iraq following the lightning invasion of the country by the United States, the first time since 1945 that Japanese soldiers were deployed in a country at war (Yasutomo, 2014). Major security reforms were undertaken during the first half of the 2010s. The first ever national security strategy released in 2013 posited Japan as a ‘proactive contributor to peace’ destined for greater international involvement (Government of Japan, 2013). In July 2014, the government reinterpreted the constitution to allow for the exercise of the right of collective self-defense, previously understood as going beyond the minimum necessary for self-defense (Government of Japan, 2014). Finally, Japan and the United States revised their alliance’s guidelines in April 2015 and recognized its ‘global nature’ and the need to cooperate ‘from peacetime to contingencies’ (Ministry of Defense, 2015). As such, the guidelines provided the SDF with the ability to cooperate without geographical or time constraint with US forces. 1.2 Academic debate on Japan’s security policy Japan’s security policy since 1945 has puzzled scholars. Its evolution over the last two and a half decades is particularly remarkable when compared to the immobilism of the Cold War era. Recently, the academic debate has revolved primarily around the magnitude and direction of this evolution. There is a near consensus that Japan continues to rely on the alliance with the United States for its security and that the Japanese norms of antimilitarism and pacifism still impede security reforms. Scholars disagree, however, on both the resilience over time of these norms and the way they steer Japan’s policy. A first group of constructivist-oriented scholars argues that Japan’s security policy is deeply embedded in domestic norms of antimilitarism and pacifism (Katzenstein and Okawara, 1993; Katzenstein, 1996; Berger, 1998; Hook and McCormack, 2005; Friman et al., 2006; Oros, 2008). These norms act as powerful normative constraints that inhibit the use of the SDF in foreign policy and feed popular skepticism toward the military institution. In other words, domestic norms mitigate and even neutralize incentives for a more muscular security policy coming from regional threats. Consequently, Japan’s policy since the end of the Cold War remains relatively unchanged and characterized by its reliance on the US–Japan alliance, a minimalist use of the SDF, and an emphasis on economic instruments and international cooperation to guarantee national security (Hook, 2003; Ishizuka, 2008; Takao, 2008; Hagström and Williamson, 2009; Midford, 2011; Yasutomo, 2014). This does not mean that these scholars fail to account for recent developments. They argue that Japan is today more actively embarked on the path to cosmopolitanism and multilateralism. Thomas Berger defines Japan as a ‘liberal adaptive state’ that has adopted a ‘liberal philosophy of international relations’ in which economic and diplomatic contributions to international peace are central (Berger, 2007, 260–261). In the same vein, Daisuke Akimoto labels Japan a ‘global pacifist state’ while Bhubhindar Singh talks about the emergence in Japan of an ‘international-state security identity’ (Akimoto, 2013, 12; Singh, 2013, 3). Another group of realist-minded scholars interprets the evolution of Japan’s security policy as a sign of its reemergence as a ‘normal’ country able and willing to use military power in foreign policy.1 Post-Cold War developments, in particular the decline of US hegemony, the rise of China, and North Korea’s nuclearization, drive Japan to balance harder against potential opponents by transforming its colossal economic power into military might (Menon, 1997; Dupont, 2005; Kliman, 2006; Hughes and Krauss, 2007; Pyle, 2007; Samuels, 2007; Shinoda, 2007; Hornung, 2014). Changes in security policy are nonetheless mitigated by enduring US security guarantees, the superiority of the alliance’s defensive weapons, and the advantageous geostrategic situation of Japan as an island (Heginbotham and Samuels, 1998; Twomey, 2000; Green, 2001). A large majority of these scholars also recognizes the constraining effect of the domestic norms of antimilitarism and pacifism. Though these norms are not as inhibiting and resilient for realists as they are for their constructivist counterparts, they account for the incremental nature of Japanese security reforms. A representative example is Andrew Oros, who argues that Japan’s ‘security renaissance’ during the 2006–16 period was disciplined by the historical legacies of ‘contested memories of the Pacific War and imperial Japan, [and] postwar antimilitarist security practices’ (Oros, 2017, 2–3). Most realists also share with constructivists the view that the alliance with the United States remains central to Japan’s security policy (Funabashi, 1998; Okazaki, 2003; Gronning, 2014; Hughes, 2014; Oros, 2017). One exception is offensive realists. Because Japan is expected to be joining, again, the race for global hegemony, domestic norms are not significant constraining factors and Tokyo is doomed to seek autonomy from Washington (Mearsheimer, 2001). Another exception is Christopher Hughes in his latest work. He labels Japan’s security policy under Prime Minister Shinzō Abe as ‘resentful realism’ and argues that the combination of domestic revisionism, the fear of China’s rise, and a lack of trust in US security commitments ‘may generate impulses towards more independent national military action by Japan, facilitated by new autonomous capabilities’ (Hughes, 2016, 150).2 My conclusion regarding the future shape of Japan’s security policy is relatively similar to offensive realists and Hughes. I reach this conclusion by taking a different path, however. I argue that Japan seeks security, not hegemony, and that Shinzō Abe’s revisionist orientation is not a determining factor in the move toward autonomous defense. Rather, Japan’s new defense posture is explained by the fact that the country faces the simultaneous prospects of entrapment and abandonment by the United States in a context of growing tensions in the East China Sea and the Korean Peninsula. 1.3 Autonomous defense as a response to the ‘entrapment-abandonment dilemma’ Realist scholars view alliances as an instrument that helps countries maximize their security.3 Under anarchy, countries respond to threats or imbalances in power distribution by self-arming or coalescing in order to aggregate power, or both (Waltz, 1979; Altfeld, 1984; Walt, 1987; Conybeare, 1994b; Sorokin, 1994). Alliances are ad hoc responses to specific international developments and the result of a cost/benefit calculus made by rational actors, where benefits relate to increased security and the main cost to a decline in autonomy due to security commitments toward partners (Conybeare, 1994a; Snyder, 1997). Institutionalists have disputed this assertion that alliances fulfill only a capability aggregation function, however. They can also be used to handle intra-alliance conflicts, control allies, and share information on security-related matters (Morrow, 1991; McCalla, 1996; Wallander, 2000; Weitsman, 2004). Most often, the capability aggregation function of alliances cohabits with the governance function (Schroeder, 1976; Wallander and Keohane, 1999; Pressman, 2008). The respective importance for allies of these functions depends chiefly on the level of external threat. An acute threat from a third country reveals the significance of the capability aggregation function, while the absence of external threat leads allies to focus on intra-alliance governance. The primary function of the US–Japan alliance since its inception has mostly been capability aggregation, though the governance function has at times dominated like in the early 1990s when trade frictions preoccupied the two countries more than external threats (Singh, 2013). When the capability aggregation function prevails, the alliance management strategy revolves around the risks of abandonment and entrapment (Mandelbaum, 1981; Cha, 1999). A country fears abandonment when it doubts its ally’s security guarantees in the face of adversity. The absence of a central authority able to enforce the terms of alliances implies that the observance of the agreement depends chiefly on the ally’s interests.4 If its core interests are not at stake in the dispute, the credibility of its security guarantees appears weak. This is even more so when fighting is expected to be costly, the record of the ally’s past behavior contains failures to honor commitments, and the ally and the opponent share common interests. The abandoning ally may abrogate the alliance, fail to fulfill its commitments when the casus foederis occurs, or provide minimal military support or only diplomatic backing (Snyder, 1997; Beckley, 2015). The country that fears abandonment generally tries to show its value as a partner in order to reduce the ally’s incentive to defect (Snyder, 1997). It can concede a renegotiation of the alliance in the ally’s favor, strengthen its general support to the ally, back the latter in specific crises outside the scope of the alliance, or use any other means that help move closer to the ally. The fear of being entrapped comes from the possibility that one would have to fight in support of its ally for the defense of interests it does not share (Snyder, 1997). The country anxious about entrapment values the preservation of the alliance more than it worries about the prospect of conflict, reason why it could be dragged into war for the respect of its security commitments (Benson, 2012). Entrapment anxiety is thus rooted in the loss of autonomy that accompanies the conclusion of alliances. In most cases countries respond to this fear by distancing themselves from their allies in order to keep out of the conflict trap (Snyder, 1997). This can be done by reducing one’s security commitments, enacting domestic regulations on the use of force at variance with alliance obligations, or threatening the ally to withhold support in case of war. Measures taken to prevent abandonment increase the risk of entrapment, and vice versa (Snyder, 1997; Cha, 1999). A country that gets closer to its ally runs a greater risk of being dragged into war. Not only is the country more tightly aligned with the ally, the latter is also more confident of receiving support and may act recklessly. Inversely, a country that takes its distance to avoid entrapment is more likely to be abandoned because its value as an ally declines. To maximize security, allied countries must strike the right balance between anti-abandonment and anti-entrapment policies depending on which risk dominates at a given period.5 When a country faces the concurrent prospects of entrapment and abandonment, however, this classic strategy of alliance management is counterproductive and even dangerous. The notion of simultaneity of risks has escaped scholars’ attention because of their focus on a configuration made of two allies facing a single opponent or a homogenous alliance. In the presence of two or more opponents, anti-abandonment measures taken in the face of what a country perceives as the most hostile opponent endanger its security, because they increase to an unacceptable level the risk of being dragged by the ally into war against another opponent not considered as a priority. Inversely, if measures are taken to preclude entrapment in a conflict of secondary importance, the alliance’s deterrent power against the country’s primary security concern weakens and invites aggression. In other words, a balance between anti-abandonment and anti-entrapment policies cannot be reached. Because it reduces vulnerability to both abandonment and entrapment, greater autonomy in national defense is the only way out of this ‘entrapment-abandonment dilemma’. Greater autonomy is here understood as the replacement, through one’s own means, of certain defense functions previously fulfilled by the ally. If it is assumed that countries seek to maximize their security, a more autonomous defense posture implies some sort of military buildup and may at times require an institutional reorganization of armed forces. Abandonment anxiety is about losing power relative to one’s opponent. If a country is more self-sufficient in terms of defense, abandonment is less of a concern because the relative power decline caused by its ally’s potential defection would be smaller and have fewer consequences on national security.6 A more autonomous country can also better resist entrapment. The failure to honor commitments, or the threat to do so, is less consequential as the main fallout is the weakening or collapse of an alliance now less important for national security. Moreover, greater autonomy makes entrapment less likely by increasing one’s bargaining power toward the ally. Because the country’s dependence on the alliance declines, and the ally’s dependence increases, the former can more easily restrain the latter and keep events under control in times of crisis. Moving toward a more autonomous defense posture does not necessarily mean that the alliance is discarded. Actually, countries often operate on both fronts. As Stephen Walt notes, ‘a state whose security position is threatened will probably attempt to increase its relative power (e.g., by spending more on defense) while simultaneously seeking an alliance with another state’ (Walt, 1987, 9). Military buildup and the move toward autonomy can thus occur alongside the perpetuation of the alliance. This is particularly the case when domestic factors impede the swift transition toward full-fledged autonomy. 2 A new spear in Asia In this section I analyze the evolution of Japan’s security policy since the inception of the US–Japan alliance in light of the argument developed above. I first show that the country used the classic strategy of alliance management throughout the Cold War and that security initiatives in the 1990s and 2000s were not significant departures from this strategy. I then discuss the latest developments and Japan’s move toward autonomous defense. 2.1 Classic strategy of alliance management during the Cold War The risks of entrapment and abandonment were institutionalized in 1960 by the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. Article 5 enshrined US security commitments and Article 6 set forth the maintenance of peace in East Asia through the use of US military assets in Japan as a goal of the alliance (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1960). Over the next 50 years, Tokyo alternated between the fear of being entrapped in US-led conflicts under Article 6 and concerns that the United States could fail to fulfill its Article 5 obligations. It does not mean that one type of fear, entrapment or abandonment, was totally absent when the other was high, but rather that tackling the dominant fear did not increase the other to an unacceptable level. The classic strategy of alliance management worked well during this period to protect Japan against the Soviet and Chinese threats. The Cold War can be divided into two: the entrapment anxiety dominated until the early 1970s, when it was replaced by the fear of being abandoned (Midford, 2011). Early Cold War tensions increased the value of Japan as an ally. In addition to being the bulwark of democracy against the spread of communism in Asia, the United States needed the bases located on its territory to project military power into the region. The risk of abandonment was low for Japan (Shinoda, 2011). On the other hand, the prospect of being dragged into war grew during the 1960s due to deepening US involvement in Vietnam. The ports of Yokosuka and Sasebo developed into key US military logistics hubs and Tokyo became anxious about US demands for greater engagement. Japanese leaders put forward legislative brakes to resist entrapment in a conflict where no national interest was at stake. They based their plea chiefly on Article 9 of the US-imposed Japanese constitution of 1947 that precluded the use of armed forces to settle international disputes (Akimoto, 2013). Prime Minister Eisaku Satō also enacted a series of new brakes. He proclaimed in 1967 a ban on arms export to certain countries including, in an obvious reference to the United States, those involved in international conflicts. A few months later the three principles of non-possession, non-production, and non-introduction of nuclear weapons were unveiled to ensure that Japan would not become the Asian launch pad of US strategic forces (Oros, 2008). Lastly, the Diet adopted in 1969 a resolution to prevent Japan from being involved in US-led military activities in outer space. The fear of abandonment then replaced the fear of entrapment. The transition truly began in July 1971 when were revealed the completed secret visit to China of National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and the forthcoming visit of President Richard Nixon (Calder, 2009). This diplomatic breakthrough, made without prior consultation with Japan, ignited concern that the United States could neglect its traditional ally. The fear was particularly acute because the Sino-US rapprochement came only two years after Richard Nixon proclaimed the Guam Doctrine, by which he meant that US allies should provide for their own defense (Christensen, 2011). The subsequent 1973 Paris peace agreement that led to US withdrawal from Vietnam further alarmed Tokyo about the prospect of being abandoned amidst a rapidly evolving regional environment (Tsuchiyama, 2007). Japan tackled this abandonment anxiety by proactively supporting the United States in countering the growing Soviet naval power in Asia. The first ever guidelines for the operationalization of the US–Japan alliance, issued in 1978, opened the door to expanded Japanese responsibilities in East Asia (Ministry of Defense, 1978). In 1981, Prime Minister Zenkō Suzuki pledged to assign the SDF new missions complementary to US forces’. The SDF would be responsible for controlling Japanese chokepoint straits to prevent the Soviet Navy from entering the Western Pacific and for protecting sea lines of communication up to 1,000 nautical miles from Japanese coasts (Michishita et al., 2016). Yasuhiro Nakasone, premier between 1982 and 1987, aimed at transforming Japan into an ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’ for the United States by boosting SDF capabilities (Akimoto, 2013, 74). By the end of the decade, the SDF were endowed with cutting-edge anti-submarine warfare capabilities and a navy larger than Britain’s Royal Navy. 2.2 Classic strategy of alliance management in the post-Cold War era The fear of abandonment continued to dominate in Tokyo after the Cold War. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the primary rationale for US military commitments in Asia disappeared and Japanese leaders feared the country could turn isolationist (Mochizuki, 2007). Japan also proved an unreliable ally because of restrictive legislations on the use of the SDF. The country did not put boots on the ground during the First Gulf War, and Washington realized during the North Korean nuclear crisis of 1993–94 that Japan could not do more than to provide bases for US forces in case of regional contingency (Shinoda, 2011). Tokyo again reacted by moving closer to its ally. In 1996, Prime Minister Ryūtarō Hashimoto and President Bill Clinton issued a joint communiqué in which Japan pledged rear-area support to the United States and agreed to expand the geographical scope of the alliance to the ‘Asia-Pacific region’ (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1996). The alliance guidelines released one year later replaced the term ‘Asia-Pacific region’ by the ambiguous ‘situations in areas surrounding Japan’ because of China’s opposition amidst tensions in the Taiwan Strait (Ministry of Defense, 1997). It remains that the guidelines were the first policy document that mandated the SDF to play an active role in regional contingencies (Midford, 2011). International developments in the early 2000s pushed Japan’s abandonment anxiety to new heights. The global review of US military posture initiated by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in November 2001 highlighted the vulnerability of troops forward-deployed in East Asia in the face of growing North Korean and Chinese missile capabilities. Japanese leaders feared this could lead to a large reduction of US forces in Japan and a weakening of US commitments (Sato, 2013). In the meantime, the United States had responded to the 9/11 terror attacks with military interventions in Afghanistan, and then in Iraq where a ‘coalition of the willing’ was formed. Tokyo viewed with a jaundiced eye this model of informal and flexible coalition that could eventually replace formal frameworks like the US–Japan alliance (Samuels, 2007). Japan could not stay on the sideline of the War on Terror and had to show its value as an ally. From late 2001 to 2010, Japanese warships were sent to the Indian Ocean for a refueling mission in support of the US-led coalition fighting in Afghanistan (Singh, 2013). Tokyo also dispatched ground troops to Iraq from 2004 to 2006 (Yasutomo, 2014). More important, Japan and the United States embarked on a comprehensive review of the alliance structure that led to the release of the Roadmap for Realignment Implementation in May 2006. The document triggered the deepest integration process ever between the armed forces of the two countries, effectively transforming Japan into ‘a frontline American command post’ (Calder, 2009, 148). Japan stuck to the classic strategy of alliance management and its post-Cold War security policy remained fundamentally Americanocentrist. The country became more active internationally and made greater use of the SDF abroad in order to show its value as an ally and prevent abandonment by the United States. This proved to be effective in tackling the two biggest threats to national security after the collapse of the Soviet Union, namely China and North Korea. China was primarily a long-term geopolitical threat. The country gradually eclipsed Japan economically and became the world’s second largest economy in 2010. China also overtook Japan in terms of defense budget in 2004 and spends today at least three times more than its neighbor on security (Oros, 2017). This rapidly growing defense budget translated into an expanded power projection capability that threatened the Japanese mainland as well as vital sea lanes through the South China Sea (Bush, 2010). The worry was the eventual finlandization of Japan, China reaching a level of influence that would deprive Tokyo from its independence in foreign policy. Japan could not weigh against China alone. Tokyo worked to maintain a close relationship with the United States in order to offset Chinese regional influence and prevent a Sino-US rapprochement at its expense. The North Korean threat rose to prominence in 1993 with the test of the first ballistic missile capable of reaching Japan and continued to grow over the next two decades with countless missile and ultimately nuclear tests. Again, Tokyo could not face this threat alone. The United States helped Japan build its missile defense system, made of sea- and ground-based interceptors, through a joint development program started in 1998 (Samuels, 2007). Because of its ‘exclusively defensive defense’ posture and anti-nuclear stance, Japan also needed the backing of US strike and nuclear capabilities to strengthen deterrence with the ability to punish Pyongyang (Kaneda et al., 2007). Lastly, Japan had to cooperate with the United States, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, to pressure North Korea with international sanctions (Akutsu, 2015). 2.3 The move toward autonomous defense Japan is today on the verge of what would be a rupture as its defense posture is moving toward greater autonomy from the United States. Like other norms relevant to Japan’s security policy, antimilitarism and pacifism notably, autonomy takes its roots in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Prime ministers Hitoshi Ashida, Ichirō Hatoyama, and Nobusuke Kishi, among others, viewed Japan’s dependence on the United States as a disgrace and pleaded for rearmament and more autonomy (Singh, 2013). Until recently, however, the international context was not favorable to the materialization of that standpoint. The evolutions of the Chinese and North Korean threats have changed this state of affairs. The primarily geopolitical and long-term Chinese menace has become a concrete threat to territorial integrity. Though Japan and China have had competing claims over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku/Diaoyu islands since the 1970s, the conflict intensified only recently and raised bilateral tensions to their highest level in seven decades (Oros, 2017). The collision in September 2010 between a Chinese trawler and two Japanese coast guard vessels triggered a major diplomatic crisis during which the weak-kneed behavior of the Japanese government was criticized domestically (Smith, 2014). Tokyo hardened its stance and in September 2012 nationalized three islets of the disputed islands group. Beijing has since then stepped up anti-Japanese rhetoric, established an air defense identification zone over the Senkaku/Diaoyu in November 2013, and regularly sends vessels and aircraft around the islands (Fatton, 2013). The US–Japan alliance remains important to deter China from resorting to force. The alliance’s deterrent power is weakening, however, despite the US rebalance to Asia policy announced under the presidency of Barack Obama and apparently embraced by President Donald Trump. Deterrence is about the capability and resolve to make good on threatened reprisals in case the opponent crosses the red line. And from Tokyo’s perspective, both US capability and resolve are diminishing. It is unclear whether the United States has the financial ability to rebalance to Asia. This was illustrated by the 2013 government shutdown, which symbolically forced Barack Obama to cancel a visit to Southeast Asia (Kotani, 2015). US capacity to protect Japan is also being jeopardized. US military assets in East Asia are increasingly vulnerable to Chinese missiles and aircraft. This leads Washington to disperse its forces across Asia and reduce concentration in the northeast, as exemplified by the planned relocation of thousands of US Marines from Okinawa to Guam and Hawaii (Kotani, 2015). The evolution of military technology toward greater mobility and longer-range strike capabilities theoretically allows the United States to protect Japan from outside East Asia. The anti-access/area-denial strategy developed by Beijing endangers this ability, however (Hughes, 2014). To defend Japan against China is becoming prohibitively costly for the United States. Tokyo also doubts US resolve to meddle militarily in a conflict over the Senkaku/Diaoyu. The tiny and uninhabited islands hold no strategic or emotional significance to the United States (Resnick, 2014). Moreover, China is expected to resort to a ‘gray zone’ strategy using paramilitaries to invade the islands while remaining below the war threshold, and Japanese leaders did not fail to notice US passivity toward a similar invasion by Russia of southeastern Ukraine in 2014 (Oros, 2017). Lastly, Washington’s communication on the Senkaku/Diaoyu issue is ambiguous. Barack Obama became in April 2014 the first US president to state that the islands were covered by Article 5 of the alliance, but hastened to add that he was not drawing a red line and that he wanted a peaceful solution and the maintenance of good relations with Beijing (Hughes, 2015). After all, China is the United States’ biggest trading partner. Tokyo’s fear of being abandoned by the United States has reached an unprecedented level with the escalation of the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute. This has again led Japan to enact security reforms that enhance its value as an ally. Unlike in the past, however, these reforms have increased to an unacceptable level the risk that the country would be dragged into a war on the Korean Peninsula, where tensions between Washington and Pyongyang have skyrocketed since Donald Trump assumed presidency in January 2017. Japan’s hardline diplomatic stance toward North Korea does not contradict the fact that entrapment anxiety dominates in Tokyo. It rather reflects Japanese leaders’ distrust in a non-coercive approach to the North Korean headache and their belief that the situation could spiral out of control if Pyongyang is not constrained by sanctions and a strong deterrent posture. The ban on defending the United States if Japan is not itself attacked has helped Tokyo resist potential entrapment in a Korean conflict despite the presence on its territory of US troops and of the United Nations Command-Rear, which would be activated in case of contingency (Sakata, 2011). Japan’s capacity to resist entrapment is almost nil today. The July 2014 constitutional reinterpretation allows for the exercise of the right of collective self-defense under certain conditions, including the need for Tokyo to have a ‘close relationship’ with the country attacked and for Japan’s ‘survival’ to be endangered (Government of Japan, 2014). These conditions cannot be but fulfilled if war breaks out on the peninsula. Tokyo’s refusal to grant substantive military support to the United States would be purely political and significantly weaken if not ruin the alliance, an absurd perspective given the tense situation in the East China Sea. Japan’s security reforms go beyond enhanced wartime cooperation with the United States. The bills adopted by the Diet in September 2015 and enforced in March 2016 allow the SDF to back and protect US forces when the latter engage in peacetime activities beneficial to the defense of Japan. SDF vessels have refueled US ships involved in monitoring missions related to North Korean missile launches since May 2017, and that month a Japanese warship escorted a US supply boat for the first time (Doi, 2017). In September, the SDF practiced deploying anti-ballistic missile systems to protect US bases in Japan (Fujita, 2017). These new military roles heighten considerably the risk of entrapment amid mounting tensions in the Korean Peninsula. Under the new legislation, not only may Japan be required to intercept a missile aiming at US homeland or US bases in Japan or the Pacific, the decision to respond to an attack on US forces is also, under certain circumstances, at the discretion of SDF field commanders (Ueki, 2015). The classic strategy of alliance management has reached its limit and puts Japan in an increasingly unbearable ‘entrapment-abandonment dilemma’. Though, because of the domestic constraints discussed below, the country cannot be expected to quit the alliance with the United States in the foreseeable future, it is moving toward greater autonomy on both the Chinese and North Korean fronts to ease abandonment and entrapment anxieties. Tokyo reacted quickly on the Chinese front. The late 2010 National Defense Program Guidelines introduced the concept of ‘gray zone’ incident, shifted the SDF posture to southwest islands, and called for a flexible and mobile ‘dynamic defense force’ (Ministry of Defense, 2010). The revised guidelines released in December 2013 went further in advocating for jointness between the three services of the SDF through the establishment of a ‘dynamic joint defense force’ (Ministry of Defense, 2013). In regard to the Senkaku/Diaoyu, this increasing jointness translated into the development of amphibious warfare capabilities. The 2013 defense guidelines provided for the creation by early 2018 of an ‘amphibious rapid deployment brigade’ expected to be a first step toward larger forces (Kotani, 2015). Though the development of amphibious capabilities is still in its early stages, it reflects Japan’s growing autonomy as the country has so far depended on US Marines for the protection and recovery of remote islands. Tokyo reduces the fear and cost of possible abandonment by the United States in the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute by becoming more self-sufficient in terms of defense. The increasing jointness between the three branches of the SDF can be viewed as the extrapolation of this dynamics at the national level. On the North Korean front Japanese leaders are planning for the acquisition of strike capabilities, which are today provided by the United States under the ‘spear and shield’ alliance structure. Their likely procurement would signal a drastic change in Japan’s defense posture. Not only would Japan more decisively embark on the path to independence from the United States, the traditional ‘exclusively defensive defense’ policy would also be severely undermined (Kaneda et al., 2007). The debate on strike capabilities is not new and dates back to discussions in the 1950s on what kind of assets the newly established SDF should be endowed with (Oros, 2017). The question surfaced at regular intervals during the 1990s and 2000s in response to North Korean provocations, notably the 1998 launch of a long-range ballistic missile over Japan, the 2002–03 nuclear crisis, and the first and second nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. Until recently, however, serious discussions focused on whether Tokyo could legally ask the United States to preemptively strike North Korean missile bases in case of imminent threat. Deliberations about the acquisition and use of strike capabilities by Japan itself remained vague and mostly centered around a possible ‘right of preemptive self-defense’ and other legal issues (Samuels, 2007; Bush, 2010). The debate has become more concrete in recent months. In March 2017, the security panel of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party handed to Prime Minister Shinzō Abe a report that called for ‘immediately’ considering the purchase of capabilities to strike back if Japan is attacked (Aibara, 2017). The newly appointed Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, who had been the head of the panel that released the March report, said in August he had been instructed by Shinzō Abe to reexamine the 2013 defense guidelines, a necessary step toward the acquisition of strike capabilities because of the far-reaching consequences on Japan’s defense posture (Japan Times, 2017). Lastly, in December, the government secured 2.16 billion yen for the purchase of long-range cruise missiles to be mounted on F-35 stealth fighters (Tanaka, 2017). The possession of strike capabilities would mitigate the risk of entrapment in a Korean conflict by increasing Tokyo’s bargaining power and control over US military initiatives. The power imbalance between the two allies implies Japan’s heavy reliance on the United States and ultimately US operational command (Midford, 2011). With the ability to intervene on the peninsula, Japan could better restrain potentially destabilizing US military moves by having closer scrutiny of operational matters related to the Korean issue. A report issued in August 2010 by a government-mandated research council claimed that greater engagement in joint operations with the United States would lead to ‘expanding the scope of information-sharing between Japan and the US and deepening Japan’s involvement in the decision-making process on individual operations’ (Council on Security and Defense, 2010, 37). By acquiring strike capabilities, Japan would also address the possibility of abandonment by the United States. Because Pyongyang is getting closer to being able to threaten US homeland with nuclear weapons, as exemplified by successful nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests during the summer and fall 2017, the Gaullist concern that the United States may hesitate to put Los Angeles at risk to protect Tokyo is growing among Japanese leaders (Oros, 2017). Strike capabilities would allow Japan to better resist North Korean nuclear and missile blackmail by providing the capacity to punish Pyongyang, and thus more control on crisis escalation. Chiefly because of its more abstract nature, abandonment anxiety vis-à-vis North Korea is much weaker than the above-mentioned fear of entrapment. Nonetheless, though the ‘entrapment-abandonment dilemma’ faced by Japan is primarily rooted in a regional environment characterized by evolving Chinese and North Korean threats, it is to some extent also present at the sub-regional level in the Korean Peninsula. Finally, strike capabilities would reduce abandonment anxiety vis-à-vis China. Like amphibious assets, they would help Japan establish a more self-sufficient defense posture around the Senkaku/Diaoyu. Cruise missiles would allow Tokyo to formulate an autonomous anti-access/area-denial strategy aimed at deterring China from challenging Japan’s administration of the disputed islands by force. Though North Korea is the main rationale behind the purchase of cruise missiles, the Chinese factor also enters into the equation. 2.4 Domestic constraints on autonomous defense With increasing jointness between the three SDF services, the development of amphibious warfare capabilities, and the planned acquisition of strike capabilities, Japan’s defense posture is moving toward greater autonomy from the United States. Though the Japanese public is increasingly willing to recognize a powerful and independent SDF, demographic, economic, and political realities impede this development (Midford, 2011). Consequently, the transformation in the decades to come of Japan into a great power endowed with the full array of military assets, possibly including nuclear weapons, is unlikely. Japan’s falling population and low birthrate reduce manpower availability and will make increasingly challenging for the SDF to recruit despite a multiplication of marketing initiatives (Michishita et al., 2016). This demographic trend, combined with a super-aged society, also raises fiscal pressure on an already highly indebted country afflicted by anemic economic growth (Oros, 2017). In this context, the Japanese government will face difficulties justifying a surge in defense budget at the expense of social welfare spending and other public services. The informal ceiling that has capped defense budget at one percent of GDP since the mid-1970s will add to these difficulties as breaching it noticeably could feed domestic political opposition. This opposition is today almost inexistent. The rival Democratic Party weakened markedly after its poor performance in power in 2009–12, to finally implode in September 2017. In the meantime, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe brought back a political stability long-awaited by the Japanese population and strengthened his leadership (Osaki, 2017). This political dynamics is one factor behind the acceleration of security reforms in recent years. The unchallenged domination of the Liberal Democratic Party cannot be taken for granted, however. The opposition could grow again into a serious obstacle to a more autonomous defense posture, especially when it comes to sensitive issues like the acquisition of nuclear weapons. These domestic constraints will prevent Japan from reaching full-fledged autonomy for the foreseeable future, and the US–Japan alliance can thus be expected to remain an important pillar of Japan’s security policy. The gradual shift toward autonomous defense is nonetheless undeniable, and unprecedented. 3 Implications The tendency toward autonomy will endure, and this regardless of whom is in charge in Tokyo, because the nature of the Chinese and North Korean threats at the core of the ‘entrapment-abandonment dilemma’ is unlikely to change for years to come. The revisionism of Prime Minister Shinzō Abe is not a determining factor. The bulk of the security reforms he enacted originated during the 2010–12 period under the rule of the rival Democratic Party (Oros, 2017). Japan’s security policy is on the verge of what would be its first rupture since 1945. In the wake of the recovery through the right of collective self-defense of the ability to enter alliances with countries other than the United States, a more independent posture and the capacity to strike enemies’ territory is bringing Japan closer to ‘normality’ (Katahara, 2013). And this may have substantial consequences for the US–Japan alliance and regional dynamics. The alliance could be jolted by the United States’ growing entrapment anxiety. Washington has been relatively insulated from the ‘deter versus restrain dilemma’, or the fact that US security guarantees that strengthen the alliance’s deterrent power may embolden Japan to aggressive actions against neighbors by reassuring Tokyo about US backing (Snyder, 1997, 196). Heavy reliance on the United States for security and offensive operations has prevented Japan from taking such actions. The country’s move toward a more independent and offensive defense posture will exacerbate the ‘deter versus restrain dilemma’ for Washington. In line with the classic strategy of alliance management, the United States could be tempted to distance itself from Japan to mitigate the risk of entrapment. This in turn would heighten Tokyo’s fear of abandonment in regard to China and reinforce the ‘entrapment-abandonment dilemma’ vis-à-vis the Korean Peninsula, thus accelerating the Japanese shift to autonomy. A vicious circle would ensue, pulling the two allies apart and triggering an existential crisis for the alliance.7 The evolutions of Japan’s defense posture could have destabilizing consequences for the Asia-Pacific region as well. The high level of distrust, if not hostility, between China and Japan since the end of the Second World War has portended spiraling tensions caused by action–reaction dynamics between competitive defensive measures (Samuels, 2007). The US–Japan alliance has mitigated this security dilemma by guaranteeing Japan’s survival and acting as a ‘bottle cap’ on the resurgence of Japanese militarism (Christensen, 2011, 236). A militarily more autonomous and powerful Japan would alarm China. The ‘egg shell’ perception, which has gained momentum in Beijing since the mid-1990s and posits that the alliance is an incubator of Japanese rearmament, would strengthen (Christensen, 2011, 236). Not only would Sino-Japanese relations deteriorate due to the prospect of Japan’s revival as a great power, US–China relations would also be undermined by Beijing’s recognition of the alliance as a destabilizing factor. The United States and China, the world’s two largest economic and military powers, are widely regarded as holding the faith of the Asia-Pacific region. Japan is often dropped out of the equation despite its disruptive potential. A more autonomous Japan does not only raise the prospect of a military clash with China in the East China Sea, it also increases the likelihood of a Sino-American war. The US–Japan alliance could become the thread between an emotionally-charged territorial dispute and what would be a cataclysmic great power conflict (Miller, 2015). Deng Xiaoping said in the late 1970s that half of heaven would fall if Japan and China were to fight each other. Today, the whole heaven would collapse if the United States were embroiled. Footnotes 1 Such an evolution had been expected for decades by realists, leading some scholars to depict Japan during the Cold War as an abnormal country (Kahn, 1970; Waltz, 1981 and 1993; Layne, 1993; Betts, 1993–94). 2 In his book published in 2007, Richard Samuels similarly anticipated that once the debate on security policy going on at that time had concluded, Japan ‘will have ceased pretending to ignore the realist dictum of “self-help” and will have used the alliance to enhance its own autonomy’ (Samuels, 2007, 8). 3 I use the definition of Glenn Snyder, who describes alliances as a ‘formal association of states for the use (or nonuse) of military force, in specified circumstances, against states outside their own membership’ (Snyder, 1997, 4). 4 Reputational costs of noncompliance, though less consequential, may also influence the ally’s behavior (Snyder, 1997). 5 The expected reaction of the opponent to these intra-alliance dynamics is another factor of allies’ behavior (Snyder, 1984). 6 This explains why the weaker a country is compared to its ally, the more alarmed by the prospect of being abandoned (Gelpi, 1999). 7 The negative consequences of this vicious circle for the alliance would not be compensated by the addition of Japan’s new military assets, amphibious warfare and strike capabilities in particular, because they duplicates rather than complement US capabilities. 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International Relations of the Asia-Pacific – Oxford University Press
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