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Japan Table of Contents


Chapter 8. National Security


Family crest consisting of three Chinese-style round fans (uchiwa), once used to direct troops in battle and the symbol of the god of war.

JAPAN IS IN THE UNUSUAL position of being a major world economic and political power, with an aggressive military tradition, resisting the development of strong armed forces. A military proscription is included as Article 9 of the 1947 constitution stating, "The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes." That article, along with the rest of the "Peace Constitution," retains strong government and citizen support and is interpreted as permitting the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), but prohibiting those forces from possessing nuclear weapons or other offensive arms or being deployed outside of Japan.

The SDF are under control of the civilian Defense Agency, subordinate to the prime minister. Although highly trained and fully qualified to perform the limited missions assigned to them, the SDF are small, understaffed, and underequipped for more extensive military operations. Its activities are confined to disaster relief and limited UN peacekeeping efforts.

Japan's national defense policy has been based on maintaining the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with the United States, under which Japan assumed unilateral responsibility for its own internal security and the United States agreed to join in Japan's defense in the event that Japan or its territories were attacked. Although the size and capability of the SDF have always limited their role, until 1976 defense planning focused on developing forces adequate to deal with the conventional capabilities of potential regional adversaries. Beginning in 1976, government policy held that the SDF would be developed only to repel a small-scale, limited invasion and that the nation would depend on the United States to come to its aid in the event of a more serious incursion.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the buildup of military forces in the Soviet Far East, including a group of islands to the north of Hokkaido, which were occupied by the Soviet Union but claimed by Japan, led Japan to develop a program to modernize and improve the SDF in the 1980s, especially in air defense and antisubmarine warfare. In the early 1990s, the government was reevaluating its security policy based on reduced East-West tensions.

The Japanese government valued its close relations with the United States, and it remained dependent on the United States nuclear umbrella. Thus, it worked to facilitate military contacts and to support the United States diplomatically whenever possible. Both the government and the public, however, supported only limited increases in self-defense capability. National security, it is believed, is fostered by international diplomacy and economic aid as much as by military might.

There are few critical issues for Japan's internal security. Conditions of public order compare favorably with those elsewhere in the world. The crime rate is remarkably low, kept that way by well-organized and efficient police forces assisted by general citizen cooperation and support.

Data as of January 1994