Country Listing

Japan Table of Contents


Early Development

Deprived of any military capability after 1945, the nation had only occupation forces and a few domestic police on which to rely for security. Rising Cold War tensions in Europe and Asia, coupled with leftist-inspired strikes and demonstrations in Japan, prompted some conservative leaders to question the unilateral renunciation of all military capability. These sentiments were intensified in 1950 when most occupation troops were transferred to the Korean War (1950-53) theater, leaving Japan virtually helpless to counter internal disruption and subversion, and very much aware of the need to enter into a mutual defense relationship with the United States to guarantee the nation's external security. Encouraged by the occupation authorities, the Japanese government in July 1950 authorized the establishment of the National Police Reserve, consisting of 75,000 men equipped with light infantry weapons.

Under the terms of the Mutual Security Assistance Pact, ratified in 1952 along with the peace treaty Japan had signed with the United States and other countries, United States forces stationed in Japan were to deal with external aggression against Japan while Japanese forces, both ground and maritime, would deal with internal threats and natural disasters. Accordingly, in mid1952 the National Police Reserve was expanded to 110,000 men and named the National Safety Force. The Coastal Safety Force, which had been organized in 1950 as a waterborne counterpart to the National Police Reserve, was transferred with it to the National Safety Agency to constitute an embryonic navy (see Military Relations with the United States , this ch.).

As Japan perceived a growing external threat without adequate forces to counter it, the National Safety Force underwent further development that entailed difficult political problems. The war renunciation clause of the constitution was the basis for strong political objections to any sort of force other than conventional police. In 1954, however, separate land, sea, and air forces for purely defensive purposes were created, subject to the Office of the Prime Minister (see The Cabinet and Ministries , ch. 6).

To avoid the appearance of a revival of militarism, Japan's leaders emphasized constitutional guarantees of civilian control of the government and armed forces and used nonmilitary terms for the organization and functions of the forces. The overall organization was called the Defense Agency rather than the Ministry of Defense. The armed forces were designated the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF), the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF), and the Air SelfDefense Force (ASDF), instead of the army, navy, and air force.

Although possession of nuclear weapons is not forbidden in the constitution, Japan, as the only nation to experience the devastation of atomic attack, early expressed its abhorrence of nuclear arms and determined never to acquire them. The Basic Atomic Energy Law of 1956 limits research, development, and utilization of nuclear power to peaceful uses, and beginning in 1956, national policy has embodied "three non-nuclear principles"--forbidding the nation to possess or manufacture nuclear weapons or to allow them to be introduced into the nation. In 1976 Japan ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (adopted by the United Nations Security Council in 1968) and reiterated its intention never to "develop, use, or allow the transportation of nuclear weapons through its territory."

Data as of January 1994