Military Threats and Japan's Defense Capability

Tomohisa Sakanaka
1980 Asian Survey  
BASED AS IT IS on the Peace Constitution, Japan's defense policy is unique. Article Nine, which has remained unamended since 1946, places clear restrictions on the national military capacity, denounces any act of war, and prohibits Japan from acquiring the ability to wage war. Despite such limits on its military activities, through four defense plans over the last two decades Japan has built up a lightly armed, non-nuclear military force. Backed by the mutual security treaty with the United
more » ... with the United States, this has kept Japan out of international conflicts so far; and an important by-product is a very low military budget, which has been a key factor in Japan's spectacular economic growth. -One of the biggest changes in the postwar era for Japan has been its increasing dependence on international stability as the nation emerged as a global economic power. Other regional developments have also affected Japan. The Korean peninsula, which Japanese perceive as a crucial area in their security, is still divided and the potential for conflict between the two regimes remains high. The future of Taiwan is unpredictable and will have a bearing on Japan as well. Following the withdrawal from Vietnam, U.S. policy under the Carter administration appears to espouse a reduction in American troop strength in Asia. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, has been consistently building its military strength in East Asia in both quantity and qualityenough to merit the Japanese defense minister's observation that it is *of "increasing seriousness" to Japan. Patterns now being established, especially in Asia, but in the rest of the world as well, will seriously affect the security of Japan. This article is a study of the ways in which a politically acceptable military position can be sustained in Japan. It will discuss the external and internal factors that have a bearing on that position and how Ja-763 i 1980 by the Regents of the University of California 0004-4687/80/070763 + 13$OO.50 764 ASIAN SURVEY, Vol. XX, No. 7, July 1980 pan's military capability can adapt to change and still remain within the constraints imposed by Japan's constitutional, political, and social structures. The Strategic Setting Geographically, the four main islands of Japan extend in a long line from north to south, and they are narrow from east to west, lying close to the mainland of Asia. From the northernmost point, Wakkanai in Hokkaido, the distance to Tokyo is 1,088 km.; from Tokyo to Kagoshima, on the southern tip of Kyushu, it is 965 km. But the distance from Tokyo to Sado Island in the Sea of Japan is only 300 km. Thus Japan's geography necessitates a long line of defense from north to south, making defense against lateral penetration difficult. Japan's prewar defense policy was directed at control over China and the Korean peninsula in order to extend the defense perimeter around the homeland. Japan's postwar defense strategy also relies on a protective perimeter, but one secured by the American presence in South Korea and Taiwan rather than on control over its neighbors. A salient fact of life in Japan is overcrowding. In early 1979 more than 110 million people were living on the four main islands, an area slightly smaller than California, making them one of the most densely populated areas of the world. The problem is compounded by unequal distribution. That same year 51.4% of the population were squeezed into the "Tokaido Megalopolis" along the eastern seaboard from Tokyo to Kobe, which accounts for only 18.8%0 of the land area. It would take only relatively modest air strikes to destroy Japan's vital industrial centers, which are concentrated in the same eastern belt. Japan imports enormous quantities of raw materials to make up for an almost total lack of natural resources. In 1977, Japan imported 593 million tons of goods, including 133 million tons of iron ore, 61 million tons of coal, 241 million tons of oil, and over 28 million tons of food.' A possible interruption of the flow of raw materials could be more serious than a military threat and could appreciably weaken Japan's. international position. Acquiring more living space or raw materials would hardly provide justification for an invasion of Japan by another nation. Japan has few boundary or territorial disputes, although the search for ocean resources could provoke new conflicts and intensify others.2 No issue between Japan and the Soviet Union is serious enough to compel the exercise of military power, although their political systems are very different. The relationship between Japan and China is roughly similar. Eco--
doi:10.2307/2643928 fatcat:zqn22gdpzfcklnrfojn4demlay