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Security Defense

Japan’s Security Policy Reform: Institutional Changes Facilitating a Larger Role in Regional Security

Courtesy of wackystuff/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by the East-West Center on 2 March 2017.

In light of the recent summit between President Trump and Prime Minister Abe and the latter’s fifth year in office, it is a good time to take stock of the recent changes to Japan’s security policy. While these changes lie within a broader continuum since the 1950s of gradually moving away from the post‐World War II constraints, the recent reforms are notable for two reasons: quantity — much has been enacted, amended, or established; and quality — these changes are systemic.

Over the past five years, Japan has redefined its national security strategy and reshaped its postwar system of pacifism, offering more options to respond to and proactively shape its own security environment. The government has built a justification for adopting collective self‐defense, developed a broad political consensus about the security challenges facing Japan, and implemented a series of executive decisions through the legislature and bureaucracy. These reforms are fundamentally reshaping how Japan communicates, thinks about, and implements national security policy by establishing a new institutional culture. These changes should not be valued so much for what they are now, but for their potential.