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Japan Rearmed

The Politics of Military Power

Sheila A. Smith

ISBN 9780674987647

Publication date: 04/08/2019

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Japan’s U.S.

imposed postwar constitution renounced the use of offensive military force, but, as Sheila Smith shows, a nuclear North Korea and an increasingly assertive China have the Japanese rethinking that commitment, and their reliance on United States security.

Japan has one of Asia’s most technologically advanced militaries and yet struggles to use its hard power as an instrument of national policy. The horrors of World War II continue to haunt policymakers in Tokyo, while China and South Korea remain wary of any military ambitions Japan may entertain. Yet a fundamental shift in East Asian geopolitics has forced Japan to rethink the commitment to pacifism it made during the U.S. occupation. It has increasingly flexed its muscles—deploying troops under UN auspices, participating in coercive sanctions, augmenting surveillance capabilities, and raising defense budgets.

Article Nine of Japan’s constitution, drafted by U.S. authorities in 1946, claims that the Japanese people “forever renounce the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe broke this taboo by advocating revision of Article Nine, public outcry was surprisingly muted. The military, once feared as a security liability, now appears to be an indispensable asset, called upon with increasing frequency and given a seat at the policymaking table.

In Japan Rearmed Sheila Smith argues that Japan is not only responding to increasing threats from North Korean missiles and Chinese maritime activities but also reevaluating its dependence on the United States. No longer convinced that they can rely on Americans to defend Japan, Tokyo’s political leaders are now confronting the possibility that they may need to prepare the nation’s military for war.


  • Timely and useful…Japan’s armed forces remain limited in size and in the operations that they can conduct, and have never, since 1945, engaged in combat. Nor has the country seriously debated equipping them with nuclear weapons. Now, however, North Korean and Chinese military initiatives, along with uncertain American attitudes toward the alliance with Japan, threaten to change all this.

    —Michael Mandelbaum, American Interest


  • Sheila A. Smith is John E. Merow Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China. She is chair of the US advisors to the US–Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange and is a frequent media commentator on East Asian affairs.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 1 x 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press