Joining Forces Against Terrorism: Japan's New Law Commits More ThanWords to U.S. Effort

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Joining Forces Against Terrorism: Japan's New Law Commits More ThanWords to U.S. Effort

November 5, 2001 10 min read
Larry Wortzel
Larry Wortzel
Adjunct Research Professor at the U.S. Army War College

Dr. Larry M. Wortzel no longer works for the Heritage Foundation.

Japan gave its ally, the United States, a strong show of support in the war on terrorism by passing a significant Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law on October 29. This new law will enable Japan to "contribute actively and on its own initiative to the efforts of the international community for the prevention and eradication of terrorism."1 By moving beyond the country's prior policy of non-involvement, the law will allow Japan's self-defense forces (SDF) to support the efforts of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The SDF would be able to use their weapons not only to protect themselves, but also to protect "others who are on the scene and have come under their (SDF) control while conducting their duties."2

For example, under this new law, Japan's ships, even Aegis destroyers, could be deployed to the Persian Gulf to become part of the U.S. air defense umbrella, ready to use their missiles to defend U.S. forces should they come under attack.3 This move, welcomed by the United States, also has been welcomed by Australia and Singapore, both of which offered the use of their naval facilities to Japanese ships in transit to the front.

In framing the significance of anti-terrorism legislation, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi emphasized that Japan should begin to take a "proactive" stance in trying to eradicate terrorism. For Japan, this new approach means the Diet must amend the laws governing the self-defense forces and the Maritime Safety Agency.4 For Asia and the rest of the world, it means that Japan, while maintaining its "peace constitution," would take a significant step toward becoming a more active international power that will contribute to other defense actions or international efforts under U.N. mandates. For the United States, it means that Japan continues to uphold their long-standing alliance as especially important in maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and around the world.

The Bush Administration should welcome this assistance from a strong ally. There will be some concerns around Asia that Japan may be abandoning its "peace constitution." Therefore, the Administration should support Japan through active diplomacy around the Asia-Pacific region and through its own "proactive" public diplomacy program. Finally, when Japan's self-defense forces do deploy, they should be fully integrated into the defense architecture in regions where the war on terrorism is being waged.

Japan's New Role in Preserving Peace
Japan's defense activities are severely circumscribed by Article 9 of its Constitution, which states that "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." It also asserts that "land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential" to accomplish such aims "will never be maintained."5 As Heritage analyst Balbina Hwang has observed, "while Japan's Constitution does not explicitly prohibit collective self-defense actions, Japan's non-involvement in such activities has been the accepted interpretation of Article 9 since its adoption in 1947."6

Former Ambassador Hisahiko Okazaki, now head of the prestigious Tokyo think tank, the Okazaki Institute, has observed that "Japan has the right of collective self-defense, but it is a right that Japan will not exercise" because of public opposition.7 The practical effect of this restrictive interpretation of Article 9 has been to limit logistical support from Japan in peacekeeping operations and in maneuvers with the United States that involve joint exercises.

Describing the operative effects of that interpretation of Article 9 in a speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington last July, Okazaki noted that if a U.S. warship conducting exercises in the Sea of Japan were attacked by enemy fire, the Japanese self-defense forces would be prohibited from coming to its aid. Yet, if a Japanese ship involved in the exercises were attacked by enemy fire, the United States would be obligated under its bilateral treaty alliance to assist Japan.

The Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law passed by the Diet is consistent with Article 9 of the Constitution because, while it permits logistical and other support, it does not permit Japanese forces to participate in direct offensive combat. Implicit in the new law is the assumption that Japanese ships could engage in defensive actions with the U.S. Navy in the event of attack. By passing the anti-terrorism law, permitting Japan's self-defense forces to deploy to the Persian Gulf, the Diet has greatly aided Prime Minister Koizumi's effort to develop a new consensus in Japan on collective self-defense.

Since he became Prime Minister on April 26, Koizumi has sought such a consensus that would permit at least an early reinterpretation of Article 9 to facilitate stronger alliance cooperation with the United States. His long-term goal is to make Japan a more "normal" power with a stronger defensive capability, and he has been encouraged to do this by many foreign policy experts in the Bush Administration and around the United States.8 Until the terrorist attacks on September 11, Koizumi and his allies used the need for ballistic missile defense cooperation to advance this effort.9 The attacks on the United States propelled the political consensus in Japan that he sought. A survey by the respected Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun found that 83 percent of respondents support or accept the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign,10 which is widely viewed as a defensive action.

A Critical Reinterpretation of Japan's Constitution
Japan's right to collective self-defense is not explicitly denied by its Constitution. Rather it is denied by a 1960 government interpretation of Article 9,11 the result of heightened expectations of a Soviet invasion of the island of Hokkaido. But this restrictive interpretation has burned itself into the public consciousness to the point that it has carried the strength of dogma. Indeed, it is one of the reasons political limitations were imposed on the breadth of cooperation between the United States and Japan on ballistic missile defense.

Reluctance in Japan to establish a robust defense establishment dates back to 1954, when the National Police Reserves and National Security Force were renamed the Self-Defense Forces.12 The Japanese Defense Agency was also created at that time, with ground, maritime, and air self-defense components. The major factor reorienting Japan's defense policy, to the alarm of many East Asian nations who recalled Japan's wartime history, was a communiqué issued by President Ronald Reagan and Japanese Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki on May 8, 1981. It acknowledged that "both countries desire a greater sharing of defense roles and thus, Japan should increase its defense capabilities...."13 From a practical standpoint, this meant that Japan would defend Japanese territory and the seas and skies surrounding Japan up to a distance of 1,000 nautical miles, something that the United States had promoted for some time.14

Since then, the political climate in Japan limited further expansion of this defense role, including the participation of the SDF in U.N. peacekeeping operations. In the Gulf War, Japan contributed $13 billion and six minesweepers, but no real military support. Despite pressure from a small number of conservative Diet members for a reinterpretation of Article 9, there has been little movement to do so until now. The release of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1368 after the September attacks on America, which calls on countries worldwide to "redouble their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts including by increased cooperation,"15 provided Koizumi and the Diet the legislative opportunity to reinterpret the Constitution so as to be able to dispatch forces in support of the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism.

A U.S. Response to Japan's New Law
The Bush Administration should publicly acknowledge this show of support from Japan. Specifically, it should:

  • Encourage Japan to continue pursuing a posture of collective self-defense . Washington can do this by ensuring that the SDF ships and personnel Japan deploys to participate in the war on terrorism are fully integrated into U.S. defensive formations.

  • Using public diplomacy, make clear that the United States welcomes Japan's efforts to be a more "normal" world power, which would help strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance. Public diplomacy programs should also emphasize that this is not a move toward militarism on the part of Japan.

  • Work to strengthen other forms of U.S.-Japan defense cooperation , such as sea-based ballistic missile defense research. This is a major interest of Japan because of the growing threat of missile attack posed by North Korea's aggressive ballistic missile program.

The passage of the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law by Japan's Diet is a strong show of support for the United States in conducting a global war on terrorism. It also signals Asia and the world that the U.S.-Japan alliance remains strong. The United States should publicly acknowledge this step by pointing out the contributions Japan can make to peace and security not only in the Asia-Pacific region, but also around the world, by providing defensive support for its ally.

Dr. Larry M. Wortzel is Director of the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.

1. Press Statement, Embassy of Japan, "Diet of Japan Passed the Anti-Terrorism Law," Washington, D.C., October 29, 2001.

2. "The Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Bill (Tentative English Summary),"available at . Note: The language "come under SDF control" is interpreted to mean that, when allied forces are in operations or co-located with Japanese forces, Japan's ships or forces can help to extend protection to them.

3. David Lague, "The Region: The Japanese Military," Far Eastern Economic Review , November 1, 2001, p. 20.

4. Statement by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the Passing of the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law by the Diet of Japan, Tokyo, Japan, October 29, 2001.

5. The Constitution of Japan, 1947, available at

6. Balbina Hwang, "Japan's New Reform-Minded Leader: Implications for U.S.-Japan Relations," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1446, June 7, 2001, p. 3.

7. Hisahiko Okazaki, "East Asian Security," Japan Echo, Vol. 26, No. 5 (October 1999). Available at

8. "The United States and Japan: Advancing Toward a Mature Partnership," a Special Report by the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) and the National Defense University (NDU) on October 11, 2000, available at . Presents the consensus view of members of a bipartisan study group on the U.S.-Japan partnership, chaired by Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye.

9. Larry M. Wortzel, Speech at the Nippon Conference on the Constitution of Japan, Tokyo, Japan, April 29, 2001.

10. "Survey, 83% `Accept' U.S. Strikes," Yomiuri Shimbun , October 23, 2001, p. 1.

11. Riichi Furugaki, "Collective Self-Defense for Japan," Center for Strategic and International Studies, Japan Watch , May 2000, p. 1.

12. Shigeru Yoshida, The Yoshida Memoirs (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1961), p. 267. Cited in Kimberly L. Thompson, "The Reagan-Suziki Communiqué: The Role of the United States-Japan Alliance During the Cold War," unpublished paper, Vanderbilt University, Spring 2001, pp. 8-9.

13. Ibid ., p. 21.

14. Caspar Weinberger, Fighting for Peace: Seven Critical Years in the Pentagon (New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1990), p. 226.

15. United Nations, Security Council Resolution 1386, September 12, 2001, at


Larry Wortzel
Larry Wortzel

Adjunct Research Professor at the U.S. Army War College