Asymmetric Threats and Changes in Japan’s Security Strategies, 2001-2021

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Associate Professor, Department of Regional Studies, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran

2 PhD in International Relations, Faculty of Humanities, University of Tarbiat Modares, Tehran, Iran


Although most of Japan's security threats are traditional and come from close neighbors (i.e., China and North Korea), the post-Cold War structural changes in the international system created new national security threats for Japan. These changes led to the transformation of the security environment and the  nature of the threats, which were completely incompatible with the security structure imposed on Japan after World War II, particularly the prohibition of the use of armed forces in maintaining security, and its security dependence on the United States. The main objective of the present study is to find answers to the following two research questions: 1. How has the new security threats changed Japan's defense and security structure? 2. What had been Japan's response to these new threats? Due to the complexity of the issue, and the descriptive-analytical approach used by the authors, the method of research is conceptual analysis of the selected Japan’s official documents. The theoretical framework is the Copenhagen School of security studies, which together with its propositions are utilized in several contexts to analyze Japan’s security developments. First, contrary to the realist approach that emphasizes the role of states as major actors in international politics, the Copenhagen approach recognizes the importance of the non-state entities. This proposition allowed the authors to evaluate the activities of terrorist groups and pirates as sources of security threat. Second, the Copenhagen School’s attention to social processes, as well as the intersubjectivity of security and threat provided the opportunity for authors to explain the threats not only from the perspective of politicians and government elites but also from the different perspectives of the people’s views on security issues affecting them. Third, military factors in international relations (e.g., the intensified competition between regional and international powers in Asia-Pacific) were not considered as the as central, focus. Rather, adopting a multidimensional and comprehensive perspective, the authors examined the non-traditional dimensions of security such as terrorism, cyber threats, piracy, environmental issues, and the failed governments. All of these non-conventional threats had common characteristics such as being high-impact, extraterritorial, large-scale, high-speed. Furthermore, effective non-military measures are needed to counter and overcome them.
In response to the first question, the authors argue that threats that directly endanger Japan's national security had the greatest impact on Japan's security policy changes. These threats are as follows: a) piracy that directly threaten the maritime security, freedom of navigation, energy security, and trade lines of the country; b) cyber security threats that directly endanger both the government and Japanese society; c) ultimately, the consequences of environmental issues such as the increased likelihood of conflicts over joint management of natural resources, economic displacement, migration and asylum, and border conflicts which directly threaten Japan's territorial integrity and its environment. The threats of piracy, cyber-attacks, and environmental issues had a greater impact on the reorientation of Japanese security strategy than the threats of the failed governments and terrorism.
In response to the second question concerning the reasons for the use of military instruments, five points should be considered: 1. The need to deal decisively with new security threats and economic problems; 2. The ineffectiveness of Japan's existing policies of focusing on the use of non-military tools to avert and respond to threats; 3. The need to acquire a appropriate level of military power to have the ability to quickly and unrestrictedly respond to security threats; 4. Global expectations from Japan for its greater military participation because of its high economic and technological capability; 5. The U.S.-Japan strategic alliance, and Washington's demand for burden-sharing through Tokyo’s military involvement. These points explain why a fundamental change in the nature of Japan's national security strategies has taken placed.


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Volume 52, Issue 1
July 2022
Pages 108-81
  • Receive Date: 24 November 2019
  • Revise Date: 15 September 2021
  • Accept Date: 19 July 2022
  • First Publish Date: 19 July 2022