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Government, Defense

Persian Gulf War, international issue, peacekeeping operations, Japanese forces, central staff

Article 9 of the postwar constitution renounces war and the maintenance of military forces. It also establishes both legal and political restraints for all government decisions related to defense. Within these parameters Japan maintains the technologically most advanced military establishment in East Asia. Although Japan spends more on defense than any of its neighbors, it still spends less than half of the amount spent by the United States (measured as a percentage of gross domestic product).

Known today as the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF), Japan’s military was first established as the National Police Reserve in 1950. The creation of the SDF has been legally justified on the basis that all nations possess an inherent right of self-defense. As its name implies, the SDF’s stated purpose is to defend the country from attack rather than to fight aggressive wars. It also carries out domestic disaster relief operations. Service in the SDF is voluntary. In 2001 the SDF consisted of about 239,800 members. These comprised an army (148,700), a navy (44,200), an air force (45,400), and a central staff. The country also has a coast guard. All police forces in Japan are controlled by the central government.

Legal and political constraints prevent Japan from participating fully in collective international military actions. Japan’s government has long interpreted Article 9 as prohibiting the deployment of the SDF outside of Japan. Thus, under the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States, still in effect, both nations pledge to resist any attack on Japanese territory, but Japan has no obligation to defend the United States from attack. In 1997 a controversial revision to the guidelines for U.S.-Japan military cooperation extended the scenarios for cooperation to include emergencies “near Japan.”

Japan’s constitution also limits its participation in United Nations (UN) military and peacekeeping operations. Under substantial international pressure, Japan provided funds but not personnel in the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991). After the war, Japan sent mine sweepers to help remove mines from the gulf. In 1992 the Diet passed legislation permitting Japanese forces to participate in UN peacekeeping operations in noncombatant roles, and since then the SDF has taken part in several operations, including one to monitor a peace treaty signed in Cambodia in 1991. Japan’s ability to participate actively in regional and international security arrangements remains a significant domestic and international issue.

Article key phrases:

Persian Gulf War, international issue, peacekeeping operations, Japanese forces, central staff, peace treaty, air force, sweepers, central government, coast guard, navy, police forces, army, attack, deployment, Diet, mines, neighbors, East Asia, Cambodia, scenarios, personnel, nations, obligation, military, creation, defense, United Nations, half, effect, participation, legislation, SDF, emergencies, funds, Security, basis, United States, purpose, country, members, Article, Service, guidelines


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