The impression that one gets when looking at the evolution of Japan’s security policy in recent years is that the Japanese public has consented to steps taken by Tokyo. After all, that is the fundamental expectation that democracies nurture. Following this reasoning, Tokyo should be developing a security policy that mirrors the public will. However, a very strong case can be made from survey data that Tokyo is not paying as much attention as it should to public sentiment pertaining to Japan’s security policy.
This raises the question of the extent to which Tokyo is complying with Washington’s expectations of Japanese security policy. The rape of a young Okinawan schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen in early September 1995 set in motion an unexpected flurry of popular opposition to the Japan-U.S. security arrangement. Many Japanese questioned the usefulness of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. Although this opposition already existed, the rape incident brought to the surface political outrage that had been harbored by many Japanese.
Between August 1995 and April 1997, Nihon Keizai Shimbun conducted four surveys that straightforwardly queried respondents on the bilateral security treaty. In all of these surveys, respondents were asked the same question: What do you think of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty? Designed so as to minimize ambiguity, these surveys gave respondents only three possible selections, which were it should be maintained, it should be abolished or can’t tell/don’t know.
In the first survey conducted one month prior to the Okinawan rape incident, 60 percent supported the treaty, 29 percent opposed it and about 12 percent were uncertain.
The second survey, conducted approximately one month after the rape incident, showed that the amount of popular support for the treaty declined to 44 percent, while the level of opposition increased to 40 percent, with about 16 percent of the respondents answering that they were unsure.
Seven months after the rape incident, U.S. President Bill Clinton and then-Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto signed the Joint Declaration on Security April 17, 1996. This document symbolizes the reaffirmation of the Cold War security alliance, including the presence of U.S. troops in Japan, and set in motion the bilateral policy wheels that began an intensive examination of the 1978 guidelines for defense cooperation.
Three days after the signing of the Joint Declaration, the third Nihon Keizai Shimbun survey found that nearly a third of the respondents continued to believe that the bilateral security treaty should be abolished. One year later, as Tokyo proceeded with its review of the defense guidelines, the fourth survey still indicated that one-third of the respondents believed that the bilateral security treaty should be abolished. Yet, notwithstanding substantial public opposition to the treaty, Tokyo continued with the review of the 1978 Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation.
Before Tokyo and Washington took the initial step to strengthen the security alliance in the spring of 1996, survey data indicated that the public did not want to see an increase in military cooperation between Japan and the United States.
An NHK survey conducted at the beginning of March 1995 showed that most respondents opposed an increase in military cooperation between Japan and the U.S.: Forty-two percent supported a decrease, 24 percent favored an increase, 30 percent said that it was too hard to say, and the rest either did not respond or did not know. Tokyo, in other words, ignored public concern and apprehension relating to bilateral defense cooperation and committed Japan to a process that would review the 1978 defense guidelines.
Even a Yomiuri Shimbun survey conducted in early January 1997, which was several months before the release of the interim report on the new guidelines for defense cooperation in June 1997, indicated that only 7 percent of respondents wanted to see an increase in military cooperation between the U.S. and Japan.
This survey showed that while 27 percent supported a decrease in bilateral defense cooperation, the majority, 57 percent, favored no change. Just a little over two months before the Diet officially sanctioned the new defense guidelines in May 1999, an Asahi Shimbun poll indicated that 43 percent of the respondents, the largest proportion, did not support the new guidelines, while 37 percent endorsed them and 20 percent did not have an opinion.
But not only did Tokyo ignore public views of the new guidelines for defense cooperation. It also paid no attention to the views of Japan’s constitutional scholars. An Asahi Shimbun survey conducted just a few weeks after Washington and Tokyo completed the new guidelines for defense cooperation in late September 1997 indicated that 80 percent of Japan’s constitutional scholars believed that they violated Article 9, the nation’s war-renouncing clause.
While it is true that there are surveys that show more public support for both the security treaty and the new defense guidelines than opposition, all polls demonstrate some disquiet and angst toward the bilateral alliance.
Thus in the last few years, Tokyo has either altogether neglected the poll data or it has been highly selective, only paying attention to those surveys involving bilateral security issues that have shown relatively less public uneasiness and opposition. This would tend to support the somewhat common observation that, when it comes to security issues, Tokyo simply follows the lead of the U.S. by typically complying with Washington’s expectations.
This position is easiest to support when it comes to the bases issue. Survey data consistently shows that the Japanese public is not especially happy with the impact of U.S. troops and bases in Japan. Over 60 percent of the public wants to see a reduction of U.S. troops and bases in Japan. Asahi Shimbun survey data also shows that about 60 percent of the public believes that Tokyo has not done nearly enough to make known to Washington the concerns about U.S. bases.
Indeed, many Japanese feel that U.S. troops and bases are in Japan not so much for the protection of their homeland but to promote the global military objectives of the U.S. Poll data indicates that approximately two-thirds of Okinawans support the removal of the marine air station at Futenma from their prefecture, with over half favoring relocation to American soil. Although Tokyo has worked incessantly during the last few years to attain popular acceptance of U.S. bases in Japan, it ironically has exasperated Washington recently with a proposal to reduce its financial support for the U.S. military presence in Japan, but only because of serious concerns over the lackluster economy.
The recently begun process that could ultimately end with constitutional change may turn out to be still another example of Tokyo ignoring public sentiment on security matters. Survey data demonstrates public ambivalence on the matter of constitutional change. An Asahi Shimbun poll conducted around the time of the 50th anniversary of Japan’s Constitution indicated that 48 percent of the respondents supported the existing Constitution, 34 percent did not and the rest gave another answer or none at all. A Nihon Keizai Shimbun poll at about the same time showed that 44 percent supported the current Constitution, 46 percent favored amending it and about 11 percent said they were unsure.
However, survey results show that when asked specifically about constitutional change and military activities, respondents clearly wanted to retain the existing restraints. A Yomiuri Shimbun survey conducted in the fall of 1997 asked respondents their reviews on constitutional change and Japan assisting the U.S. in military activities, should a conflict occur in Northeast Asia. This survey showed that only 26 percent of the respondents favored amending the present Constitution; 42 percent believed that Tokyo should deal with the problem based on the current interpretation of the Constitution; and 11 percent felt that Japan should not get involved in military activities with the U.S.
An NHK survey conducted at about the same time showed that when asked what was guaranteed by the Constitution, respondents chose the renunciation of war as second only to the idea that sovereignty belongs to the people.
Should the recently initiated process on the Constitution lead to an amendment that legally permits Japan to participate without restraint in U.S. military activities in Northeast Asia, Tokyo would be remiss in fulfilling its democratic responsibility to develop policy that fully considers and reflects public views.
Equally bad is that such a change would make the existing bilateral security alliance the regional equivalent of NATO. Japan would unequivocally be contributing to an exacerbation of regional tension and would be seen as taking a significant step toward remilitarization.
It would appear that the way Tokyo has encouraged Japan’s security policy to evolve during the last few years that there is no alternative. Just as Tokyo has overlooked survey data that shows public opposition and uneasiness toward the security treaty — which at times has been appreciable — it has relegated to political limbo results from polls that consistently indicate popular support for Japanese contributions to international peace and security through the United Nations.
Results from a recent survey sponsored by the Prime Minister’s Office indicate that over 60 percent of the respondents thought that the best way Japan could actively cooperate with the U.N. was by helping to promote peace and security. Other surveys from the Prime Minister’s Office indicate that much of the public believes that Japan should become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, and that as a pacifist nation that does not possess nuclear weapons it can help bring about international peace and security.
Moreover, according to an Asahi Shimbun poll conducted in fall of 1999, most Japanese, like their neighbors throughout Asia, want to see the U.N. strengthened and anticipate that it will become the principal manager of global security by relying chiefly on dialogue and diplomacy to resolve international disputes.
However, aligned with the U.N., Japan has not been walking in lockstep with many of its neighbors, including Russia, China, and North Korea, who see no need for bilateral security arrangements and support the development of a multipolar system. Certainly, amending the Constitution in a way that permits an increase in Japanese military activities with the U.S. will undermine regional prospects for multilateral security.
Tokyo’s unmitigated commitment to the security alliance with Washington prevents Japan’s widespread antinuclear sentiment from developing into viable U.N.-centered strategies designed to completely abolish nuclear weapons.
The bilateral alliance also minimizes the chances that both effective U.N. and regional security structures will be put into place. In addition to public opinion, Tokyo should not continue to ignore the 1957 Basic Policy for National Defense, which anticipated that the U.N. would assume responsibility for the protection of Japan in place of the U.S.
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