Classroom Debate: Should Japan Increase Its Defense Effort?

To the Teacher: The question of Japan's role in the military defense of East Asia has been an important issue of debate between the United States and Japan for many years. This exercise is designed to familiarize students with the variety of opinions on the topics.

The Situation

At the end of World War II, the United States occupied a defeated Japan and set in motion reforms designed to ensure that Japan would never go to war again. To guarantee this, the revised Japanese constitution proclaims in Article 9 that "the Japanese people forever renounce war" and that "land, sea, and air forces ... will never be maintained." However, U.S. attitudes toward Japan as a military power soon changed as Americans began to feel threatened by the two great Communist powers (the Soviet Union and China, which fell under communist control in 1949). Suddenly, American officials began to view their former enemy, Japan, as a potentially valuable military ally in the Cold War.

Japanese attitudes, on the other hand, had been profoundly affected by the devastation and defeat of war. In spite of the onset of the Cold War, many Japanese felt that there was no real external threat to their nation in the postwar period. On the contrary, they feared the rise of militarism in their own country much more than they did the Soviet Union or other possible outside aggressors. The Japanese government, however, felt the need for some protection and, under American pressure, signed the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty in 1952, which allowed the United States to base military forces in Japan. The Japanese government also agreed to establish a small "Self- Defense Force," explaining that the right of self-defense was not prohibited by Article 9.

Between 1952 (when the American occupation of Japan ended) and 1976, Japan spent very little on defense. Many Japanese opposed the ruling conservative party's defense policies. Furthermore, economic growth was a higher priority; and Japan felt secure under the military protection of the United States.

In the 1970s this situation began to change. Japan's economy had become one of the largest in the world and economic growth had slowed; Japan was heavily dependent on imported energy and raw materials, and its trade deficit was causing friction with the United States. The United States had proven unable to defend the South Vietnamese government and faced new challenges in the strategic Middle East, which led to the dispatch of part of the Pacific Fleet to the Indian Ocean. The Soviet Union had become a major military power in the Far East, and Japan's relations with China had become closer. With the new international situation came the question: Should Japan increase its military role (for example, to include the defense of its sea lanes and the adjacent straits) and its defense budget to strengthen its security?

The Debaters and Their Positions


Congressman — In favor of greater Japanese spending.

"Japan has been getting a "free ride" all these years — while the Japanese government has been helping Japanese businesses become competitive in the American market, Japan has let the American taxpayer pick up the tab for its defense. Although per capita income in Japan is now comparable to per capita income in America, American taxpayers spend three to four times more per person on defense and foreign aid annually than Japanese taxpayers. With one of the healthiest economies in the world, Japan spends only about 1.5 percent of GNP on defense and foreign aid, while Britain spends almost 5 percent. This is not fair. Japan depends even more than most countries on peace and stability in the world, but it is letting other countries solve the problems while it reaps the benefits. Japanese exports are putting Americans out of work; if Japan were to buy more advanced weapons from the United States, this would increase Japan's security and help reduce trade friction. If Japan could take greater responsibility for its own defense, the United States could better meet its responsibility in other parts of the world."

Pentagon Official — In favor of a greater Japanese military role, but not necessarily greater spending.

"The U.S. military is stretched thin today. Most recently, political unrest in the Middle East has forced us to split the U.S. Pacific Fleet and send part of it to the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. We are more interested in how the Japanese can help than in what they can spend. We want the Japanese to expand their military so that they are able to maintain air superiority in Japanese air space, defend sea lanes within 1,000 miles of Japan, and control the three strategic straits that allow the Russian fleet to leave the Sea of Japan. If the Japanese military could carry out these tasks, the U.S. military could more easily maintain the security of Southeast Asia and the Persian Gulf countries — areas which are also of great importance to Japan.

We feel that emphasizing the tasks Japan agrees to perform rather than the size of Japan's military commitment will be less threatening also to other countries in Asia — many of which were occupied by Japanese forces in World War Two and fear a resurgence of militarism in Japan."



Nationalist — In favor of increase in Japan's role and spending.

Japan's economic growth has increased its power and created important economic interests — in particular, an interest in maintaining stable imports of oil, food, and raw materials. Yet Japan has little say in the important decisions made in the world and cannot independently protect its lifeline of imports against any threat. Moreover, the U.S. failure to defend South Vietnam and the withdrawal of American forces from East Asia show that Japan cannot really depend on the United States for defense. Japan should increase military spending to gain the respect of other nations and ensure Japanese security. Japan's economic power would be matched by the political power necessary to maintain stability in the Far East and elsewhere.

Average Conservative — Favors the status quo.

Good relations with the United States are very important to Japan, and we should do our best to explain our position and reduce friction. However, the U.S. request to greatly expand Japanese military spending is very difficult to agree to at the moment. The government has tried to meet the increased demands of the people for welfare and other services as well as those of the United States for greater defense spending, but this has led to massive government debt: Japan's budget deficits are proportionately greater than those of the United States. Massive defense spending at a time of cutbacks in every other part of the budget would further weaken the ruling party's popularity. Moreover, public opinion surveys show that the vast majority of the people want defense spending to remain about where it is at present. We must explain that the U.S. requests are politically and economically impossible at the moment and that a strong Japan led by a conservative, pro-American party is more conducive to American interests than a larger Japanese military.

Leader of Japanese Socialist Party — Favors the status quo or a decrease in Japan's military role and spending.

The Japanese Socialist party has always supported the "peace constitution" and argued that Japan can only be truly safe through a policy of unarmed neutrality. Japan has good relations with its neighbors, and any friction or threat posed by Japan is mostly due to its alliance with the United States. War between the superpowers could begin anywhere, but it is not going to be limited to ships and planes unless there is complete nuclear disarmament. Nuclear weapons in Russia and China render Japan's conventional weapons meaningless. Japan should either maintain its conventional weapons at the same level, or else actually reduce its weapons in order to further world disarmament and peace.



Leader of a Southeast Asian Country — Against any expansion of Japan's military role.

Many nations in Southeast Asia are very sensitive to Japanese actions. During World War II most of the area was occupied by the Japanese military, and the experience left many bitter memories. Postwar Japan is peaceful, but it is still an economic superpower that dominates trade and economic affairs throughout the region. Because of this great economic influence, many nations in this area fear any sign of possibly resurgent Japanese nationalism and militarism. Japan's military cooperation with the United States can be a useful counter to Russian and Chinese forces, but only as long as the United States controls any Japanese tendency to use its influence on Southeast Asian nations. Japan already has one of the ten largest military budgets in the world. Greater military spending could make Japan a threat to other countries in the region. Any expansion of Japan's military role outside of Japanese territory should be avoided.

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Directions for the Debate

  1. Choose six students and assign each one of the roles. Alternatively, take half the class and divide it into six teams with each taking one role.
  2. The remainder of the class will judge the debate. The judges should take notes during the debate and be prepared to question the debaters. Each judge should have six note cards, one for each of the six positions.
  3. The debate should last 15 minutes.
  4. Following the debate, the judges may question the debaters for 5 minutes.
  5. At the conclusion of the question period, the judges will vote on the question "Should Japan increase its defense effort?"
  6. After the vote the class should turn to the following questions for discussion.

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Questions for Discussion Following the Debate

  1. Vote on the debate in terms of the logical pros and cons of the question. It is important to keep in mind, however, that controversial political questions are seldom decided by logic alone.
  2. If the class decides that an increased defense effort is advisable the question remains, can domestic political opposition to this view be overcome?
  3. Alternatively, if the decision is against an increased defense effort, will the United States (and Congress) accept this?

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© 2009 Asia for Educators, Columbia University |