Author: Yusuke Ishihara, NIDS
The Yoshida Doctrine is no longer fit to understand Japan’s grand strategy. Its precepts emerged under former prime minister Shigeru Yoshida as an interim grand strategy in the aftermath of Japan’s defeat in the Second World War and was designed to help to realise the country’s economic recovery and redevelopment.
The Yoshida Doctrine prescribed that Japan maintain two principles. First, the continuation of a US military presence to guarantee Japan’s national security. Second, that it would eschew a resource-consuming and politically destabilising military build-up. To implement the latter principle, Japan gradually established a number of policy self-restraints, such as a defence budget ceiling of 1 per cent of GDP and the choice not to acquire long-range missiles and nuclear weapons.
The Yoshida Doctrine’s original economic purpose was achieved by the 1970s, though Tokyo retained it for a number reasons, including assuaging its regional neighbours’ worries about its potential as a military menace as it became the region’s largest economic power.
The continuation of the Yoshida Doctrine was far from easy. Many Japanese leaders had serious discomfort about its foundations — including the useful, yet constraining, security treaty with Washington which legally sanctioned a US military presence in Japanese territory. While some Japanese policymakers did imagine Japan’s future without the security treaty, Tokyo judged that the country should stick to the alliance framework. One reason was to contribute to regional stability by rendering its self-restraints more credible in the eyes of neighbours.
To complement this reassurance, Japan also exercised self-restraint in regional multilateralism by carefully avoiding any outright leadership and respecting Southeast Asian countries’ initiatives. This reassurance logic of the Yoshida Doctrine survived the end of the Cold War.
Over the last decade, some key assumptions underpinning the Yoshida Doctrine have become outdated because of Japan’s relative decline.