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July 8th, 2008
Japan's About-Face
Map: Japan's Self-Defense Forces Deployments

The Constitution of Japan, adopted on November 3, 1946, explicitly bans the creation of armed forces. However, over the past fifty years, Japan has built up land, air, and sea-based Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to protect the country in case of attack. In recent years, the Japanese Diet has passed laws to extend the SDF beyond Japan to other countries.

Please click on a point in the map below to see information about Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) deployment in that region.

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Peacekeeping operations under the International Peace Cooperation Law
International disaster relief operations under the International Peace Cooperation Law
SDF deployments under the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law
SDF deployments under the Law Concerning Special Measures for Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq

Japan endured harsh criticism from the United States for its inability to send ground forces to the Persian Gulf after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991. In response, the Japanese Diet enacted the Law Concerning Cooperation for United Nations Peacekeeping Operations and Other Operations (also known as the International Peace Cooperation Law or the PKO law). The law provided a legal framework for Japan to send Self-Defense Force (SDF) personnel overseas to participate in international peacekeeping and relief operations. The PKO law laid out five conditions that must be satisfied before a Japanese SDF contingent may be dispatched.
(1) a cease-fire must be in place;
(2) the parties to the conflict must have given their consent to the operation;
(3) the activities must be conducted in a strictly impartial manner;
(4) participation may be suspended or terminated if any of the above conditions ceases to be satisfied; and
(5) use of weapons shall be limited to the minimum necessary to protect life or person of the personnel.
In response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the Japanese Diet passed the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law in October 2001. This law allows the SDF to engage in cooperation and support activities, such as fuel supply, transportation, and repair and maintenance; search and rescue operations; and assistance to affected people, which includes medical services. The law further stipulates that these operations can take place on the high seas and in foreign territories where combat is not taking place.
In 2003, the Japanese Diet passed the Law Concerning Special Measures for Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq. The law stipulated that the mission of the SDF is limited to humanitarian and reconstruction assistance and that it will not become involved in any combat action.


  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
  • Japan Ministry of Defense
  • Niksch, Larry A. and Sutter, Robert G. Japan’s Response to the Persian Gulf Crisis: Implications for U.S.-Japan Relations. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 1991.
  • Samuels, Richard J. Securing Japan: Tokyo’s Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 2007.
    • Herman Montoya

      I believe the World is heading in a direction where WAR becomes routine. A World in witch their will be a daily race to feed the huge hunger of the future WAR MACHINE! If law comes into play where Japan has legal authorization from America to attack North Korea or China, the blood will be on America`s hands. It is important that Japan maintains a formitable defence for its own well being, but keep in light of the fact that excessive armorment will create greater tension in the region. If WAR becomes routine, nuclear annialation is eminent. We must work toward truly friendly diplomatic solutions that work and not bring ourselves to an eye for an eye situation. Where instead of an eye its 1000 mega ton nuclear missle. Japan should be allowed to defend it-self, but not prepare it-self to assist America in Global Nuclear WAR for OIL! In lies the question what is to much armorment?Who’s in charge to say Japan has enough armed forces? North Korea? China? Or America? PEACE my friends PEACE. If not in life then indeed PEACE in the aftermath of our scorched Earth. E.O.

    • Alan H Henderson

      So terible a view on the world. I believe it is necessary though. The extreme pessimists counter the extreme optimits allowing reasonable minds to see a true path through the noise.

    • Jamie Cochrane

      In light of Herman Montoya said about “WAR becomes routine.” I would like to say that WAR was routine in the medieval ages, middle ages, and modern era… There is no difference now. WAR has been routine since wars have been fought. Yes there are methods of limiting the amount of war in place currently. If Japan’s policy of self-defence wasn’t so affected by external factors then Japan would remain peaceful. In light of various external hazards and pressures Japan cannot have this peace.

    • Joe

      Jamie is right. War is part of human nature, and it’s not going to go away. In my opinion, even with its current militarization, Japan is not nearly as powerful as it needs to be. If it wants to be able to defend itself from China it needs a complete, large military of maybe seven hundred thousand that is well-trained and well-equipped.

    • phil

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