The Self-Defense Forces were established in 1954 as an exclusively defense-oriented organization.
The Japan-US alliance has been the cornerstone to Japan's postwar security, ensuring peace and safety. Past administrations have interpreted Article 9 of the Constitution to mean Japan could not exercise the right of collective self-defense.
"The Constitution doesn't allow Japan to participate in collective self-defense."
Yasuhiro Nakasone / Former Japanese Prime Minister (1983)
Over time, the government has expanded the scope of the Self-Defense Forces' operations overseas, without changing the interpretation of the Constitution. Japanese leaders were responding to profound changes in international affairs triggered by the end of the Cold War.
The Gulf War in 1991 brought about a major shift. US leaders pressured their Japanese allies to contribute not only financially, but also by sending the Self-Defense Forces. After the war, SDF personnel conducted minesweeping operations in the Persian Gulf. It was the first time the SDF carried out an overseas assignment. The following year, lawmakers passed legislation clearing the way for Japan to take part in UN peacekeeping operations.
The government dispatched SDF personnel to Cambodia, but imposed strict conditions on the use of weapons.
In response to the terrorist attacks on US soil in September 2001, Japan signaled its willingness to support American military operations. SDF personnel manned fueling vessels in the Indian Ocean as part of the fight against terrorism. And in recent years, the security situation around Japan has grown more complex.
The North Koreans are pursuing nuclear and missile development, tensions have risen in the East China Sea, and Chinese maritime activity in the region has increased.
Last year, members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet changed the interpretation of the Constitution. They decided to allow the country to exercise the right to collective self-defense.
"Being very well-prepared: that in itself will foil attempts to provoke a war against Japan."
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2014)
Abe visited the US last month and delivered a speech to both houses of Congress. He said his administration will pass bills needed to overhaul Japan's security legislation by summer.
"We are resolved to take yet more responsibility for peace and stability in the world."
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Apr. 29, 2015)
Japan's postwar security policy is now at a major turning point.