Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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East Asian nation with a 1945 population of approximately 82 million people. Japan encompasses 145,882 square miles, about the size of the U.S. state of Montana. Japan is actually an archipelago separated from the east coast of Asia by the Sea of Japan. The island nation also borders the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Philippine and East China Seas to the south and southwest.

On 15 August 1945, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's unconditional surrender to a physically devastated and psychologically exhausted nation. The Allied leaders had earlier reached substantial agreement on the postwar division of the Japanese Empire at the Yalta Conference (February 1945). The Soviets would gain the Kurile Islands, Southern Sakhalin, and a sphere of interest in Manchuria; Outer Mongolian autonomy was recognized; China would receive Taiwan; and the Korean Peninsula would be subjected to a four-power joint trusteeship. Wartime planning had also envisaged applying the German model to the Japanese home islands, but in mid-August 1945 when Soviet leader Josef Stalin requested a separate Soviet occupation zone in Hokkaido, President Harry S. Truman rebuffed him. Despite the subsequent establishment of a multilateral framework to advise the occupation (Far Eastern Commission and Allied Council for Japan) and the significant contribution of British Commonwealth forces, the policymaking process was dominated by the United States and in particular by Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) General Douglas MacArthur.

The U.S.-led Allied occupation set out to transform Japan from a militaristic imperial power to a peace-loving, stable, democratic nation stripped of armed forces and colonies. Within months, Japan was totally disarmed, top military and civilian leaders were purged (some were later put on trial), political prisoners were freed, left-wing political parties and trade unions were legalized, and the emperor renounced his divinity. With the exception of the civilian bureaucracy, which remained largely intact, virtually every aspect of Japanese politics, society, economy, and culture was subjected to fundamental reform. This experimentation reached its high point in 1947 with the implementation of the so-called Peace Constitution, in which the Japanese people forever renounced war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes (Article 9).

After 1947, Japan experienced a reverse course when American emphasis gradually switched from democratization to economic reconstruction, from ensuring that Japan would never again represent a threat to regional peace and security to building a bulwark against the spread of communism in East Asia. Many of the earlier radical policies were toned down or abandoned altogether, and left-wing sympathizers were suppressed in the Red Purge. Japanese society was marked by a rigid ideological schism, a domestic Cold War.

These developments coincided with heightened Cold War tensions in Europe, major communist advances on the Chinese mainland, and the emergence of communist and noncommunist states on the Korean Peninsula. The vast majority of Japanese people still hoped for a neutral role in international affairs, but external events dragged Japan into the bipolar Cold War framework, although its absorption was never complete. The founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC) on 1 October 1949, the cementing of the Sino-Soviet alliance specifically targeting Japan on 14 February 1950, the outbreak of the Korean War on 25 June 1950, and, most important, Chinese intervention therein forced a major reassessment of Washington's policy toward Japan.

Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru continued to downplay the seriousness of international communist threats to Japan and tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Americans to allow Tokyo to maintain a channel to Beijing to accelerate its disenchantment with Moscow. In late 1950, U.S. Special Representative John Foster Dulles embarked on a globe-trotting shuttle diplomacy, preaching a doctrine that exaggerated the communist threat to induce the Allies to accept the generous U.S. version of the peace treaty with Japan.

When the Japanese Peace Conference convened in San Francisco on 4 September 1951, festering Anglo-American differences meant that neither the nationalist nor communist Chinese regime was represented. After the Soviet delegation refused to sign the treaty, forty-eight Western nations signed a separate peace treaty four days later. In return for regaining its sovereignty, Japan renounced claims to 40 percent of its pre-1937 territory (although the disposition of these areas remained unspecified) and promised to pay limited reparations to victims of its wartime aggression. The United States was granted administrative rights over the Ryukyu and Bonin Islands under a United Nations (UN) trusteeship.

The United States and Japan also concluded a security treaty on 8 September 1951. In essence, it granted the Americans continued access to military bases in postoccupation Japan and, with Tokyo's consent, included the right to suppress domestic opposition. However, lingering fear of Japanese aggression among Japan's neighbors meant that the United States would have to pursue a strategy of dual containment, offering security for Japan as well as security from Japan.

The economic impact of the Cold War and in particular of the hot war in Korea was overwhelmingly beneficial for Japan. After its intervention in the Korean conflict, the United States imposed a total trade embargo on the PRC, which SCAP also applied to Japanese trade with the communist Chinese. American special procurements for the war, which constituted 37 percent of Japan's total foreign exchange receipts for 1952–1953, more than compensated for the loss of the miniscule China trade. It was for this reason that Yoshida referred to the Korean War as "a gift from the gods." In September 1952, Japan joined CHINCOM (the China Committee of the Paris Group), an organization established by the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to enforce strict sanctions on trade with the PRC. Japan's economic relations with the Chinese mainland were maintained through a series of private trade agreements beginning in June 1952.

Yoshida had been leaning to one side in the Cold War since 1949, yet it took an American threat not to ratify the peace treaty before he agreed to normalize diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan) rather than the PRC. A treaty was thus concluded on the same day that the San Francisco treaties went into effect (28 May 1952). Yoshida believed that Japan's dependence on the United States was temporary. The Yoshida Doctrine saw Japan maintain minimal military forces in order to focus on economic recovery. However, under intense pressure from Dulles, now secretary of state, Yoshida eventually agreed to an 180,000-man army, only half of what the Americans had requested. The Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement (MDAA), signed on 8 March 1954, committed Japan to a significant degree of rearmament, but with American financial aid and under American direction. Shortly thereafter, in July 1954, the Self-Defense Forces were created from the National Police Reserve, although the House of Councilors banned their dispatch overseas.

Reflecting a new emphasis on peaceful coexistence following Stalin's death in March 1953, the Soviets took the initiative and announced in September 1954 their readiness to normalize relations with Japan, a proposal confirmed in the Sino-Soviet Joint Declaration of 11 October 1954. Yoshida spurned this offer of negotiations, but in December 1954 Hatoyama Ichirō unseated the premier and immediately set out to counteract what he saw as Yoshida's overdependence on Washington. A more nationalistic and anticommunist figure, Hatoyama was nonetheless able to separate ideology from normal diplomatic and economic intercourse. He responded positively to the communist peace offensive and announced Japan's desire to "open a window to the East." The Japanese government was soon pressing the Americans to shorten the list of embargoed goods for the China market, and official negotiations for a peace treaty opened with the Soviet Union on 1 June 1955 in London. After fifteen months of intermittent talks failed to resolve the territorial dispute over the Kurile Islands, however, Hatoyama had to settle for a joint declaration ending the state of war in October 1956. Two months later, with the withdrawal of the Soviet veto, Japan gained admission to the UN.

Hatoyama's term in office was also notable for two other developments. First, in late 1955 a major reorganization of the domestic political structure occurred with the consolidation of most progressive forces in the Nihon Shakaitō (Japan Socialist Party, or JSP), the party of perpetual opposition, and of most conservative politicians in the Jiyã Minshutō (Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP), the party of permanent government. This 1955 system, a diffuse but rigid bipolar political structure, was to endure into the post–Cold War era. Second, Hatoyama's administration witnessed the beginning of rapid economic growth. With American assistance, Japan joined the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) on 10 September 1955, significantly improving Japanese companies' access to Western markets.

Hatoyama's successor was the Liberal Democrat Ishibashi Tanzan, who was soon supplanted by the very different figure of Kishi Nobusuke. Although hailing from the same wing of the LDP as Hatoyama, Kishi focused on fighting communism rather than accommodating it. Like Hatoyama, he supported accelerated rearmament and renegotiation of the unbalanced Security Treaty with the United States, but he was also an Asianist of the old school who believed that Japan should resume its place as the natural leader of Asia. In May 1957, in return for an American commitment to withdraw remaining U.S. ground troops from Japan, the Kishi cabinet approved a Basic Policy for National Defense and the First Defense Buildup Plan. This envisaged a continuing, albeit slowly diminishing, dependence on U.S. military protection. On 28 September 1957, the Foreign Ministry announced three principles of Japanese foreign policy that embraced the contradictions in Tokyo's thinking. The declaration reaffirmed Japan's position as a member of the Asian community, stressed that diplomacy centered on the UN, and maintained Japan's position in the free world. On 13 May 1958, Japan launched a major foreign policy initiative that called on the world's three nuclear powers (the United States, the United Kingdom, and the USSR) to cease all nuclear testing, production, and stockpiling.

Kishi's anticommunism did not extend to obstructing Japan's burgeoning trade relationship with its communist neighbors. Indeed, under the convenient rubric of seikei bunri (the separation of political from economic relations), Japanese trade with the PRC was booming. Following a minor incident in which a PRC flag was attacked in a Japanese department store, however, Beijing suspended all economic transactions with Japan on 9 June 1958.

Japan remained a semidetached ally of the United States, but by the late 1950s it became clear to President Dwight D. Eisenhower that a new treaty was needed to reflect Japan's increasing economic strength and position as a partner with the United States rather than as a subjugated former enemy. After fifteen months of intensive negotiations, the new ten-year Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security was signed in Washington on 19 January 1960. In it the United States gave up its right to intervene in Japanese domestic politics and for the first time made an explicit commitment to defend Japan. The revised treaty provoked harsh criticism from Japan's communist neighbors and serious domestic turmoil, bringing more than a million students and others into the streets of Tokyo in postwar Japan's largest political demonstrations. This Anpo Crisis reached its climax in May 1960, when Kishi resorted to strong-arm tactics to secure Diet ratification of the Security Treaty. This forced Eisenhower to cancel a scheduled visit to Japan, threatened party unity, and shortly thereafter caused Kishi to resign.

Kishi's replacement, Ikeda Hayato, turned his attention to economic development at home. An income-doubling plan became the national goal for the 1960s. He kept a low profile abroad while nonetheless broadening relations with both the West and Asia. On 28 April 1964, Japan became the first Asian nation to join the so-called Rich Man's Club, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and to gain Article 8 status in the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

With American encouragement, Japan concluded reparations agreements with several Southeast Asian nations that served to restore both trade and diplomatic channels in the region long damaged by memories of the Asia-Pacific War. Despite American objections, unofficial trade resumed with the PRC on 9 November 1962. The 1964 Tokyo Olympics symbolically set the seal on Japan's international rehabilitation. During the 1960s, Japan's average rate of growth was more than 10 percent per year. By the end of the decade, Japan had surpassed the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany) to become the world's second-largest capitalist economy.

Ikeda's term also saw the public emergence of the Sino-Soviet rift. This increased polarization within Japan's domestic political structure but strengthened Ikeda's confidence in his essentially pro-Western policies. Despite Soviet and communist Chinese campaigns to solicit Japanese support, active noninvolvement became the cornerstone of Tokyo's policy in the dispute.

Satō Eisaku, another Yoshida protégé, succeeded Ikeda on 9 November 1964 and became Japan's longest-serving postwar premier. After fourteen years of often bitter negotiations, he oversaw the final stages in the normalization of diplomatic relations with the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea) in June 1965, a development greeted with hostile mass demonstrations on both sides of the Tsushima Straits. Nor were these the only popular protests that Satō had to contend with, for 1965 also marked the beginning of Japan's anti–Vietnam War movement.

Satō was responsible for formalizing two of the more pacifist aspects of Japanese foreign policy: the total ban on arms exports (21 April 1967) and the Three Non-Nuclear Principles (not possessing nuclear weapons, not producing them, and not permitting their introduction into Japan) announced on 27 January 1968. This was despite the fact that Satō personally believed that Japan should become a nuclear power.

On 21 November 1969, Satō achieved his primary foreign policy objective when U.S. President Richard Nixon promised to return the Ryukyu Islands, free of nuclear weapons, to Japanese administration in 1972. In return, however, Satō agreed to allow the United States to retain bases on the islands. Even more significantly, he conceded that the security of South Korea was vital, while the maintenance of peace and security in the Taiwan area was also important to Japanese security. On 23 June 1970, the Security Treaty was automatically renewed despite enormous popular protests, and Japanese-U.S. relations appeared to be closer than ever.

Trade friction had been steadily mounting, however, and on 15 July 1971, without forewarning, President Nixon announced that he had accepted an invitation to visit the PRC. One month later, he imposed a 10 percent import surcharge and floated the U.S. dollar, taking it off the gold standard. This all came as a huge shock for Japan and produced a palpable sense of betrayal. Satō's subsequent efforts to reverse his earlier stance and promote improved relations with the PRC were spurned, and thus it fell to his successor, Tanaka Kakuei, to visit Beijing and normalize diplomatic relations on 29 September 1972. Controversially, the Sino-Japanese joint declaration included a clause opposing hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region. This thinly veiled reference to the Soviet Union did not prevent Japanese corporations from subsequently becoming involved in a number of large-scale resource development projects in Siberia.

The Japanese economy received another severe jolt in the oil crisis of 1973–1974, but it recovered quickly when the government broke ranks with the United States and made clear its pro-Arab stance. Thereafter, Japan undertook a major effort to diversify its sources of supply for vital raw materials. This later evolved into one facet of Tokyo's comprehensive security strategy.

Southeast Asia was of growing importance to Japan. After some initial reluctance, Japan had become a strong supporter of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and invested heavily in the region. However, in January 1974 accusations of Japanese economic imperialism led to violent protests in Indonesia. Tokyo had already normalized diplomatic relations with the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, North Vietnam) in 1973, and after the collapse of the Republic of Vietnam (ROV, South Vietnam) in April 1975, Prime Minister Fukuda Takeo pronounced the Fukuda Doctrine (August 1977), which was an attempt to mediate between Vietnam and ASEAN. It met with little success, at least in the short term.

Fukuda was more successful one year later, when Japan and the PRC finally signed a Treaty of Peace and Friendship (12 August 1978). Now a Japanese-U.S.-PRC anti-Soviet alignment seemed to be emerging, but Tokyo refused Beijing's request to sell defense technology to the PRC. Instead, in May 1979, the Japanese government for the first time offered the PRC loans to assist with its economic development. It thus became the largest of many recipients of Japanese foreign aid during the last decade of the Cold War as well as a major trading partner and a significant investment destination.

During 15–17 November 1975, Japan attended the inaugural meeting of the Group of Five (G5, later G8), the largest industrialized nations in the noncommunist world. Japan had finally achieved Ikeda's goal of becoming "a pillar of the free world." Japan also played a central role in the development of the concept of an Asia-Pacific region bringing together North America, East Asia, and Australasia via a series of multilateral institutions.

The Japanese government's attitude toward participation in the renewed Cold War of the 1980s proved considerably more enthusiastic than it had been during the earlier period. After Soviet troops entered Afghanistan in December 1979, Japan was quick to join the Americans in imposing economic sanctions. The following February, moreover, the Maritime Self-Defense Force participated in the U.S.-led RIMPAC (Pacific Rim) exercises for the first time. By May 1981, Prime Minister Suzuki Zenkō was ready to commit Japan to the defense of sea-lanes to a distance of 1,000 nautical miles and was the first premier to refer publicly to the United States as an ally. His successor, Nakasone Yasuhiro, went even further. He immediately opposed Soviet deployment of SS-20 missiles in Asia, and it was largely at Nakasone's insistence that the U.S.-Soviet Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement of December 1987 eliminated all such missiles. In the intervening six years, Nakasone had transformed Japanese foreign policy. On 19 January 1983, he told an American audience that Japan was an "unsinkable aircraft carrier," which in the event of war would block Soviet naval access to the Pacific Ocean. In November 1983, he reversed the sixteen-year-old ban on military exports when he signed the Technology Exchange Agreement with the United States. In September 1986, Japan agreed to participate in President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) research. The following year saw the 1 percent of gross national product (GNP) limit on defense spending limitation that had been in place since November 1976 exceeded, albeit just barely.

Japan was very slow to acknowledge Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's efforts to end the Cold War. By the end of the 1980s, American critics were commenting wryly that the Cold War was over and Japan had won. For Japan, however, the post–Cold War era has thus far been marked by the bursting of the economic bubble and a long period of relative decline.

Maintaining the solidarity of the Western alliance was crucial to the outcome of the Cold War in East Asia, and sustaining Japan's allegiance was vital to maintaining the strength of the Western alliance in the region. Japan was perceived as the key domino whose geostrategic location, industrial base, vulnerability to external pressure, and potential as a role model for the rest of Asia made it a prime target for both sides in the Cold War. Similarly, the Japanese saw themselves as living on the fault line between East and West. Huddled under the U.S. security umbrella, they were able to concentrate on building their economy without devoting too much attention or resources to their own defense.

Christopher Braddick and Hirama Yoichi

Further Reading
Dower, John W. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. New York: Norton, 1999.; Gordon, Andrew, ed. Postwar Japan as History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.; Schaller, Michael. Altered States: The United States and Japan since the Occupation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.; Welfield, John. An Empire in Eclipse: Japan in the Postwar American Alliance System. London: Athlone, 1988.

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