A State of Crisis: North Korea and the Transformation of the Japanese State

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The North Korea threat emerged as the main catalyst for Japanese defense and security reforms in the post-Cold War era. Yet, only in recent years has North Korea become deeply embedded into a broad discourse to revise Japan’s postwar state. In 2017, Prime Minister Abe called for general elections to “overcome Japan’s national crisis”. Pivotal to this sense of crisis were North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. Prior to elections, Japanese authorities had conducted unprecedented evacuation drills and issued emergency warnings preparing the public for missile strikes. In this study we show how political elites, scholars and the media in Japan have woven the North Korea threat discourse into a meta-narrative of state crisis that mandates “decisive intervention” revising the Japanese postwar state. As conservative elites pledged to “take Japan back” from the constraints of postwar pacifism, they employed the North Korea threat to delegitimize established institutions and rival liberal elites in steering atransition of the Japanese state. Specifically, we demonstrate how the use of North Korea related narratives of state crisis were instrumental in debates over constitutional reinterpretation, collective self-defense, the deployment of ballistic missile systems, and the build-up of preemptive strike capabilities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCrisis Narratives, Institutional Change, and the Transformation of the Japanese State
EditorsSebastian Maslow, Christian Wirth
PublisherSUNY Press
ISBN (Print)9781438486093, 9781438486086
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


  • Japan
  • international relations
  • Discourse
  • Security
  • Abe
  • North Korea

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