I have been reading an article from The Atlantic which was published in 1989, on the question of whether Japan enjoys a "free ride" with regards to defence spending. This is a topic which has evidently been recurring in American politics for years.

I'd like to know if there's any American acknowledgement of the fact that Japan has neither a large military nor nuclear weapons as a direct consequence of America's desire to suppress Japanese military capability after the Second World War? I have not noticed this point being made by either American politicians or pundits.

The Allied occupation imposed strict limits upon the military capabilities of Japan and Germany, and also attempted to move Japanese and German culture away from militarism. Gradually successive American governments encouraged the Japanese and German states to develop some military capability, but this was always in a limited and subservient capacity within an American-led alliance.

Given the success of Allied efforts to encourage pacifism amongst German and Japanese people, it seems odd that American political discourse should expect either nation to suddenly become an equal partner militarily, given that this pacifism was an American imposition.

Furthermore, I'd like to know if at the time of American occupation after the war, there was any debate within the American government about the cost of effectively replacing Japanese military capability? Was this a factor at the time?

Simply: Do any American politicians acknowledge that Japanese and German timidity is America's doing? And was the future cost effectiveness or fair sharing of defence burden a consideration for policy makers during the Allied occupation of Japan and Germany?

  • related question
    – lazarusL
    Aug 5, 2019 at 13:24
  • 1
    But then isn't American strategy a direct consequence of Japanese wartime strategy? Which I suppose one might in turn blame partially on American pre-war strategy, but here it gets somewhat indirect. Aug 11, 2019 at 6:24

2 Answers 2


The question is, what kind of armed forces would the US want Japan and Germany to have? I'll answer mostly about Germany, but the principle may apply to Japan as well.

During the second half of the Cold War, they were happy to see German Panzer divisions on the Iron Curtain, at times backing a thin tripwire of American troops directly at the frontier. They were also happy to teach German soldiers how to shoot American nukes. (But the nukes themselves were under US control until they were to be used.)

I'm quite doubtful about the NATO plan that every member state should spend 2% of GDP on defense. Germany should spend more than it does now, but I think it would be a bad idea for peace in Europe if Germany were to spend more than Russia or France. Better to make a conscious decision to stay below those levels.

In a similar vein, it would not have been to the benefit of the US if Japan had tried to outspend the Soviet Union back in late 80s. It would have been to the benefit of the US if Japan had gotten a couple more interceptors, SAMs, and destroyers to defend their "unsinkable airbase" ...


People live in the moment. When politicians neutered the Germans and the Japanese after the war, the concern was not for the distant future. When you just got done losing tens of thousands of Americans, your concern isn't about making them into future allies. Your concern is about the immediate future and making sure they don't mess with you again.

As to more current politicians, Trump has introduced the idea of these countries protecting themselves. There is no "America's doing" here in my opinion. It's simply a new line of thinking Trump has introduced that these two countries are clearly not bad actors anymore and therefore should be getting back to defending themselves.

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