In 1945, USA occupied Japan following the East Asian Empire’s unconditional surrender. This occupation was accompanied with political and social reforms. In this article, Tenny Kristiana examines the diplomatic negotiations between the two nations, and how domestic politics and the evolving international order impacted the creation of a democratic government in Japan.


Diplomacy on a global stage has an extended role of maintaining international order. States conduct diplomacy through both bilateral and multilateral strategies in order to achieve their objectives. Eminent political scientist Robert Putnam proposed a two-level game theory, focusing on the interactive process that occurs when a leader negotiates international agreements at both an international and a domestic level simultaneously. At the international stage (Level I), the representative of a State attempts to reach an agreement with other global stake-holders. Concurrently, said representative also attempts negotiations at a domestic level with the State’s legislature and the domestic constituencies (Level II). According to Putnam, the ideal outcome of this two-level negotiation is the ‘win-set’, meaning all possible Level I agreements are unanimously, or with majority, accepted by the domestic stakeholders, i.e. the legislature and the constituents.

Building on Putnam’s concept, I argue that a successful diplomatic policy not only achieves the ‘win-set’ but also allows for the opposing country in the negotiation to achieve and defend their own national interests by agreeing on mutually acceptable concessions. Both countries can share beneficial relations and help one another to guard and pursue their own national interests. Based on this framework, I will analyse the US occupation of Japan to examine whether the negotiations between the two nations resulted in a successful and mutually beneficial foreign relations strategy.

The US Occupation of Japan. In early 1943, the President Franklin Roosevelt demanded the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. He asked not only for the capitulation of the Axis power’s armed forces but also for the elimination of power expansion and militarism. Meanwhile, inside the US administration, there was a debate brewing on the terms of an unconditional surrender. Experts on Japan within the State Department’s Committee on Post-War Foreign Policy disagreed with the proponents of a ‘hard peace’ that the Allies were insisting in the Potsdam Proclamation. In Japan, the debate over the preservation of the monarchy resulted in Japan’s acceptance of the Potsdam Proclamation on the condition that they be allowed to maintain imperial prerogatives. US representatives, however, rejected this condition. US public opinion did not favor the Japanese emperor; there were increasing calls to try and execute him as a war criminal. Not only did US domestic pressure from public polls, newspapers, and Congress shape its postwar policy approach, Japan’s dependency on the Soviet Union for mediation, and the Japanese appeal to preserve their monarchy, influenced the US strategy toward Japan.

By 1945, President Truman considered these domestic and international tensions, particularly Soviet Union’s deployment of troops in the Far East. Ultimately, he refused Japanese demands and subsequently authorised use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In the period between the Potsdam Proclamation and Japan’s surrender, the Japanese made several attempts to protect the monarchy. By the time American occupation began, the US had agreed to this prerequisite. The main objective of US occupation was to promote democracy and eliminate the influence of the military in the Japanese government. This was also a stipulation in the Potsdam Proclamation, in turn requiring both parties to create a new administration and limit the powers of the SCAP (Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers) during the occupation.

From the American perspective, it could be said that the SCAP had achieved its main objective of a ‘hard peace’ through these reforms. A reshuffle in the State Department side-lined Japanese experts within the occupation staff. Those in-charge within the occupation staff focused on defending American interests with minimum compromise, including suggestions from Japanese experts to adapt the occupation policies with Japanese characters, culture, etc. During the recovery period, SCAP’s economic policies dismissed the Zaibatsu and some of the existing economic restrictions while still maintaining control over the Japanese economy. SCAP’s policy was not meant purely for Japanese economic recovery, but also served a postwar American economic order that favoured US economy and trade. Agricultural reforms aided tenants on farmlands, while the Zaibatsu dissolution brought Japan into a new era of free and competitive markets through the support of the Anti-Monopoly Act. Furthermore, the Diet passed the Labor Union Act, ensuring the right of workers to strike and negotiate with their employers.

Similarly, the SCAP exercised control over the drafting process of the constitution, including the crafting of Article 9 which restricted the use of force and helped to form the US-Japan Security Alliance. Initially the first draft of the constitution was rejected for being too ‘conservative’. This version empowered the executive, giving the Prime Minister the authority to dissolve the Diet. Under Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, the Japanese accepted the SCAP model on the agreement that the American administration would compromise, preserving the monarchy and allowing Japanese bureaucrats (including the conservative groups) to remain in power. On the one hand, the Japanese were acutely aware of the anti-military stance of the US government and therefore, to maintain power of the conservative regime, they sought to create space for them within the limitations of the SCAP policy. Moreover, the SCAP relied heavily on the conservative regime for implementation of their policies in Japan. Another reform orchestrated by the SCAP was the separation of religion and state, bringing religious freedom to Japan. Although this was motivated by McArthur’s desire to promote Christianity in Japan (which was unsuccessful), the reform successfully brought about the disestablishment of Shinto, the dominant religion within the Japanese state system.

The SCAP imposed several policies and exercised strong control over the Japanese government through economic, constitutional, and religious reform, and, additionally, by imposing censorship and restrictions on information sharing. These restrictions show how the SCAP used their power to carry out total reform in Japan. However, although they were defeated, the Japanese were able to protect their vital interests by safeguarding the monarchy and preserving the power of the conservative regime. After 1948, as the Cold War international condition began to evolve, the occupation policy was re-examined. In a conversation with George Kenan, MacArthur observed that the Potsdam objectives had been achieved, and that a new Japanese strategy needed to be planned.

US Occupation is a Successful Diplomacy. As mentioned, a successful diplomatic mission is when governments achieve the win-set and the nations involved acquire benefits as a result. In this instance, we see how the SCAP exercised its military prowess to transform Japanese politics and society. The US played well at the ‘two-level game’ by successfully navigating the new world post-war order and by managing domestic pressures. For Japan, the two-level stage was also well-pursued. On an international level, Japan succeeded in getting the SCAP to compromise, while on a domestic level it preserved power within the conservative regime, causing no drastic political turmoil. The change in political structures was not a total loss for the Japanese. The reforms also had a broader positive impact on economic growth. Ultimately, diplomatic negotiations between the US and Japan were ‘successful’ as both states defended their national interest and benefitted from their agreements.


Tenny Kristiana is a member of Pacific Forum’s Young Leaders Program. She achieved her second postgraduate degree in International Relations from Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University. Previously she studied at the University of Indonesia, majoring in Japanese Studies. Her research focuses, in particular, on oil politics and, more broadly, on the Cold War in Indonesia, Indonesia-Japan postwar relations, missile defence in Northeast Asia, and energy policy after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Cover Image: Emperor Showas’ visit to Ogaki in 1946 from “Showa History Vol. 13: Ruins and Lack” published by Mainichi Newspapers Company. Credit to Wikimedia Commons.