This article examines the feasibility of using role identity as an independent variable to explain the direction of a state’s national security policy. Focusing on the response of the Japanese government to the Gulf War (January-March 1991) and the U.S. War in Iraq (March-May 2003), the article examines the correlations between articulations of a preferred role for Japan made in the Japanese Diet, with these policy outcomes. It finds that the different balance of role conceptions held by Japanese politicians in the two periods under study can explain the difference in policy outcomes. The study also finds, however, that the salience of these role identities is affected by contextual factors. Under circumstances of heightened threat perception, Japanese policy makers were less inclined to articulate any sort of value-based role identity for Japan in favor of role statements that were characterized by pragmatism.