Though what future path Japan-Taiwan relations will take is uncertain, in confronting these complicated challenges, Japan is not alone. Policy debates in Washington and other major democratic partners, including Australia, the UK, and the EU, evince similar dilemmas vis-à-vis democratic Taiwan, “One China,” and stable ties and economic exchange with an increasingly powerful, assertive, and authoritarian Beijing. At least so far, and as additional indicators of the vagueness and flexibility built into the “One China” framework, developments during the fiftieth-year post-normalization suggest many in Japan and beyond are eager to continue deepening support for and practical cooperation with Taiwan—even as their official positions on “One China” remain frozen in time…
In answering the “who interprets the constitution?” and “whose interpretation shall prevail” questions foundational to large literatures in both constitutional law and political science, the scholarship on constitutional review has generally focused on three competing models: judicial supremacy, legislative supremacy, and departmentalism. The former two schools argue that the buck should stop with the judiciary or the legislature, respectively, while not necessarily excluding other branches in the process. The latter, in contrast, essentially treats each branch as, in the words of political scientist Keith Whittington, “an equal authority to interpret the Constitution in the context of conducting its duties… [because] each branch of government has its own, non-overlapping set of interpretive responsibilities.”
What this massive and important debate has generally overlooked heretofore, however, is the prospect of a fourth model: de facto executive supremacy. The theoretical literature has also neglected a particularly compelling real-world case that suggests its viability: Japan’s Cabinet Legislation Bureau, at least under some conditions. Indeed, for 70 years Japan’s postwar CLB has exercised extraordinary influence over constitutional review in the world’s third largest economy. Throughout this period, it has acted as the de facto supreme interpreter of the constitution and draft statutes, despite the existence of a court explicitly empowered by Japan’s Constitution to do so.
By introducing Japan’s CLB to this important interdisciplinary literature, emphasizing the distinction between law in books and law in action, and comparing the CLB with France’s Conseil d’État and the U.S. Office of Legal Counsel, this article highlights the important role executive institutions can play in the law-making process in both theory and practice, discusses several preliminary implications of de facto executive supremacy as a “fourth” model of constitutional review, and calls on scholars to continue the debate. Several potentially fruitful avenues for future research related to the “whose interpretation shall prevail?” question, in particular, are to broaden the conventional scope of analysis in the study of constitutional review as a whole, and to conduct more theoretical, empirical, and normative research specifically on the prospects for de facto executive supremacy as a fourth model.
In April 2021, Japan’s then prime minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. president Joe Biden made global headlines when they jointly “underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encouraged the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues”—the first such reference in a summit-level statement since 1969. This statement catalyzed a striking degree of public discussion in Japan and expressions of concern about cross-strait stability from Japanese leaders. It also elicited widespread, though often misleading or inaccurate, assertions overseas that Japan’s position vis-à-vis a “Taiwan contingency” had abruptly or radically transformed. Especially given the proximity of Japan (and U.S. military bases in Japan) to Taiwan, soberly appreciating the complexity and incremental evolution of Japan’s nuanced and intentionally ambiguous positions and policies, as well as its unique domestic constraints, is critical. Doing so is especially crucial for policymakers to accurately assess the status quo, manage expectations within and beyond the alliance, and ensure sound decision-making as the cross-strait deterrence challenge seems all but certain to deepen in the years ahead.
My latest peer-reviewed article … an analysis of the history and contemporary policy implications of the post-1970s “One China” framework in international politics … has just been published by The China Quarterly. Given […]
My latest article … a brief analysis of a few reasons why political parties aside from Japan’s (ostensibly dominant) Liberal Democratic Party matter for understanding Japan’s security policy trajectory … has […]
In 1992, Korea’s first democratically-elected government was clearly eager to normalize relations with Beijing. Nevertheless, it did not give in to pressure to recognize Beijing’s ‘One China principle’ as it concerns the essential claim that Taiwan is part of the PRC. Coupled with this study’s historically- grounded case study and comparative analysis with the similarly vague U.S. and Japanese official positions and other countries’ ever-evolving ‘One China’ policies, this reality demonstrates that Seoul’s relative reluctance to publicly express support for or significantly expand practical cooperation with Taiwan is best understood as due to a succession of ROK leaders’ subjective political judgments about what is in Korea’s national interest—not any putative commitment made to Beijing thirty years ago…
To conclude that widespread narratives exaggerate Abe’s individual impact is not to deny his agency or influence. Abe altered Japan’s image as a nation plagued by frequent leadership turnover and struggling to exercise international leadership. He accelerated important institutional reforms, and his busy diplomatic schedule and active management of the foreign
policy apparatus reflected a clear desire to enhance Japan’s international stature. Undoubtedly, Abe left office in 2020 with a list of foreign policy accomplishments.
However, his track record also demonstrates that there are
clear limits on the ability of a Japanese leader to fundamentally transform the country’s foreign policy. To exaggerate the individual significance of any prime minister is to risk overlooking the other, sometimes larger forces reshaping Japan’s foreign policy trajectory—forces that will remain important even now that Abe has passed the baton to his successors.
For Japan in 2021, COVID-19-related disruption was again the dominant storyline. Its impact transcended societal consequences to affect Japan’s economy, politics, and foreign affairs. It frustrated Japan’s economic recovery and, for the second time in as many years, contributed to a prime minister’s premature resignation. Yet the year also witnessed major positive developments, including…
JAPAN’S LEADERS BEGAN 2020 full of hope and expectation, and with lofty ambitions. As then-Prime Minister Abe Shinzō (2020a) proclaimed at his New Year’s press conference, “Together with the Japanese people, I will make this historic year . . . a year for carving out a new era for Japan.” Indeed, 2020 was not just any year. Perhaps more than any other in recent memory, the Japanese public (and Abe himself) had long anticipated that 2020 would be one for the history books. In 2013, Japan had been awarded the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. The following January, Abe predicted in a major policy speech that in 2020 Japan would “be newly reborn,” just as, he argued, it had been in 1964, the last time Tokyo hosted a Summer Olympics, just 19 years after Japan’s defeat in World War II (Asahi Shimbun 2014). In 2017, not only was it announced that 2020 would also be the first full year of Japan’s new Reiwa imperial era, but also Abe began repeatedly pledging that he would make it the year that Japan finally revised its (never-amended) US-drafted 1947 constitution—a deeply held ambition central to Abe’s personal and political legacy and a key pillar of the 1955 founding charter of his conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
But COVID-19 had other plans for Japan in 2020.
My latest peer-reviewed article … an analysis of Japan’s strategy for dealing with China’s rise and critique of the idea that Japan is seeking a middle ground between the U.S. and China… […]
My latest peer-reviewed article … an analysis of the puzzling durability of Japan’s LDP-Komeito ruling coalition, its theoretical significance, and its practical implications for Japanese politics and foreign policy … is now available […]
Abstract: In 2013, Japan’s first-ever National Security Council (NSC) was established as the leading edge of ambitious reforms to Japan’s foreign policy-relevant institutions. Within weeks, Japan’s new national security tripod was firmly in place: the top-level, political NSC ‘control tower’, Japan’s first-ever National Security Strategy, and its first-ever National Security Secretariat. In the years since, the NSC has played a central role in every major aspect of the Japanese strategic trajectory that has attracted so much global attention (and controversy) in ‘the Abe era’. This study analyzes the motivations driving Japan’s decision to establish an NSC, the institution’s key characteristics, and offers a preliminary assessment of the current and likely future implications of this historic institutional reform. Beyond NSC’s impact on policy, of potentially greater long-term significance is its effects on Japan’s foreign policy decision-making processes: in particular, expanded Kantei-centered political leadership of national security affairs and more ‘whole-of-government’ approaches specifically designed to transcend the ‘vertical hurdles’ traditionally dividing Japan’s powerful bureaucracies. The goal of these reforms is as straightforward as it is ambitious: to transform Japan’s ability to flexibly and independently cope with a rapidly changing, increasingly complex, and ever more uncertain security environment in East Asia and beyond.
My latest peer-reviewed article … an analysis of Japan’s reforms to national security policy and institutions in the “Abe era” (since 2012)… has just been published by Texas National Security Review, an exciting new peer-reviewed journal based at the University of Texas and published by War on the Rocks.
My latest peer-reviewed article … an analysis of the evolution of Chinese views of the U.S. alliance system and its role in East Asian security… is published in the March 2018 […]
This article analyzes Japan’s landmark cabinet decision reinterpreting the constitution to allow the limited exercise of collective self-defense (CSD) in both a historical and a contemporary context and assesses its implications for the conditions under which Japan may use military force.
In July 2014, a historic cabinet decision reinterpreted Article 9 of Japan’s 1947 constitution to allow the use of force to aid an ally under attack, overturning 60 years of authoritative constitutional interpretations categorically prohibiting Japan’s exercise of CSD. The decision was followed by a revision of the U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines and landmark legislation intended to transform Japan’s security policy. Yet the change is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Japan’s self-imposed precondition for the use of force by the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) remains uniquely strict: an armed attack posing an existential threat to Japan’s security. Nor is this the first case of a major reinterpretation of Article 9. Though its original wording remains untouched, the article’s effective policy significance has changed repeatedly over 70 years in accordance with shifting domestic political winds and perceived strategic exigencies. Specific to post-2014 developments, understanding what changed and why—especially how Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies’ push for full exercise of CSD failed—elucidates the strategic, political, and normative factors shaping changes to Japan’s security policy and the U.S.-Japan alliance.
While Japan may now legally exercise “limited” collective self-defense, unique, self-imposed conditions appear so strict that the use of force in support of allies or partners outside a defense-of-Japan scenario seems unlikely.
Security legislation in effect since 2016 opens up space for more expansive JSDF logistical support for U.S. military operations, bilateral planning, and exercises, as well as new authorities that somewhat resemble collective security or CSD operations in peacetime, including use of small arms during UN peacekeeping operations and protection of foreign militaries engaged in activities contributing to Japan’s defense.
Without formal constitutional revision (at a minimum), however, more ambitious efforts to fundamentally transform Article 9’s interpretation or the scope of scenarios in which Japan can use force overseas are unlikely without major domestic political realignments.
My latest peer-reviewed article… an analysis of the implications of recent institutional reforms–esp. the new National Security Council–for Japan’s crisis management capabilities…has just been published in the newest issue of Journal of […]
My latest peer-reviewed article… a critique of traditional methodologies and metrics often employed in contemporary security studies and analysis of four regional states’ military responses to China’s rise…has just been […]
Since Tokyo’s September 2012 ‘nationalization’ of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, Beijing’s use of military and paramilitary forces to challenge Japan’s decades-old effective administration has introduced a major source of uncertainty and risk into a volatile flashpoint between the world’s second- and third-largest economies. Specifically, China’s unprecedented operations increase the likelihood of an unintended incident in the surrounding waters or airspace. While neither side seeks conflict, how capable China and Japan are of rapidly and effectively preventing such an incident from escalating is a crucial, yet rarely-asked question. This is particularly true given the noxious state of Sino–Japanese political relations, infrequency of high-level dialogue, presence of nationalism potentially affecting leaders’ domestic political calculations, policy decision-making processes considered relatively slow and consensus-oriented, and the longstanding absence of bilateral crisis hotlines.
The question of how capable the two sides are at managing a crisis effectively is not merely an academic one…
My latest… a series of three responses to scholarly critiques of my 2014 International Security article on military competition in the Asia-Pacific…has been published in the latest issue of IS. This […]
My peer-reviewed article on military competition in the contemporary Asia Pacific, coauthored with Professor G. John Ikenberry of Princeton University, has been published in the Fall 2014 issue of International […]
My peer-reviewed article on China’s defense spending, coauthored with Professor Andrew S. Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College, has been published in the December 2013 issue of The China […]
Published a response to a critique of my earlier article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Strategic Studies on the likely implications of cyberwarfare for the frequency of interstate war. Liff, Adam P. “The […]
Published an article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Strategic Studies on the likely implications of cyberwarfare for the frequency of interstate war. Liff, Adam P. “Cyberwar: A New ‘Absolute Weapon’? The […]