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…
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.
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 […]