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 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 […]
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…
My latest publication… a short reflection on the big year for Japan-Taiwan relations that was 2021, plus a look ahead to 2022 … is now available *open-access (free)* via the […]
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.
In a provocatively titled article published earlier this month, Nikkei reported that “Japan lawmakers want ‘Taiwan Relations Act’ of their own.” The article, which was published in English and attracted attention from U.S.-based Asia policy experts, further suggested that a “2-plus-2 dialogue among the foreign and defense ministers of Japan and Taiwan” is being discussed in Tokyo.
Were Japan’s National Diet to actually pass legislation analogous to the landmark U.S.’ 1979 Taiwan Relations Act or to set up a Cabinet-level government-to-government “2-plus-2 dialogue,” it would be a groundbreaking and historic development in Japan-Taiwan relations. It is therefore no surprise the article attracted so much attention in Washington, D.C.
But neither seems likely to happen…at least not anytime soon or in the manner many may assume.
“…All the aforementioned challenges threaten foundational pillars of Japan’s economy and national security. Indeed, if the order were to collapse or the United States to “withdraw” or “abdicate” in the manner already suggested by some and feared by many, defining assumptions of Japan’s foreign policy would be fundamentally undermined…”
Taken collectively, the results suggest that Japanese citizens believe the liberal international order has been crucial to postwar national prosperity and peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. There is also robust support for Japan adopting a relatively more proactive posture in international trade and security affairs-within limits. In the economic domain, survey respondents strongly support the idea that Japan has benefited greatly from international free trade and should play a leadership role in that domain regardless of what the United States does. This comports with Solis’s argument that Japan is no longer a follower on free trade, as reflected in its effort to champion the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP, also known as TPP-11) after the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the twelve-member Trans-Pacific Partnership in January 2017. With regard to security affairs, the survey reveals strong support for strengthening ties with the United States, for Japan deepening ties with other countries in the region as a counterweight to China, and for pursuing more robust defense capabilities to bolster deterrence, such as increased defense spending. These goals all appear congruent with U.S. policies.
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 […]
My latest piece… a concise overview of a few major reasons why Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party face significant political headwinds as they attempt their […]
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.
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 […]
In recent years a widespread narrative presents post-2012 changes to Japan’s security policy and Article Nine’s interpretation as fundamentally unprecedented and “All About Abe.” The reality, however, is that Japan’s security policy has been undergoing evolutionary, incremental reforms for decades—under both conservative and moderate Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and opposition leaders. Practically significant, de facto change—albeit within remarkably “sticky” normative bounds so far—has occurred repeatedly in response to changing external threat perceptions and shifting domestic political winds.
My latest … an analysis of the prospects for constitutional revision in Japan since “pro-revision” forces captured a historic 2/3 super-majority in the July 10 Upper House election … has been […]
During my time as a Summer Associate at RAND Corporation, I co-authored an internal report on the implications of the Democratic Party of Japan’s victory in the 2009 election for Japan’s security […]
Task Force Report: U.S.-China Relations: A Roadmap for the Future [工作小组报告：中美关系为了未来的路线图]. Issues & Insights [ 09, No. 16]. Honolulu, HI: Pacific Forum CSIS, August 2009. [with Andrew S. Erickson, Wei […]
Liff, Adam P. “Profile: Shigeru Ishiba, Minister of Defense.” Japan, Inc., March/April 2008.
Liff, Adam P. “On the Rocks? Implications of recent domestic political developments for the US-Japan alliance.” Japan, Inc, January/February 2008.