Forthcoming (2021): “Japan’s Defense Reforms Under Abe”

“Though the defense reforms the Abe government has achieved thus far are undoubtedly significant, this study also suggests at least two major implications for thinking about a post-Abe era. First, because many major reforms achieved under Abe build on longer-term trends and have attracted support from within and outside the conservative wing of Abe’s “right-of-center” LDP – including more liberal LDP members, Komeito (the LDP’s “pacifistic” junior coalition partner), and moderates from the (now defunct) “left-of-center” Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) – much of the contemporary discourse appears to exaggerate both the particular significance of Abe as an individual, and his ideology as a driving force in his approach to national security. This, in turn, suggests that evolutionary defense reforms in response to Japan’s changing security environment are likely to continue, even after Abe is no longer in office. Second, several long-standing domestic constraints on Japan’s defense policy, which have frustrated generations of conservative LDP leaders (Abe included) coveting a more radical transformation of Japan’s defense posture, appear likely to persist. Especially salient examples are Japan’s dire fiscal climate (exacerbated by an aging and shrinking population), which severely limits defense spending increases, and continued domestic political resistance to formal revision of the existing clauses of Japan’s never-amended 1947 Constitution’s “pacifist” Article 9.

Read Article →

Brookings: “China, Japan, and the East China Sea: Beijing’s “gray zone” coercion and Tokyo’s response”

“…This paper focuses on the competition between China and Japan over their festering territorial dispute in the East China Sea. Though political frictions over the Senkaku (Diaoyu in Chinese) Islands are decades-old, since a 2012 contretemps over the islands led Beijing to begin regular, provocative deployments of government vessels into the islands’ contiguous zone and territorial seas, the dispute has become the most significant geopolitical flashpoint and locus of security competition between China and Japan today…

Read Article →

Brookings Foreign Policy Interview: “The Stress Test: Japan in an Era of Great Power Competition”

In September 2019, Brookings Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy Bruce Jones convened seven Brookings scholars and affiliates — Richard Bush, Lindsey Ford, Ryan Hass, Adam Liff, Michael O’Hanlon, Jonathan Pollack, and Mireya Solís — to discuss Japan’s present and future path in this era of great power competition. The edited transcript below reflects their assessment of the current state of Japanese strategic choices.

Read Article →

The Washington Quarterly: “Japan’s Defense Policy: Abe the Evolutionary”

Far from constituting an abrupt transformation of Japan’s defense policy, recent measures adopted during the Abe era to large extent continue long-term trends initiated by previous governments from both his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the leading opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). They reflect a significant, but evolutionary, rationalization of defense policy driven by growing concerns about regional security because of perceived threats from North Korea’s increasingly advanced nuclear and missile programs, a shifting regional military balance, and China’s maritime advancement and efforts to assert its sovereignty claims in the South and East China Seas. Other important factors include lessons learned from two decades of the Japan’s Self-Defense Forces’ (JSDF) gradually expanding regional and global missions and a desire to maximize efficiencies in response to the changing nature and rising costs of military technology, fiscal constraints, a shrinking and aging population, and the Japanese public’s persistent, deep-seated skepticism about military power. In response to these challenges, Abe and his predecessors have pursued incremental changes to bolster deterrence, to deepen cooperation and interoperability with the United States as well as other partners, and to facilitate a more rapid, flexible, and effective response to a range of perceived traditional and non-traditional security threats.
Furthermore, a flawed yet widespread focus exclusively on changes to Japan’s security policy overlooks the persistence of strict, long-standing, and self-imposed constraints within which political leaders pursue these reforms. Rumors of their demise to the contrary, recent developments have stretched, but not removed, core principles that for decades have defined Japan’s self-restraint. As cases-in-point, political leaders still prohibit the JSDF from using military force outside a singular, narrow interpretation of self-defense, or developing—much less employing—offensive power projection or nuclear weapons. Though practically significant and historic in a Japanese context, recent reforms—up to and including collective self-defense—are, at most, reactive realism within strict normative bounds. Seventy years after Japan’s surrender, the public remains deeply skeptical about the employment of military power as a tool of foreign policy.
Recent developments have stretched, but not removed, Japan’s core principles of self-restraint.

Read Article →