Abe Shinzo and Japan's Change of Course
Kenneth B. Pyle
Through the lens of Abe Shinzo’s September 26, 2006, election as Japan’s new prime minister, this report examines the fundamental changes that are redefining Japan’s foreign policy strategy.
Japan is on the verge of a sea change in its foreign policy strategy. The September 26 election dramatically symbolizes three forces impelling Japan on a new course.
- Japan’s external environment is changing. The end of the cold war undermined Japan’s grand strategy of concentrating exclusively on building economic power while maintaining a minimal defense. The belligerence of North Korea, the rise of China, and increased American expectations of alliance reciprocity have given Japanese a new sense of vulnerability.
- Japan’s ruling conservative elite has historically demonstrated a pattern of adapting both its foreign policy and its domestic institutions to fit fundamental changes in the international system. Accordingly it is now loosening the self-binding restrictions on Japan’s participation in military security affairs and it is making far-reaching changes in its domestic institutions in order to support a new activist foreign policy.
- A new generation of political leadership which favors a higher international political profile for Japan and believes that Japan must assert its own identity in the global community is now rising to the forefront of Japanese politics.
- For most of the cold war, Japan showed little interest in military cooperation with the United States. However, beginning in the late 1990s, hitherto resisted military cooperation with U.S. forces was steadily increased in piecemeal ways, leading to increased reciprocity in the alliance.
- While Japan is becoming an engaged ally, the bilateral relationship will not become like that of the U.S. with the U.K. Japan is motivated by imperatives, values, traditions, and practices that differ from those of the U.K. Japan’s readiness to tighten cooperation with the U.S. is not the result of shared values, so much as it is the realist appraisal of the value of the alliance.
- Japan has a great interest in promoting multilateral institutions in Asia where it can establish its leadership, compete with China for influence, and press for solution to a wide range of purely regional problems.
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© 2012 The National Bureau of Asian Research