- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

Japan’s Long Transition: The Politics of Recalibrating Grand Strategy

Mike M. Mochizuki


This chapter examines political developments in Japan and analyzes how domestic politics affects the country’s strategic response to the changing international environment.

Main Argument

  • Japan has moved toward a two-party system, and political leadership and the mobilization of public support matter more for governance than before. The prime minister and the cabinet secretariat together now wield greater executive power, and the bureaucratic state has been reformed to respond more effectively to security as well as economic challenges.
  • Japan has become more willing to contribute to its alliance with the U.S. and various international security activities; anti-militarism norms and domestic politics, however, are likely to restrain Japan from using military force abroad.
  • Japan’s grand strategy will evolve incrementally rather than change dramatically. Japan will continue to balance between the security imperative of its alliance with the U.S. and the economic imperative of developing a favorable Asian environment for its long-term commercial interests.

Policy Implications

  • The recent revival of Japan’s economy and Japan’s trend toward greater security and diplomatic activism are generally consistent with U.S. interests. The U.S. benefits from a Japan that is more capable, proactive, and influential in Asia.
  • Although the U.S. and Japan converge strategically, there will continue to be tactical differences stemming from different priorities and perspectives. Such tactical differences require U.S. policymakers to remain attentive and not complacent about the alliance. Sensitivity to the risks of inflated expectations and entrapment as Japan recalibrates its grand strategy will prove useful to the U.S.