Why Japan Still Matters

Given limitations on my own time right now, I would like to offer in lieu of a serious post of my own this excellent piece by Peter Ennis writing over at the Brookings institute.

As usual there is the typical excess of  balance, thoughtfulness, and common sense blended with insider knowledge. In addition, Ennis sums up in a nice quote a theme my own research will likely reflect upon in terms of generation change and foreign policy:

It’s ironic, but in this age of globalization and rapid social change, it may be Japan’s deepening and widening democracy and civil society, more than Japan’s vaunted economic miracle, that proves most valuable as a model to Asia’s developing nations.

While it is not uncommon for alliance managers to argue for the need to maintain a broader view of the alliance in addition to its military and economic dimensions, the insight  nicely points to why it would be a disaster if a more “forceful” resolution to the Futenma issue was pursued, for both the long-term legitimacy of the alliance itself as well as for Japan’s own interests.  With former National Security Adviser James Jones’ recent comments and Senators Webb, McCain and Levin’s call for a re-examination of basing plans in East Asia, including Futenma,  it does seem however that we are witnessing an opening in the discourse on not only Futenma but potentially on the sustainability of the US global and regional presence, and Japan’s orientation towards this presence. Which means, interesting times ahead for students of Japan’s foreign and security policy.

2 thoughts on “Why Japan Still Matters

  1. I have been thinking for a long time that Japan should start acting independent from American policies and China policies. If Japan was smart they would try to put themselves in a position as a leader and not the traditional follower. They could do business with China and America much better, in all aspects, if they spoke more clearly about what they need to maintain good relations.

    • I certainly would not disagree. There are some Japanese analysts who discuss these possibilities but they tend not to be allowed too close to the decision making by groups in either of the foreign relations bureaucracies in Japan/US. From a cynical realist point of view, Japan could maximize its advantage and play the US and China off against each other. But even if Japan does not take a cynical approach, more independence could still be useful – it could align with other middle powers to mitigate the negative effects of superpower competition between the US and China which could arise if things go bad. Basically, Japan cannot afford to take sides like it did in the Cold War. I don’t think current analysts have thought enough about what Japan should do, if it is called upon to make such a choice. It may not happen, but it is not completely unlikely either.

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