The common wisdom of Japan’s foreign and security policy is that the alliance with the U.S. is one of the most important variables. On the other hand, Japan has continuously worked on building new relationships beyond the U.S.-Japan Alliance since the Cold War. Should we, therefore, question the common understanding? “New Directions in Japan’s Security: Non-U.S. Centric Evolution”, edited by renowned scholars Wilhelm Vosse from the International Christian University and Paul Midford from Meiji Gakuin University, explores this question. Including 10 other scholars anchored in various disciplines, the volume gathers diverse perspectives and case studies on topics ranging from constitutional to military issues.
The analyses are firmly rooted in the post-Cold War period that brought drastic changes to Japan’s security environment. It is not at all surprising that a special focus is placed on the administration of Shinzo Abe, which also coincided with the presidency of Donald J Trump. The perspective on the importance of the two very contested political figures varies from one chapter to another, but there is a general agreement that they did not fundamentally alter Japan’s security policy, rather serving as a catalyst for already ongoing changes.
Different analyses provided in the book make it very clear that the speed and the scope of changes of policies that affected the U.S.-Japan Alliance have been varying depending on the issue. In other words, the changes of the security environment had not been equally translated into concrete policies in all cases. Bryce Wakefield, for example, argues that the debate on the collective self-defense was less based on a strategic consideration but more on domestic political battles. Christopher W Hughes does not deny the strategic implication of lifting the ban on weapon exports, but highlights that there had been equally good economic reasons for that decision as the domestic arms production became too expensive.
In contrast to many analyses of Japan’s foreign and security policy behavior focusing solely on geopolitical factors, this volume stands out by taking domestic political and economic factors into consideration. However, considering multiple variables also comes at a cost of the simplicity. The overall picture becomes very complex and sometimes even contradicting. Bjørn Elias Mikalsen Grønning, who analyses Japan’s security partnership with the Philippines and Vietnam, believes that the importance of the U.S. has been playing a less central role in Japan’s security policy. At the same time, Andrew L Oros argues that the U.S.-Japan alliance is and will continue being central for both countries. Oros believes that the changes in Japan’s foreign and security policy should be interpreted as Tokyo’s contribution to a shifting security approach of the U.S. in Asia that has been increasingly substituting the hub and spoke system with a security network in the region. This view is also adopted by Natsuyo Ishibashi, who sees Japan’s increasing security cooperation with India as complementary to the U.S. strategy in Asia.
Is Japan moving away from its U.S.-centered foreign and security policy? Perhaps yes and no at the same time, as concluded by Thomas S Wilkins, who looks at Japan’s deepening security ties with Australia. The core message of the book is that the answer to the question of centrality of the alliance to the U.S. can be different, depending on the perspective adopted. Consequently, the contradicting interpretations of Japan’s stance toward the alliance provided by the book is not a weakness but rather a valuable and an accurate image of Japan’s complex decision-making that involves multiple actors with different opinions on the U.S.-Japan Alliance.
“New Directions in Japan’s Security” is a valuable book for all readers interested in the topic, not only scholars and practitioners. The volume provides an important contemporary analysis of Japan’s extending security partnerships in the region by leading experts in the field.
"New Directions in Japan’s Security: Non-U.S. Centric Evolution." Edited by Paul Midford and Wilhelm Vosse. London: Routledge.
Raymond Yamamoto is Associate Professor at the Global Studies Department, Aarhus University.© Japan Today