Change in Japan's Grand Strategy: Why and How Much?
by Mike M. Mochizuki
The authors of these excellent books on Japanese grand strategy traverse beyond their home disciplines. The historian Kenneth B. Pyle explains shifts in Japan by applying a political science theory that argues that the international system shapes a country's domestic institutions as well as its external behavior. The political scientist Richard J. Samuels places the current Japanese debates about strategy in a broad historical context to "connect the ideological dots" of national discourse over nearly 150 years of history. Both books seek to assess the degree and nature of change in Japanese strategy, to explain this change, and to suggest where Japan might be headed. Although there is much about which Pyle and Samuels agree, there are also some significant differences.
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Both Pyle and Samuels embrace the virtually unanimous consensus among Japan scholars that Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru established the basic parameters of Japan's post-World War II foreign policy during the peace negotiations with the United States. The two authors show how during the 1950s and 1960s Yoshida's shrewd diplomatic tactics were transformed into a grand strategy. This transformation was achieved by grounding "mercantile realism" (Pyle, pp. 212, 256-62) in robust domestic institutions, by adopting explicit brakes on Japan's defense policies (what Samuels calls "baking the pacifist loaf" in chapter 2) so as to resist U.S. pressures on Japan to make greater military contributions to the alliance, and by forging a new national consensus. Although much of this ground has been covered by other writings, these two books provide a clear and readable account of the emergence and impact of this so-called Yoshida Doctrine. It is in their respective analyses of how Japan appears to be moving away from this grand strategy, however, that Pyle and Samuels make their mark.
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In Pyle's view, the end of the Cold War brought about the unraveling of the Yoshida Doctrine-both in economic and military dimensions. Economically, the end of autarkic communist regimes fueled economic globalization that in turn exposed the structural weaknesses of the Japanese economy and the need for Japan to move beyond catch-up developmental capitalism. Militarily, the collapse of the Soviet Union yielded a more uncertain and fluid security environment in which Japan's "cheap ride" on the U.S. security guarantee became less viable-even though Japan continued to host U.S. military bases and forces. The first post-Cold War international crisis, the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, revealed the diplomatic risks and reputational costs of Japan's pacifism. The North Korean nuclear crisis, which emerged because of the post-Cold War reconfiguration of major power alignments, confirmed that Japan not only depended on the United States for its own defense, but also could ill afford to be a passive security bystander. Therefore, rather than resisting U.S. expectations that Japan do more for regional and global security (as Japan had done under Yoshida and his followers), Japan began to embrace greater bilateral defense cooperation and to participate in overseas peacekeeping missions. Both Japan's post-September 11 naval refueling support for military operations against Afghanistan and Iraq and its ground force deployments for postwar reconstruction in Iraq reflect this trend.
To nail down his argument about the primacy of international structure, Pyle stresses the failure of Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro's agenda. In Pyle's view, Nakasone was the sole Japanese prime minister of the Cold War era who wanted to break out from the Yoshida Doctrine. Nakasone ultimately failed to achieve his objective because of "fierce resistance from the bureaucracy and the mainstream conservatives" (p. 276). More importantly, the domestic motivation for change was absent because the persistence of "the Cold War international structure" made it "difficult to change a foreign policy and an institutional structure that had been so successful in exploiting that order" (p. 276). Therefore, as Pyle sees it, the demise of this Cold War international structure provides both the motivation and the opportunity to develop and pursue a new grand strategy.
In explaining Japan's changing strategy, Samuels refrains from emphasizing international structure above other factors. He argues that change in Japan's security policy is "overdetermined" by multiple catalysts: international events, domestic political struggles, societal change, institutional change, and the transformation of the U.S. defense establishment and policy (p. 64). In identifying "sociological, ideological, and institutional" changes in the Japanese defense establishment as causal factors, Samuels diverges from Pyle's "outside-in" argument. Samuels states that "none [of these changes] is the direct result of shifts in global or regional balances of power, and each is related to domestic political competition" (p. 71). By giving less relative weight to international structure as a driver of Japanese change, unlike Pyle he does not stress a sharp discontinuity starting from the end of the Cold War. Therefore, rather than treating the Nakasone era as a failed attempt at strategic change, Samuels sees the 1980s as the beginning of the "strategic slicing" of the "pacifist loaf" that was baked earlier and views the aftermath of the Cold War and the 1991 Persian Gulf War as simply an acceleration of this slicing-"slicing in earnest."
Compared to Pyle, Samuels' view of domestic dynamics being just as critical as shifts in the international environment offers a clearer picture of the strategic debate in Japan today. In explicating four general schools of thought (neo-autonomists, pacifists, normal nationalists, and middle-power internationalists), Samuels notes that each of these options has its roots in earlier periods of intense strategic debate that extend back into the nineteenth century. Moreover, Samuels sketches out the possibility of a new consensus emerging from this latest round of debate through a process of "blurring." "Blurring" across strategic divides takes places because "domestic politics and foreign threats intervene to complicate choices" and Japanese politicians will logroll, compromise, and even shift sides (p. 131). Samuels then speculates that the new strategic consensus will be a moderate one that "resemble[s] Goldilocks's preferences: Japan's relationships with the United States and China will be neither too hot nor too cold, and its posture in the region will be neither too big nor too small" (p. 131-32).
All of this raises the question of how great a strategic shift Japan is likely to make. Looking at the way in which Pyle has set up his book, he seems to believe that Japan's shift will be major. Early on he presents the Japanese puzzle of "abrupt changes and wide swings of international behavior" (p. 19). In his review of history, Pyle delineates four fundamental changes both in the international order that triggered sweeping changes in Japan's domestic order and in its national strategy. Pyle's addition of the end of the Cold War bipolar system in 1989 as the fifth in this list of international order changes suggests that Japan is about to make a strategic shift comparable to what took place in 1868, 1921-22, 1931, or 1945. Indeed Pyle ends the book by declaring that the Yoshida Doctrine is "a dead letter" and that "the changes that Japan is making are not peripheral adjustments; rather they point toward a comprehensive revision of the Japanese system" (p. 374).
Pyle, however, peppers his work with numerous caveats, thereby muddying his picture of Japan's strategic direction. For example, he writes, "The Japanese want to formulate a new, self-generated strategic vision, gain self-mastery and autonomy, and shape a new self-image, but there is little sign that such goals will readily emerge from domestic sources alone" (p. 353). Although Pyle fancies the Heisei generation to be the human agents of strategic change, he adds that "Heisei leaders have yet to define clear new national goals or a sense of national purpose that might someday form the basis of a new national consensus." They are not even able to agree on how to change the constitution (p. 361). These qualifications ultimately emerge because of Pyle's "outside-in" argument. The Cold War may have ended in 1989, but the structural change for East Asia is much less clear-cut than it has been for Europe. The Soviet Union may have collapsed, but the Cold War conflicts of the Korean peninsula and the Taiwan straits persist. Both the preeminence of U.S. military and economic power in the Asia-Pacific and the U.S. alliance system that existed during the Cold War period continue into the post-Cold War period-even with the rise of China.
Although there may have been important changes in Japan's international environment, those changes have not been so fundamental as to point clearly to a new strategy. Therefore while having made incremental adjustments to external change, Japan has not made an abrupt shift comparable to the pursuit of economic and military modernization after the Meiji Restoration, the seizure of Manchuria and continental expansion after the collapse of Wilsonian international liberalism, or the Yoshida Doctrine that combined security pacifism and mercantile realism after the end of World War II and during the Cold War.
Despite all of the talk of a more proactive and assertive Japan with (what Pyle calls) a resurgence of power and purpose, Japan appears to remain essentially a reactive or adaptive state. Tokyo is recalibrating its existing foreign policy in response to external changes and pressures and is adopting a "wait-and-see" approach regarding the "unfolding international system" (especially regarding the rise of China and the future of U.S.-China relations). Japan is not, however, energetically wielding its power and influence to shape the international order. For example, whereas Japan may be assertive on the issue of North Korean abduction of Japanese citizens, Tokyo's singular focus on this issue has ironically hampered its ability to influence the dynamics of the six-party talks regarding the North Korean nuclear issue. Given Tokyo's keen energy interests and its "normal" diplomatic relations with Tehran, its international passivity regarding the Iranian nuclear problem is stunning.
Samuels uses a different conceptual language to examine where Japan might be going. Rather than focusing on "international structure," he concentrates on "threats" (chapter 6). In his view, Japan sees myriad threats-coming from rising China, North Korea, challenges to Japan's technological and industrial base, and even its ally the United States (because of the possibility of entrapment, abandonment, and divergent interests and priorities). A national strategic culture that emphasizes vulnerability, prestige, and autonomy will shape how Japan responds to these threats. Institutional inertia, democratic competition, pragmatism, and calculations about U.S. power and regional power balances, however, will check "a straight path toward Japanese muscularity" (p. 198). In the final analysis, Samuels believes that Japan will opt for a "dual hedge" strategy that involves on the one hand relying on the United States to counter China's military power and other regional security threats and on the other hand seizing the commercial opportunities presented by China's rise and resisting U.S. economic predation (pp. 200-01). In short, Japan will seek to have it both ways.
Does this constitute a new strategy or just a more robust and updated version of the Yoshida Doctrine? I believe it is the latter. As Prime Minister Abe Shinzo wishes, Japan may reinterpret the constitution to allow it to shoot down missiles headed for the United States, help defend U.S. warships operating near Japan or near Japanese maritime self-defense vessels when they come under attack, or protect nearby foreign peacekeepers during Japanese involvement in U.N.-sanctioned peacekeeping operations abroad. As significant as these steps may be, however, they fall short of allowing Japan to become a great military power. Even while relaxing the constitutional barriers on defense policy, Japan is likely to maintain strong constraints on the use of military force in operations that do not relate directly to the defense of its own territory. The other key elements of the Yoshida Doctrine (e.g., the alliance with the United States, the hosting of U.S. military bases and forces, and economic realism) are also likely to remain intact.
Samuels' metaphor of a "Goldilocks" strategy, however, may work only under the current international situation in which the U.S. regional alliance system remains robust, the United States is willing to counter actual and potential threats from North Korea and China, and the power balance relative to a rising China continues to favor the United States. If the U.S. alliance system is hollowed out, the United States disengages from East Asia, or China begins to eclipse the United States in power and influence, however, then the international structure in Asia would have changed so fundamentally that the strategic break with the past that Pyle posits Japan making might finally occur. One wonders if under such conditions Samuels' Goldilocks dynamic would still operate enabling Japan to forge a new strategic consensus that gets it "just right" rather than pursue a pathological course as the country did during the 1930s. Put differently, Pyle may not be wrong about the possibility of an abrupt strategic shift; he may just be premature. If the era of U.S. preeminence and engagement in the Asia-Pacific were to come to an end, however, Pyle's book does not provide much guidance for what the substance of Japan's new strategy is likely to be-except to say that it will be different from the Yoshida Doctrine.
About the books' authors
Richard J. Samuels is a Ford International Professor of Political Science and director of the Center for International Studies at MIT. Kenneth B. Pyle is the Henry M. Jackson Professor of History and Asian Studies at the University of Washington.