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  • A Renaissance or a Revolution?
  • Kenneth B. Pyle (bio)

During the past half century, the return of Japan to great-power politics has been predicted many times—wrongly. Especially in the 1970s, as Japan's industrial and financial power grew, many foreign observers expected the country to soon become a great military power. Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai feared that Japan was on the verge of resuming a militarist course. Herman Kahn, the preeminent futurist and founder of the Hudson Institute, concluded in his book The Emerging Japanese Superstate (1970) that the "Japanese will almost inevitably feel that Japan has the right and duty to achieve full superpower status and that this means possessing a substantial nuclear establishment."1 The year before his election as president, Richard Nixon wrote in Foreign Affairs that it was past time for Japan to rearm: "It simply is not realistic to expect a nation moving into the first rank of major powers to be totally dependent for its own security on another nation, however close the ties."2 Nixon recalled Japan's past reluctance to involve itself in world affairs, but said he would not be surprised if "in five years we didn't have to restrain them." The Japanese had gone through a traumatic period since Hiroshima, he mused, but "now they are going to do something."3

Nevertheless, in the face of such expectations, foreign observers were puzzled when Japan still didn't "do something." On the contrary, its leaders continued to neglect, and in fact deliberately avoid, developing an infrastructure to take responsibility for defense of Japan's security. Instead, depending on the U.S. security guarantee made possible by the Cold War order, they adopted self-binding policies to ensure that Japan would stay out of political and military involvements, interpreting Article 9 of the constitution to mean that there could be no overseas deployment of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), no participation in collective defense, [End Page 174] no power projection capability, no possession of nuclear arms, no arms exports, no sharing of defense-related technology, no spending of more than 1% of GNP for defense expenditure, and no military use of space. Japan defined itself as a trading state and depended on the United States to provide its security, paying billions of dollars annually to help defray the expenses of U.S. protection. This grand strategy left Japan ill-prepared for the post–Cold War era. Exclusive concentration on economic growth left the nation without political-strategic institutions, crisis-management practice, intelligence gathering, or strategic planning. Incredibly, the Japanese had no plan or legislation that would allow the government to deal with national emergencies. Japan, supposedly a sovereign country, had in effect no plans for ensuring its national security. Dependence had become the foundation of the nation's foreign policy.

Only when the Cold War and the automatic U.S. security guarantee ended did Japan begin to change slowly in order to accommodate an emerging and threatening regional environment. Domestic politics, first, had to change, which it did in response to the new international circumstances. The mainstream Yoshida school of conservative politicians disappeared. The Socialist Party collapsed. Left standing was the nationalist right wing of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which became its new mainstream and has taken the lead in incrementally rolling back the self-binding policies that have kept Japan out of international military-strategic involvements.

Andrew Oros's excellent book Japan's Security Renaissance focuses on the decade from 2006 to 2016 in which the results of this transformation began to play out. In a careful, meticulous analysis, Oros traces the steady evolution of Japanese attention to the development of new policies to overcome the neglect of past decades. His extended comparison of Japan's renewed security concerns to the fourteenth-century European Renaissance at the outset is a bit jarring and incongruous. But reading past this section, I found the book to be a solid, trustworthy, and commendable study of the innovations in Japan's security policy. Oros provides a virtual handbook of the new Japanese policies, practices, institutions, and capabilities that constitute the "renaissance." He covers changes in domestic politics that led...


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pp. 174-177
Launched on MUSE
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