- Japan's New Security Partnerships: Beyond the Security Alliance ed. by Wilhelm Vosse and Paul Midford
Since Abe Shinzō became prime minister in 2012, Japan has undertaken a series of major reforms to its national security policy. These reforms have encompassed changes to the country's political institutions, defense strategies and force structure, role in the alliance with the United States, and approach to diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific. Whether these efforts constitute a transformation of Japanese security, or are more evolution than revolution, has been the subject of much debate among those studying Japanese security politics.1
In terms of Japan's Asia-Pacific diplomacy, Abe's reforms have indeed contained elements of both change and continuity. On the one hand, the Abe government is building on Japan's established approach to regional diplomacy, particularly in Southeast Asia. Trade, official development assistance, and infrastructure development, as well as a continued commitment to certain accepted principles, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) centrality or noninterference, remain core components of Japan's diplomacy. On the other hand, the Abe government is seeking to go beyond just straightforward trade diplomacy in its regional partnerships and has, as part of its "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" strategy, inserted a greater strategic dimension into key relationships. This represents a new form of "security diversification" in Japan's foreign policy thinking toward the Asia-Pacific and beyond. [End Page 450]
Japan's New Security Partnerships, edited by Wilhelm Vosse and Paul Midford, seeks to examine this new security diversification—where Japan is attempting to go "beyond the security alliance," as the volume's subtitle suggests. Indeed, as Vosse and Midford note in their introduction (p. 1), over the course of the post–cold war period, Japan has been shifting away from the "security isolationism" that characterized the country's policymaking during the cold war—that is, avoiding any security ties beyond the U.S.– Japan alliance. Instead, Japan is seeking to broaden its regional security ties, albeit most notably with current or potential partners of the United States, such as Australia, the Philippines, and India.
The volume addresses several questions on these new partnerships, especially how they have evolved, how they are viewed domestically, and whether there are diverging or converging threat perceptions between Japan and its new partners (p. 5). The central argument is threefold: (a) increasing cooperation will boost "trust and understanding" between Japan and its partners on security matters; (b) cooperation, even on nontraditional security matters, can lead to further cooperation on traditional security issues; and (c) greater cooperation with non-U.S. partners can create more leverage for Japan and these partners vis-à-vis the United States and thus "encourage a more independent foreign and security policy" for Japan (p. 6). In addition to the introduction and conclusion, the volume is divided into four parts, each set up to offer Japanese and partner perspectives of Japan's different security partnerships. The first part presents Japanese and Australian perspectives on the Japan-Australia partnership, while the second part offers Japanese and Indian perspectives on the Japan-India partnership. The third part offers various perspectives on Japan's engagement of East and Southeast Asia, and the final part looks at the Japan-Europe security partnership.
The idea of security partnerships, or strategic partnerships, is now well established in the literature. Indeed, one of the significant scholars working on this concept, Thomas Wilkins, is a contributor to this volume (on the Japan-Australia partnership).2 There is also a growing literature on Japan's pursuit of these partnerships, such as the recently published edited volume by Gauri Khandekar and Bart Gaens.3 The concept of security partnership used here follows from the definition established by Wilkins: such partnerships [End Page 451] are based on "structured" collaborations with a broad range of characteristics, they are goal- rather than threat-focused, are often informal with low commitment levels, and are generally functional...