Panov Alexander. Japan: the search for a "proper place" and "influential role"
16.11.2013 г.

Japan: the search for a "proper place" and "influential role" in the new system of international relations after the cold war

Alexander Panov

A new group of political, business and bureaucratic circles that came to power after Japan's defeat in World War II adopted a strategic course of development that consisted of two bases: an economic recovery linked to limited defense spending in domestic policy, and a military and political alliance with the U.S., which was entrusted to safeguard the country's security in the foreign-policy field. Its rigid adherence to the U.S. effectively deprived Japan of opportunities to show independence in terms of foreign-policy.

The central position of the U.S. in Japanese politics has remained unaltered to this day. All postwar Japanese prime ministers invariably confirmed allegiance to the union with the U.S. Claims by some Japanese politicians to build "a more equal relationship with Washington" were firmly held back by the American partner and the-in-depth pro-American lobby in Japan. Moreover, various and diverse Japanese politicians, public figures, businessmen, political scholars, and bureaucrats are quite convinced that there is no alternative to the Japanese-American military and political union with regard to the interests of Japanese national security.

The main argument in support of this contention during the "cold war" era was the "threat to Japan by the Soviet Union;" today, this has been replaced with "threats from China and North Korea."

Thus, the post cold war period has seen no major changes in Japan's foreign policy strategy and its military course. Attempts by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to modify this course by increasing the value of the Japanese voice in its alliance with Washington and by developing friendly relations with Russia and China, were resolutely suppressed by both the White House and the pro-American lobby in Japan.

The return of the LDP to power and of its leader Shinzo Abe to the government points to the intention of Japan's ruling circles to further strengthen the country's military-political alliance and military cooperation with the United States.

Abe is the most decisive and consistent supporter of the philosophy of right-wing conservatism, which holds that by demonstrating its dedication to the alliance with the U, S., Japan must definitely rid itself of the "complex of defeat in World War Two," draw a line under the post-war politics, and commence a revival of Japan as an unique and leading powers of the world. Hence his pronouncements about the need to revise the Constitution and the assessments of Japan's actions during WW2.

The Japanese Prime Minister is the leader of the right-wing conservative group in the country's ruling circles, a group that relies on strengthening the alliance with the United States and on supporting the return of the U.S., especially the military return, to the Asia-Pacific region. It also favors an increase in Japan's own capacities to build up its military potential, which requires removal of the relevant constitutional limitations. Particular attention is being paid in this context to the importance of the policy of the firm answer to the Chinese challenge.

However, the right-wing conservative group has to reckon with the presence in political and social circles of proponents of pacifist views, as well as supporters of greater independence of Japan's foreign policy.

The attitude of the Obama administration toward Abe's political philosophy shows that Washington does not share the "excessive" radicalism of the Japanese prime minister vis-à-vis constitutional reform. It will be recalled that the Americans played a decisive role in creating Japan's Constitution and in a radical military build-up - for fear that Japan might get away from U.S. control. Similar attitude can be observed to the snootiness of Japanese policy toward China and the Republic of Korea, which impede the U.S. strategy in the Asia-Pacific region, where it seeks to reach agreement with Beijing while consolidating relations with its allies, Japan and the ROK in containing the PRC. The White House's friendly tips have already contributed to some attenuation of Abe's determination to revise the Constitution and the outcome of WW2. For all that the Japanese Prime Minister does not seem to be willing to have his philosophy modified at this time.

The late last century and the beginning of this one saw the entrance in big-time Japanese politics of a new generation of politicians, people who are free from the "post-war syndrome" and are motivated by ambitions to revive the "greatness of Japan" based on traditional values. This does not lead to a major revision of the approach to the alliance with the U.S., but is accompanied instead by attempts to shift the internal political situation in the right-wing conservative direction and - fix it there.