Gauging Japan’s normalization

Two articles provide a solid, realistic look at the process of Japan’s normalizing its security policy and possibly reducing its dependence on the alliance with the US in its grand strategy.

The first, by David Pilling in the FT, provides a belated report on Prime Minister Abe’s speech to graduates of the National Defense Academy. (I just watched the speech via podcast on the train coming home from Yurakucho; very nearly put me to sleep, especially since Abe was reading his address from a sheet of paper.)

Pilling looks at Japan’s evolving defense priorities in the face of an uncertain regional environment, and, despite a headline that contradicts the body of the article, provides more nuanced analysis than most discussion of contemporary Japanese security policy in international media sources. Citing comments by Temple University Japan’s Robert Dujarric, Pilling notes the difficulties in expanding its defense budget beyond the customary one-percent of GDP ceiling, including public opinion, the fears of Japan’s neighbors — and large projects, namely missile defense and funds going to the realignment of the US presence in Japan, that limit the Japanese government’s flexibility in defense spending. While Japan’s Gaullist-nationalists may want greater independence in Japan’s foreign policy, without a major shift in budgetary priorities — preceded by the “normalization” of Japanese economic conditions — Japan is dependent on the US for its security for the indefinite future.

The second article of note is a short interview with Columbia’s Gerald Curtis in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, which focuses on the comfort women issue but also briefly mentions the limits of Japan’s normalization. Said Curtis:

It’s hard to find Japanese who can explain what Japan is thinking in a way that foreigners can understand. It’s very different when you interact with Chinese elites. They’re very articulate. They have a global vision. They have a worldview. They know what they think and they tell you. But the Japanese cultural tradition is quite different, so you have to be able to read between the lines. You have to be able to hear it in the Japanese language, and there aren’t very many people who can do that. So they’re not very good at articulating their views, and that leads to all kinds of guesswork about what they’re up to. The fact is, even with all the changes going on, and this right-wing leadership in power now, the Japanese defense budget is not increasing. They’re reaching out for a bigger role abroad, but in a pretty tentative and limited manner. They’ll probably continue to muddle through—take some tough positions like they have on the abductee issue with North Korea—but the idea that they’re on the march to become a great military power with power projection capabilities and challenge the Chinese and so on? I don’t buy it.

Read the whole thing.

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