No gaiatsu on revision

Oh, to be the “grand strategist” author of best-selling books — and to be the peddler of a strategic concept that purports to explain everything.

Clearly, that’s the ticket to being able to get away with writing blog posts like this one by Tom Barnett: “Japan will and must un-pacify.” In a single thirty-word post, Dr. Barnett reduces a debate that is fundamental to how Japan thinks not only about its future, but also its past and the relationship between state, society, and individual to the simple formula of “Japan will revise its constitution so it can retain influence in Asia and the world.”

Parsimonious, I guess.

This is a good time to note that in the constitution revision debate, gaiatsu is not an option — not for the US, for China, or for South Korea.

Japan must revise — or not revise — on its own.

Japan — the Japanese people — must be permitted to consider its future without the interference of foreign powers. What is at stake is the legitimacy of the Japanese political system; it’s not just about the shape of Japanese security policy over the coming decades. The settlement that results from the coming debate on revision must be seen as universally legitimate, lest it become the basis for a new political cleavage, just as during the cold war the LDP and the Socialist Party spent decades fighting over the meaning of the constitution.

This debate should be the occasion for a new birth of Japanese democracy, the moment at which the Japanese people wrest power away from the bureaucrats and the politicians and demand the formulation of a new relationship between government and governed, in which the government is actually held accountable for its actions.

Whether that will be so remains to be decided, but the US — and alliance handlers in Washington who have been long awaiting this moment — cannot try to influence the outcome.

Fortunately, the cold war is over. It is no longer a zero-sum world. If the Japanese people decide against permitting a more expansive regional and global security role, Japan will not be “lost.” Rather, it will be consigning itself, regrettably, to a more limited position in the global balance of power, and once more limiting the US-Japan alliance largely to Article V of the Mutual Security Treaty with the US (i.e., the defense of Japan).

Alternatively, the Japanese people could opt for greater independence in the region and greater responsibility for their own defense, resulting necessarily in a looser alliance (if not breaking it altogether).

Whatever Japan chooses, however, must be the product of decisions made by the Japanese people: the new settlement should not be foisted upon them by foreign countries or Japanese politicians.

As such, it should not matter what US conservatives or liberals say, contrary to the point of this article by Sankei‘s Komori Yoshihisa. Nor should it matter what Beijing or Seoul have to say in opposition to constitution revision.

The Japanese people must do this own their own terms.

2 thoughts on “No gaiatsu on revision

  1. Bryce

    Speaking of Grand Strategy theorists, has anyone read Ken Pyle\’s book on Japanese foreign policy? I can\’t believe that it is being plugged as a \”new\” take on foreign policy in Japan.


  2. Barnett is excellent at being a grand strategist. Do not depend on him for detail work. He will tell you himself that this is not his forte. Had you not been in knee jerk mode, you might have noticed that Barnett\’s \”Japan will and must do, otherwise it gets left behind not just in West but in rising Asia too\” is somewhat similar to your own formulation that \”If the Japanese people decide against permitting a more expansive regional and global security role, Japan will not be \”lost.\” Rather, it will be consigning itself, regrettably, to a more limited position in the global balance of power\”So what, exactly is your beef with Barnett? Is it that he enjoyed writing a provocative headline? Asia is growing up, recapturing its traditional place in the world after a very long absence. Those who make the adjustment faster and more fully will enjoy the fruits. Those who stay mired in past arrangements will see their position and influence shrink.


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