After the Yoshida Doctrine, what?

Over at Shisaku, MTC notes in a thoughtful post on the Yoshida Doctrine, “Yet even now, sixteen years down the line, the Yoshida tradeoff rules as the master narrative underpinning all discussion of Japan’s security options.”

Yet I wonder if the Yoshida Doctrine lives on only as a function of the institutional and constitutional constraints that were devised to establish its position as strategic framework by which Japan acted in the postwar world — less master narrative than default option in lieu of a new consensus.

As I have argued before, for the past fifteen years the debate on Japan’s security posture has been wide open. Questions that were answered in the late 1950s and early 1960s are once again on the table. Japan has yet to reach a new consensus, of course — in part for reasons identified by MTC. With the “lost decade,” the casual assumption that Japan would become an economic superpower, in the process redefining the very meaning of power, has been shattered. On the home front, meanwhile, the bursting of the bubble dealt a critical blow to the other part of the postwar consensus, the “structural corruption” by which the LDP ensured that the fruits of growth were distributed throughout the country. (After all, it was Yoshida and Kishi, who, despite their antagonistic relationship, built the postwar order, with Yoshida laying out the principles and Kishi consolidating the system — this argument is made by Richard Samuels in this JPRI working paper and expanded upon in Machiavelli’s Children, this month’s recommended book.)

What role is Japan to play in the world? And how is Japan to be governed? Two disparate but intertwined questions, neither of which has been satisfactorily answered in the post-cold war era.

For some, the answer is more dynamic, executive leadership from the premiership, coupled with a “normal” alliance with the US in which Japan is the Asian anchor of a global democratic posse, but on this front, the rhetoric has undoubtedly ran far ahead of the reality. Indeed, for all the talk about creating an arc of prosperity and freedom across Eurasia, when it comes time to take risks to create it, Japan is as reluctant as ever: the Japan Times reports that James Shinn, incoming deputy under secretary of defense for Asia and Pacific security affairs, has had his request for a JSDF dispatch to Afghanistan rebuffed by LDP legislator Yamasaki Taku.

Despite the rhetorical commitment to Japan’s becoming a significant global actor willing to put boots on the ground, Tokyo’s focus remains unremittingly local, obsessed with developments in its potentially dangerous backyard (the need to guarantee US support regarding North Korea being the implicit reason for Japanese contributions in Iraq — guess Christopher Hill never got that memo). Japan is arguably more concerned with its own region than ever before, but local threats have still not been enough to solidify a new security policy consensus.

And yet even as it looks at a more uncertain regional environment — check out a good discussion of this at Coming Anarchy — constraints on Japan developing a new organizing principle for its security policy remain, at least more constraints than meet the eye. Beyond the obvious constraints of the CLB’s prevailing interpretation of Article 9, the three arms export principles, the three non-nuclear principles, popular sentiment that has shown no desire or willingness to support JSDF activities abroad that might involve the use of force and the loss of life, and a defense budget that has shrunk over the past decade, the balance of forces between revisionists and defenders of the status quo may not be as lopsided as it seems.

Of course, as I wrote previously, the revisionists are ascendant within the LDP. Whereas in the past revisionists like Kishi and Nakasone were able to rise to the presidency of the party, once they got there they were reined in by the LDP mainstream’s defenders of the prevailing Yoshida consensus. Beyond that, for most of the 1955 system’s existence the LDP had been commanded by mainstream politicians, who worked to implement constraints consistent with the Yoshida Doctrine. But now, after Hashimoto, Koizumi and Abe, the revisionists are the mainstream, defenders of the status quo the anti-mainstream. (Incidentally, Asahi‘s coverage of the death of former Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi was redolent with longing for the days when the reverse was true.) At the same time that the LDP’s revisionists became dominant, however, the party became dependent on coalition partners — most recently the conservative pacifist party New Komeito. The role once played by Yoshida conservatives is now played by Komeito.

Such is the argument of Jun Okumura in an article at National Interest Online.

For the moment, I think Okumura is right to point to Komeito’s role in serving as a brake on the revisionists’ ambitions — in part because Komeito has not yet been asked to choose between power and principle. But what happens when the government completes its study for a reinterpretation of Japan’s ability to exercise its right of collective self-defense? (The study group has already concluded that it would be permissible for Japan to shoot down a missile that appeared to be headed for the US.) Will Komeito go so far as to pull out of the government to protest any changes, or will it follow meekly along?

Meanwhile, although obstacles to institutional change remain, there is nothing stopping Japanese policymakers, politicians, and intellectuals from debating the fundamental questions of Japan’s global role. While debates over the overarching goal of Japanese security policy — national security strictly defined as territorial defense versus a more active role in shaping the regional security environment versus acting as a global civilian power versus becoming the Britain of East Asia (or some combination of all of the above) — and the means by which to achieve this goal have raged for more than a decade, Japan remains saddled with a security policy regime suited for a different age. But that set of policies cannot be abandoned until Japan figures out the new end of its security policy — change for the sake of change is a waste of time and energy. (And Japan’s policy making process is still in need of reform to ensure that whatever consensus Japan reaches is executable.)

In fact, Koizumi’s “hug the US close” approach, largely embraced by Abe, is more indicative of the absence of a new security policy organizing principle than of the existence of a new organizing principle. Cooperation to what end? With what means? With what division of labor? The allies are not much closer to answering these fundamental questions than they were in the immediate aftermath of the cold war, because until Japan knows what role it wants to play, these basic questions are unanswerable — and Japan has provided mere intimations of its strategic intentions.

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