To Mr. Sheridan, Japan is back, regardless of the troubles following the downfall of Mr. Abe, because “Japan’s new strategic personality will transcend individual politicians.” There is a certain truth to that, but the problem with Sheridan’s piece is that he doesn’t quite get around to telling readers what exactly Japan’s new strategic personality is.
We get bits and pieces, like these:
“…Japan, like Germany, can undertake its share of the global security burden, can participate in a degree of collective security and need not be shackled by the post-World War II restrictions.”
“The alliance now is reciprocal and Japan is an independent strategic player. That does not mean it will always agree with the US, but as such it is an infinitely more valuable ally to the US and a much more valuable strategic partner for Australia.”
And, as is obligatory for articles about Japanese security policy now, the slam of Mr. Ozawa:
This was a monstrous bit of opportunism by Ozawa, who has in the past backed the US alliance and backed Japan becoming a normal nation. Operation Enduring Freedom is authorised by the UN and should not be the subject of controversy. But precisely because Ozawa’s move was so cynical it probably does not presage a revolution in Japan’s new strategic personality. I suspect that with Abe gone the anti-terrorism law will pass. If it fails, this is a blow to Japan’s emerging new strategic personality, but Washington and Canberra will try to work around it, not to let it become a litmus test of the US alliance.
I like that: monstrous bit of opportunism.
In the midst of this, however, Mr. Sheridan does not come even close to elaborating what exactly Japan’s new strategic personality is. A “normal” Japan that bears a greater global burden and acts as “the only country besides the US willing to talk about Chinese human rights or to caution China meaningfully on Taiwan” is about as close as he gets.
I can’t blame Mr. Sheridan for having little to say on this, because Japan itself doesn’t know. Japan “doing more” is the beginning of a discussion on Japan’s new security role, not the end of it. For all of Mr. Ozawa’s “opportunism,” there is a real critique asking whether Japan wants to be a junior member of the US global posse. There is still a debate waiting to be had about how Japan can take up more responsibility for its own defense, enabling it to say “no” when it feels its interests aren’t at stake, instead of feeling obligated to say “yes” for fear of displeasing the US.
And so the problem with Mr. Sheridan’s talking points. Japan’s “strategic independence” has meant, in practical terms, strategic isolation in Northeast Asia, as Japan as pursued an independent course in the six-party talks and found that even the US has a hard time standing with Japan on the abductions issue. Ambitious initiatives hawked by Messrs. Abe and Aso have been met mostly with deafening silence. And last time I checked, the constraints on Japanese security policy were still in effect — and there are few signs that they will change anytime soon. (A re-interpretation of the prohibition on the exercise of the right of collective defense, most pressing from Washington’s perspective, looks to be on hold indefinitely, between the DPJ’s opposition outside the government and Komeito’s opposition within.)
The closer one looks at Japan’s much-vaunted strategic change, the less impressive it looks. There are a number of questions yet unanswered. Does Japan have the will and the wherewithal to be a global power (and do the Japanese people want that)? If Japan is focused solely on the Asia-Pacific region, will it act as a genuinely independent strategic actor, even if it means disagreeing with the US (on China, for example)? Will it be able to respond to crises in its near abroad, with or without the US? Would Japan’s new “posture” — i.e., the road to a greater security role leads through Washington — survive a change of ruling party?
So, no, Japan still hasn’t found a replacement for the venerable but archaic Yoshida Doctrine.