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RealClearPolitics - Articles - Michael Green

Last Build Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2007 00:06:31 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Japan Is Back: Why Tokyo's New Assertiveness Is Good for Washington

Mon, 19 Mar 2007 00:06:31 -0600

TRADITIONAL WAYS One of the most striking elements of Pyle's account is the way in which Japan has consistently managed to do more with less. Pyle notes that from 1860 to 1938, when Japan was beginning to assert itself as a contender for dominance of half the globe, its share of global GDP only rose from 2.6 percent to 3.8 percent. Under the banner of "rich nation, strong army," the Meiji elite adopted those Western technologies and political institutions that served the purpose of rapid modernization and the goal of channeling leading-edge technologies into the imperial army and navy. In 1860, most Japanese military personnel still carried swords, spears, or halberds; by December 1940, Japan was designing, building, and deploying some of the most modern battleships and fighter aircraft in the world. After suffering catastrophic defeat in 1945, Japan was forced to accommodate the U.S. occupation and a new U.S.-dominated international order. Pyle explains how the conservative elite operated to maintain Japan's core values while making necessary adjustments to maximize the country's relative strength. The architect of this postwar strategy, Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, believed that the prewar leadership had not been sufficiently attentive to international power relations and had mismanaged Japan's sources of national strength. Yoshida closely aligned Tokyo with Washington and ensured that Japan's postwar focus remained on economic rebuilding, not remilitarization, even after the Eisenhower administration began to regret the imposition of the pacifist Article 9 of Japan's 1947 constitution. Yoshida and the conservative elite saw pacifism as a means to maximize Japan's national autonomy until the country had recovered. His successors ensured that Japan institutionalized Article 9 in domestic law as a break against entrapment in U.S. Cold War strategy. Yoshida was particularly concerned that Japan retain a relatively free hand to pursue commercial relations with China, which he was certain would eventually wean itself from Soviet influence. Later in his life, Yoshida expressed regret that Article 9 had become an excuse for Japanese passivity, including for banning collective defense efforts with the United States beyond the narrow purpose of defending Japan. With the end of the Cold War, Japan's elite was again forced to adjust to a new international order. After five decades of strong economic growth, the nation seemed to possess the tools necessary to enhance its own position while remaining aligned with the world's sole superpower. Much of Japan's elite subscribed to the famous assertion of former Deputy Finance Minister Eisuke Sakakibara that the Japanese economy had "surpassed capitalism" and that, accordingly, Tokyo would be able to shape its strategic environment from a position of leadership within Asia without having to remilitarize. Instead, the 1990s saw a Japan paralyzed by inaction during the Gulf War, bereft of a credible economic model after the collapse of the bubble, unable to use economic interdependence to shape China's rapidly expanding strategic reach, and threatened by a North Korea bent on developing nuclear weapons. Only after a decade of drift did Japan find its bearings again under Koizumi and Abe, both scions of anti-Yoshida political families. Koizumi attacked the power base of the old guard of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and fostered the restructuring needed to get the economy back on track. He also broke new ground by dispatching the Self-Defense Forces to the Indian Ocean and Iraq as part of a more robust security policy and a closer partnership with the United States. Since becoming prime minister in September 2006, Abe has elevated the Japan Defense Agency to the level of a ministry and announced his intention to revise Article 9. Both leaders have enjoyed broad support for this new direction among the political elite -- which includes Yoshida's grandson Taro Aso, who now serves as Abe's foreign minister. Pyle concludes his history by predicting that Japan will continue to rec[...]