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Japan’s Five Futures

Courtesy of Stuart Rankin/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 16 March 2017.

If Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo wakes up these days with an extra bounce in his step, it’s with good reason.  He has overtaken Nakasone Yasuhiro to become the sixth longest serving prime minister in Japanese history, and he will soon pass Koizumi Junichiro, who set the standard in the post-Cold War era. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) just agreed to revise party rules to extend the maximum presidential tenure to three consecutive three-year terms for a total of nine years. (The previous limit was two.) If Abe completes a full third term, he will become Japan’s longest serving prime minister ever.

Changing the rules is a smart move. While in office, Abe built and cemented his party’s parliamentary majority, bringing stability to a political system that was marked by uncertainty and hobbled by ineffectual leaders. The economy has regained its footing, with growth on the upswing, unemployment shrinking, and business confidence surging. Abe has set the standard for a good working relationship with US President Donald Trump and reduced tensions (somewhat) with Beijing and Seoul (although neither relationship can be counted on to continue its current path untended). He has made good on his promise to secure Japan’s place among the first tier of nations and to make it a force to be reckoned with in international relations.

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Japan’s Security Policy Reform: Institutional Changes Facilitating a Larger Role in Regional Security

Courtesy of wackystuff/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by the East-West Center on 2 March 2017.

In light of the recent summit between President Trump and Prime Minister Abe and the latter’s fifth year in office, it is a good time to take stock of the recent changes to Japan’s security policy. While these changes lie within a broader continuum since the 1950s of gradually moving away from the post‐World War II constraints, the recent reforms are notable for two reasons: quantity — much has been enacted, amended, or established; and quality — these changes are systemic.

Over the past five years, Japan has redefined its national security strategy and reshaped its postwar system of pacifism, offering more options to respond to and proactively shape its own security environment. The government has built a justification for adopting collective self‐defense, developed a broad political consensus about the security challenges facing Japan, and implemented a series of executive decisions through the legislature and bureaucracy. These reforms are fundamentally reshaping how Japan communicates, thinks about, and implements national security policy by establishing a new institutional culture. These changes should not be valued so much for what they are now, but for their potential.

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How Organization Theorists Help Explain Military Power

Courtesy of Comrade King/Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 21 February 2017.

With the inauguration of Donald Trump, the United States began the same kind of reevaluation of military priorities and strategies that accompany all transitions of power. Crucial in such appraisals is updating assessments of the military power – and therefore threat – posed by a variety of states around the world. My research suggests that a factor rarely considered in estimates of military power – armed forces’ command and control systems – needs to be front and center in the minds of analysts.

To understand why command and control systems, or command structures, are so important to estimates of military power, it is helpful to turn back the clock to a very old conflict. In the late summer of 1904, Japanese and Russian forces fought a major battle outside the Manchurian town of Liaoyang and, to the shock and surprise of both observers and combatants, the Japanese won. This occurred despite the fact that the Japanese fielded fewer men and weapons, attacked well-prepared defensive positions with unimaginative tactics, and enjoyed no clear advantage in soldier quality or skill. The Japanese won because they could better discern what was happening on the battlefield and, as a consequence, use their men and materiel more efficiently and effectively than could the Russians.

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The ‘History Problem’ in Sino-Japanese Relations: What’s the Problem?

 Chinese Propaganda Poster

Courtesy Pedro Ribeiro Simões/Flickr

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 31 October 2016.

The so-called history problem has long been seen by academics and pundits as a key obstacle to the improvement of bilateral relations between China and Japan. In the academic literature, the problem is typically described as consisting of a number of sub-issues related primarily to Japan’s attitude towards its invasion of China in the 1930s and 1940s, an attitude that many regard as insufficiently repentant. In this literature the meaning of the history problem tends to be understood as fixed rather than as something that changes over time. Even though numerous discussions of the problem exist and many observers agree on its importance for Sino-Japanese relations, the question of how the history problem itself is understood within Japan and China has received surprisingly scant attention. This article, by contrast, argues that while the specific sub-issues viewed as being part of the problem are indeed important, currently the most fundamental and overlooked aspect of the history problem in Sino-Japanese relations is the lack of agreement on what exactly the problem is.

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How Abe is Losing the Narrative on Japan’s New Security Laws

The Prime Minster of Japan, Shinzo Abe. Image: vrchase/Flickr

This article was originally published by the East Asia Forum on 9 October, 2015.

Japan’s new security laws, which were passed on 19 September and allow for limited forms of collective self-defence, have been described as a ‘move away from pacifism’, the opening of a ‘Pandora’s box’ and the ‘unsheathing of a new Japanese sword’. But considering the bill’s extreme limitations and significant domestic constraints — including a greying and shrinking population, mounting domestic debt and deeply embedded pacifist norms — one wonders how and why this narrative has taken root so deeply. » More

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