http://www.nbr.org - NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

NBR Analysis

The NBR Analysis offers thought-provoking essays and briefs on the most important economic, political, and strategic issues in the Asia-Pacific region today.



NBR Analysis (Oct 2006)

Abe Shinzo and Japan's Change of Course

Kenneth B. Pyle


Japan is making a revolutionary change of course. [1] The election of Abe Shinzo as Japan’s new prime minister on September 26, 2006 dramatically symbolizes the forces impelling Japan on this new course in its foreign policy. These forces are ones that have motivated Japan at many turning points in its modern history. They are basically three: changes in Japan’s external environment, the pragmatic style of Japan’s conservative elite, and generational change.

Through a century and a half of its modern history Japan has demonstrated a pattern of adapting both its foreign policy and its domestic institutions to fit fundamental changes in the international system. Abe’s election is an unmistakable indication of Japan’s maturing response to the far–reaching changes in its post–cold war environment. In the fifteen years after the end of the cold war Japan struggled with the vast changes in its external environment. The nation was deeply disoriented by the end of the bipolar system on which its foreign policy and domestic political and economic institutions were predicated. The globalization of capitalism disrupted Japan’s distinctive economic model. The end of the cold war also fundamentally changed the premises of Japan’s grand strategy, known as the Yoshida doctrine. In addition, the emergence of a proactive and competitive Asia, especially the rise of Chinese power, challenged Japanese leadership in its own region where it had long been accustomed to weak and backward neighbors.

The ability to adapt to changes in the international system has been the trademark of the conservative leadership tradition from which Abe springs. Pragmatism and opportunism have been a principal source of the resilience that has allowed the conservative elite to dominate Japan for a century and a half. No political leader in Japan today has deeper roots in this elite than Abe. His family hails from Yamaguchi Prefecture in the southwest—the area that provided leadership of the Meiji Restoration (Japan’s modern revolution in 1868) and produced eight of modern Japan’s prime ministers (as well as much of the pre–war army leadership). His father served as foreign minister in the 1980s and was destined to be prime minister before he died early of cancer. His great uncle, Sato Eisaku, served longer as prime minister (1964–72) than any other figure in Japanese history. (Through Sato, Abe has family ties to Matsuoka Yosuke, the foreign minister who negotiated Japan’s Axis alliance.) Both Abe and his brother have marriage...

[Free preview ends here. The full text is available above as a PDF.]

[1] This essay draws on research done for a project supported by the Century Foundation; the project has resulted in the author’s forthcoming book, Japan Rising: The Resurgence of Japanese Power and Purpose (PublicAffairs Books, 2007).

Table of Contents

Abe Shinzo and Japan's Change of Course
Kenneth B. Pyle

Back Issues

The Dilemma Confronting the U.S.-Thailand Relationship
Pavin Chachavalpongpun
(Apr 16)

Strengthening Transatlantic Policy Coordination on Asia
Nadège Rolland and Michael Wills
(Feb 16)

The New China-Russia-U.S. Triangle
Elizabeth Wishnick
(Dec 15)

What to Do about North Korea
Sue Mi Terry
(Nov 15)

Shinzo Abe and the Reality of Japanese Democracy
Daniel Sneider
(Aug 15)

U.S.-Malaysia Relations on the Security Front
Pamela Sodhy
(Apr 15)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Lessons from Negotiations
Richard Katz
(Sep 14)

Responding to China’s Assertiveness in the South China Sea
James R. Holmes
(Jun 14)

The Sea Change in Japanese Foreign Policy
Kenneth B. Pyle
(Jun 14)

Beyond Haiyan: Toward Greater U.S.-Japan Cooperation in HADR
Weston S. Konishi and Andrew L. Oros
(Feb 14)

Japan-Korea Relations: Time for U.S. Intervention?
Daniel Sneider
(Jan 14)

China’s Growth Slowdown and Its Implications
Dwight H. Perkins
(Nov 13)

The ASEAN Regional Forum: Beyond the Talk Shop?
Sheldon W. Simon
(Jul 13)

Will Abenomics Restore Japanese Growth?
William W. Grimes
(Jun 13)

The State of Cooperation in the East China Sea
James Manicom
(Apr 13)

Whose Pacific Century? The 113th Congress and Asia
Edward Gresser and Daniel Twining
(Apr 13)

Intensifying Contradictions: Chinese Policing Enters the 21st Century
Jonathan Walton
(Feb 13)

The Impending Tide of Chinese Investment in the United States
Robert A. Kapp
(Feb 13)

The Leap in North Korea’s Ballistic Missile Program: The Iran Factor
John S. Park
(Dec 12)

Northeast Asia Turns Its Attention to the Arctic
Linda Jakobson
(Dec 12)

More