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Japan is shifting onto a new trajectory for a more muscular national security policy, US-Japan alliance ties functioning for regional and global security, and the encirclement of China's influence in East Asia. The author explores how PM Abe Shinz?'s doctrine may prove contradictory and counter-productive to Japanese national interests.



1. Introduction: From ‘Yoshida Doctrine’ to ‘Abe Doctrine’?

Prime Minister Abe Shinzō’s foreign and security policy — highly charged with ideological revisionism — contains the potential to shift Japan onto a new international trajectory. Its degree of articulation and energy makes for a doctrine capable of displacing the ‘Yoshida Doctrine’ that has been Japan’s dominant grand strategy in the post-war period. Many have argued that Abe will remain pragmatic and not challenge the status quo. However, Abe has already begun to introduce radical policies that appear to transform national security, US-Japan alliance ties and relations with China and East Asia. The ‘Abe Doctrine’ is dynamic but also high risk. Abe’s revisionism contains fundamental contradictions that may ultimately limit the effectiveness of, or even defeat, his doctrine.

Christopher W. Hughes

2. The Origins and Ideological Drivers of the ‘Abe Doctrine’

The impact of the ‘Abe Doctrine’ can best be comprehended through its underpinning revisionist ideology. Abe’s ideology derives from a tradition of pre-war colonial and wartime attempts to assert for Japan a position as a first-rank nation and leader within Asia and a post-war ambition to be regarded as an autonomous state, US equal partner and liberal-capitalist power facing down authoritarianism. Abe’s pursuit of this role demands the casting off of international and domestic constraints imposed by defeat and the negative burden of history. In order to end the ‘post-war regime’ and return Japan to great power status, the Doctrine must overturn taboos on constitutional revision, patriotic education, the historical legacies of the ‘comfort women’, the Tokyo Tribunals and prime ministerial visits to Yasukuni Shrine.

Christopher W. Hughes

3. Japan’s National Security Policy Under Abe

Abe has pursued the transformation of Japan’s national security policy with extraordinary rapidity since 2012. Abe has introduced Japan’s first National Security Strategy (NSS) and National Security Council (NSC), a State Secrecy Law, a revised National Defence Programme Guidelines (NDPG) and increased defence budgets and a new ‘Three Principles of Defence Equipment Transfers’. Most significantly, Abe has breached the post-war ban on the exercise of the right of collective self-defence, opening the way for Japan to provide military support to the US and other states in a variety of contingencies. Although Abe’s reforms have been portrayed as limited and proportionate, they have in fact significantly lowered the constitutional and political constraints on Japan’s use of military power and established new precedents for regional and global deployments of the JSDF.

Christopher W. Hughes

4. The ‘Abe Doctrine’ and US-Japan Alliance Relations

Abe has strongly promoted US-Japan alliance cooperation and the US ‘rebalance’ towards the Asia-Pacific. The first initiative has been the revision of the US-Japan Defence Guidelines, characterised by a new Japanese willingness to integrate national security policy and changes to the exercise of collective self-defence with US military strategy, to expand the scope of JSDF despatch geographically within East Asia and globally and functionally to include combat operations. The second initiative has been the relocation of the Futenma air station within Okinawa, and the third Japan’s active participation in the TPP. However, US-Japan relations have experienced mixed fortunes as domestic opposition has slowed Futenma relocation and TPP negotiations, and as the US has become wary of Abe’s historical revisionism and the risks of its own entrapment.

Christopher W. Hughes

5. Japan’s Relations Under Abe with China, the Korean Peninsula and ASEAN

Despite predictions of renewed pragmatism in relations with China and East Asia, the ‘Abe Doctrine’ has induced Japanese attempts to lead the region in the ‘encirclement’ of China. Abe has sought to make common cause with ASEAN on common maritime security issues and based on the appeal of upholding the rule of international law. Abe has practiced vigorous diplomacy to reestablish Japan’s influence most especially with ASEAN, and even perhaps surprisingly with North Korea. However, Abe’s diplomacy has had limited effectiveness. ASEAN has not been enticed into joining Japan’s encirclement strategy. Abe’s historical revisionism has only served to continue to alienate South Korea and China. Rather than Japan encircling China, Abe’s diplomacy has proved counterproductive and threatened Japanese isolation.

Christopher W. Hughes

6. Conclusion: ‘Abe Doctrine’ as Revolution or Contradictory Failure?

The dynamism of the ‘Abe Doctrine’ has produced varied results: Japan’s security policy has moved forward greatly; US-Japan relations have progressed but encountered roadblocks; and Japan-East Asia relations have regressed. But the effectiveness and sustainability of the Doctrine in the future, and even now, is questionable because of three great contradictions: the Doctrine claims the pursuit of universal values, but its underlying revisionism is illiberal, and thus conflictual; the Doctrine seeks to end the post-war regime through historical revisionism, but the focus on history creates tensions with the US and East Asia; and the Doctrine seeks autonomy through dependence on the US that only further frustrates Japan’s lack of sovereign independence. In the end, the Doctrine may lead to a dead end and Japan’s shift to ‘Resentful Realism’.

Christopher W. Hughes


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