Is America Abandoning Japan?

Commentary | February 02, 2017

During the U.S. presidential election, American foreign-policy experts reassured their international counterparts that the Trump phenomenon was only a fad and that cooler heads would prevail. The foreign-policy establishment in the United States was not prepared for a Donald Trump presidency, and the international community was even more caught off guard. Trump’s surprising victory will have a significant impact domestically and internationally, because his lack of political experience will make it difficult for world leaders to ascertain U.S. policy going forward. Moreover, his penchant for outlining complex policy objectives and attacking rival superpowers on Twitter, his habit of backtracking on previous statements and his “America First” rhetoric will bring immense uncertainty and unease within the international community.

No world leader may be more impacted by an unpredictable United States than Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, who has tied much of his foreign policy to a steadfast U.S.-Japan alliance. Indeed, Abe reaffirmed this during a speech at Japan’s National Diet earlier this month: “In the past, now, and from now on, it is the Japan-U.S. alliance that is the cornerstone of foreign and security policies of our country. This is a changeless principle.” Abe’s dependence on the United States is combined with other factors. His efforts to reform Japan’s antiquated security and defense posture and his desire to nurture other relationships in the region—including those with India and Australia—contribute to that dependence.

During Abe’s second term, he has sought to “normalize” Japan by increasing the capabilities and role of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, improving Japan’s stature in international relations, and reducing the constitutional barriers that previously limited Japan’s ability to respond to a rapidly changing international-security environment and a rising China. However, this increased autonomy was, ironically, heavily dependent on a strong alliance with the United States.

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