While most U.S. allies seem happy to continue their free-riding ways, Japan is exhibiting a different sort of behavior. The long-time U.S. ally is taking steps to shoulder a greater share of the burden for its own defense and regional stability. Last year, the Japanese Diet reformed its national security laws allowing the country to play a more active role in East Asia. The reforms prompted many observers to declare an end to Japan’s post-World War II pacifism.
Jennifer Lind, author of a recent Cato Policy Analysis, disagrees:
Such pronouncements are misguided; these reforms are only the most recent recalibration of Japan’s postwar grand strategy…[Japan] prefers to “buck-pass” to the United States, but—at times of growing threat and uncertainty about the U.S. commitment—Tokyo has built greater military capabilities and accepted more roles within the alliance. The recent security reforms represent continuity, rather than change…
Lind, who is an associate professor at Dartmouth College, goes on to argue that Japan’s new posture may not be permanent. She explains, “Japan does less when it can; more when it must.” The new security posture is motivated by two factors: the military threat posed by China and uncertainty about the U.S. commitment to Japan. Tokyo could return to free riding if either the threat from China is reduced or the United States shores up its commitment.
Yet, while many welcome Tokyo’s reform efforts, others fear that a more assertive Japan will only increase tensions in the region. But what are the implications for U.S. security of a more assertive Japan? And does Japan’s acceptance of more responsibility suggest that other U.S. allies would act accordingly if Washington were to step back?
Please join Jennifer Lind, myself, and two distinguished panelists as we discuss these and other important questions. The event will be held at noon on March 29, 2016 at the Cato Institute. You can register here.