Cover: Japan


Domestic Change and Foreign Policy

Published 1995

by Mike M. Mochizuki


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This report analyzes the implications of political, economic, and attitudinal developments within Japan for the evolution of Japanese foreign policy over the next 10 to 15 years, especially policy toward the Asia-Pacific region. The purpose of such analysis is to discern whether and in what manner the changes that have taken place within Japan since the early 1990s could prove adverse to U.S. interests in Asia. This analysis treats Japanese domestic political, economic, and public opinion trends as largely independent variables. Also, important external influences upon Japanese policy—for example, the actions of critical actors such as the United States—are discussed primarily within the context of such domestic factors.

This report concludes the following:

  • The end of one-party dominance in Japan is likely to produce a prolonged period of political fluidity and weak governments, thereby impeding timely decisions for dealing with the changing international environment and strengthening the power of national bureaucrats.
  • Notwithstanding this political fluidity, Japanese foreign policy is likely to fall within the following parameters: (1) maintenance of the security relationship with the United States in some form; (2) promotion of multilateral security fora in the Asia-Pacific region as a complement to the U.S.-Japan security relationship; (3) increasing Japanese participation in the United Nations in the security as well as other realms; and (4) closer integration with other East Asian economies through trade, investments, and technology transfers and support for the process of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
  • While initially reinforcing moderation in the security policy debate, the political realignment process could also lay the foundations for repolarization by permitting the rise of a stridently nationalistic force. This repolarization is most likely to happen in the context of deteriorating economic relations with the United States, a weakening of the U.S. security commitment to Japan, increasing Chinese geopolitical assertiveness, and the emergence of a hostile, reunified Korea.
  • Structural recession is causing Japanese leaders to reexamine the efficacy of economic policies and business practices that have served Japan so well for nearly four decades. Also, market forces are causing Japanese firms to reduce their productive capacities and gradually to move toward more flexible employment and subcontracting practices.
  • By "exporting" export-led development to other East Asian countries, Japan poses a trade challenge to the United States both directly (from Japanese exports) and indirectly (from non-Japanese East Asian exports); and the United States is likely to remain the primary absorber of both Japanese and East Asian exports despite the large increase in Japanese trade with the rest of East Asia.
  • Japan will become less accommodating to U.S. pressures on trade issues as its center of economic gravity shifts to East Asia and will increasingly turn to multilateral institutions and settings to resist American unilateralism.
  • Although the Japanese public is unlikely to view the countries of East Asia as attractive strategic alternatives to the United States and other Western states for international alignments, support will grow on behalf of Japan playing a bridging role between East Asia on the one hand and the United States and the West on the other.

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"[A] good volume on U.S.-Japan relations… a brief, comprehensive report."

- Foreign Affairs

This research was conducted for the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy within the International Security and Defense Policy Center in RAND's National Defense Research Institute (NDRI). NDRI is a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, and the defense agencies. Supplemental funding was also provided by the RAND Center for Asia-Pacific Policy.

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