Paul Midford addresses the question of whether widespread concerns about Japan’s character as a major military power have any rational basis. Although Japan has pursued an exceptionally restricted defense, it faces deep Asian suspicion whenever it considers seemingly innocuous changes to its defense policy. Typical is the comment of a senior Singaporean leader, who suggested that allowing Japanese troops to participate in UN peacekeeping is like quote;giving whisky bonbons to an alcoholic.quote;
Midford considers the most plausible explanation for why Japan might be incapable of pursuing a moderate grand strategy should it reemerge as a major military power, namely cartelism. Cartelism has been used to explain Japan’s pre-1945 overexpansionism. Moreover, recent research suggests that Japan’s political economy has again become highly cartelized in some sectors. By contrast, democratic peace theory predicts that Japan, as a democracy, should be able to resist extreme overexpansion.
Despite institutional weaknesses, Midford nevertheless concludes that Japanese democracy is robust enough to prevent a relapse of overexpansionism, even as Japan gradually moves toward becoming a quote;normalquote; great power.
Paul Midford, Ph.D. (Columbia University) has been an Associate Professor of Comparative and International Politics at Kanazawa University for the past four years. In late August he will join the Faculty of the Government and Law Department at Lafayette College as a Visiting Assistant Professor.