The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Balancing: A Reply to Tobias Harris

June 12, 2009

Tobias Harris over at Observing Japan, weighs in on the discussion regarding Japanese balancing (or lack thereof). Harris’ post is an excellent addition to the discussion and includes some excellent points that require me to clarify my original post. And away we go…

1) Tobias is correct that given the current and likely current state of the DPRK they are not exactly a Gilpin-esque revisionist power. However, I don’t think that a state must have asperations and likely capabilities to match to be considered a revisionist state in general. A state that clearly is unhappy with the current political order (whether it be regional or global) and shows intent to press for revisions to the status-quo can be considered revisionist. No one thinks that Iran is capable of challenging the US for global dominance or seriously affecting the current global order, but they certainly can rock the boat regionally which can make them revisionist in many states’ view. My larger point was that the DPRK is more likely in the short term to be the focus of any reactive balancing by Japan–given that they are a more immediate security threat.

2) I think we are in agreement that China is certainly the long-term focus of any balancing, whether that be internal or external. My larger point was that it isn’t likely to serve as a catalyst for change in Japan’s currently policy short term.

3) On Japan’s desire to strengthen it’s alliance with the US: I actually agree. Some of their behavior, even that which may require changes to the status-quo of their own security policy, can be explained by their need to signal to the US that they are a reliable partner in the alliance. To do so requires not only a shift in material capabilities, but also a shift in political capabilities–meaning, a greater willingness domestically to allow for these types of military operations. A dashing young scholar has explored this dynamic with regards to Germany after the Cold War. I am not as well versed in the domestic and foreign policies of Japan as Tobias seems to be, but from what I’ve seen I think a similar case can be made, particularly looking at the evolution of Japan’s willingness and ability to project power in coordination with UN or US-led campaigns.

4) Finally, I should have been more explicit in terms of hedging my post. I wrote that the idea had merit. I don’t have enough knowledge of Japan to say for sure that this is the case, only that it was plausible and that I thought there was a compelling logic to it. Needless to say I will certainly be keeping a closer eye on it to see if the effects and behavior I posit eventually come to pass.

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"Randy Waterhouse" is a pseudonym.