After Japan’s surrender in August 1945, the U.S. military occupied that nation for seven years. During that time two American privates wrote a constitution for the Japanese, which they accepted and have followed since.
Part of the agreement was that Japan would rely upon the United States for protection and would only have a defensive military force. Now, 70 years after the end of World War II, the relationship between the U.S. and Japan is beginning to change. That change is part of the reason that Prime Minister Abe visited the president and spoke before Congress last week.
In John Minnich’s Stratfor Analysis, called, “Prelude to a Japanese Revival” from April 28, 2015, Minnich noted that while the prime minister’s visit was largely symbolic, it presages a changing role for Japan.
The two major topics discussed between Prime Minister Abe and President Obama were defense and trade. Abe strongly committed himself to supporting the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership encouraging free trade being negotiated and excluding China by the Obama Administration. This pending trade pact will include 36 percent of the world’s GDP, according to Minnich.
Japan’s economy, while third in the world behind China and the U.S., has stagnated for the past two decades. Part of that stagnation is due to Japan offshoring its industries to low-wage countries, just as the U.S. has done and now China is being forced to do. Abe wants to end that stagnation and also deal with an emerging China as the world’s second superpower.
The major reasons for this change, according to Minnich, is that Obama is in the process of developing “A Grand American Strategy” in his “pivot to Asia” where, instead of the U.S. protecting Pacific nations like Japan, these nations will take a stronger role in protecting themselves in cooperation with other Pacific nations. These changes are occurring with the tacit support and approval of the United States.
That “Grand Strategy” is also playing out in the Middle East where we are now seeing Saudi Arabia create alliances to deal with the Iranian threat in Yemen instead of relying on the U.S. Turkey also is emerging as a major regional power to vie with Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional leadership in the region. Turkey, with its strategic control of the Dardanelles, is also pressuring Russia, which, according to Minnich, may suffer an economic collapse.
It is no coincidence, according to Minnich, that Abe also visited the Silicon Valley, because as computer warfare and space-based military weapons systems loom on the horizon, being in the forefront of the technological shifts is paramount for all the major nations of the world, including Japan.
Minnich noted that Japan’s aging population saw a 7.7 million person drop in working-age population and an 8 million person increase in Social Security payments between 2005-15. Those payments are now the single greatest cost to the government.
Additionally, Japan’s economic stagnation, the rise of China as a superpower and Obama’s Grand American strategic shift are all playing a part in Abe’s visit to the U.S.
Abe’s goals as Japan’s prime minister may not be able to bring about all the policy changes that are needed to revive Japan both militarily and economically. It is, however, a beginning in the transformation of a country that was soundly defeated at the end of WWII and occupied by the United States until 1952.
Seventy years later we see Japan in the midst of another transformation, also brought about by the might and influence of the United States.