Realist Japan? An examination of Japanese foreign and security policy under Abe Shinzo in three case studies
How can international relations theory best explain the motivation and dynamism behind the making of Japan’s foreign and security policy in the twenty-first century? This research provides one answer to this question by examining the policymaking of the Abe administration from 2012 to 2020 (also known as ‘Abe 2.0’). It is still theoretically puzzling as to why and how the Abe administration could bring about historical changes in Japan’s foreign and security policy. Structural realism might attribute such policy shifts to a changing of balance of power. Meanwhile, constructivism argues that the changes of domestic identity and norms would matter. Although different theories may have some explanatory power, this research argues that none of these approaches can solely explain the mechanism of Abe 2.0 foreign and security policy. Rather, as argued here, neoclassical realism (NCR) that incorporates domestic factors into a systemic analysis can best explain the changes in Japan’s foreign and security policy during Abe 2.0. To make this case, this thesis tests a NCR framework in the three exemplary cases of Japanese foreign and security policy under Abe 2.0: 1) security policy reforms and alliance management with the United States; 2) the management of Japan-China relations; and 3) the promotion of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) concept. Relying principally on Japanese-language sources and qualitative data, it reveals that domestic factors, especially leader images and policymaking processes, played significant roles to translate structural factors, namely the rise of China, into specific policy planning and outcomes. It concludes that while systemic stimuli primarily drove Japan’s realist shift in foreign and security policy, domestic intervening variables solidified policy agendas and approaches and occasionally moderated policies in a more practical rather than strictly realist direction.