Germany and Japan: The New Civilian Powers

As the postwar international order dissolves, some of the initial concerns that informed and shaped it are resurfacing. One key objective of this old order was the containment of Japanese and German military expansionism and its threat to the international status quo in the Far East and Europe. This was achieved brilliantly by embracing both countries in an American-led alliance system directed against a new adversary, the Soviet Union. This rationale is rapidly fading now, and old specters once more raise their ugly heads; the power of Japan and Germany has again become a cause of concern for their partners in the alliance.

Some observers fear a return of either state (or both) to traditional temptations of military power politics and suspect that Japan or Germany may revert to challenging the status quo, or perhaps even try to replace it with a "Pax Nipponica" or "Pax Teutonica." Others worry about the implications of a changing distribution of economic power as a result of Germany's and Japan's single-minded pursuit of economic gain abroad and tendencies toward parochial and closed societies and economies at home.

Most fears about Japanese and/or German revanchism turn less on perceived political strategies by today's leaderships in Tokyo or Bonn than on the dynamics of ungovernable change. German unification and its impact on the alliance are seen in terms of a "runaway freight train" headed for collision as a result of sheer momentum and the inability or unwillingness of the drivers to apply the brakes. And as for Japan, we are told by a "revisionist" that nobody really is in charge there.1 The forces of change in the postwar era, which have worked so powerfully in favor of the West and against the East, are now seen as threatening American control over events.

Those concerns no doubt reflect certain realities. The redistribution and growing diffusion of economic weight is a fact (although it is often not appreciated that the U.S. share of gross world product actually grew in the 1980s). It also seems correct to suggest that the dynamics of international relations have shifted from the military-political sphere to economic and social developments-a shift that favors Japan and Germany, as economically dynamic and socially cohesive countries.

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