Courtesy Reuters

Japan's Dual Hedge

NOT ANOTHER BRITAIN

Last fall, just eight days after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., Japan's prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, announced that his country would provide military support to the United States for the war in Afghanistan. His statement seemed to signal a long-awaited shift in Japan's foreign and security policy. Stung by criticism that it had hesitated to lend a hand during the Persian Gulf War, this time Japan quickly declared solidarity with the United States. New legislation was rapidly passed, allowing for the dispatch of naval vessels to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, nearly 3,500 miles away.

American strategists lauded Japan for "showing the flag," providing unfettered access to its bases, and sticking by its ally. Many wondered aloud if Japan might become a U.S. ally more along the lines of the British. In the weeks after Koizumi's speech, however, it became clear that the fundamental approach of Japanese foreign policy had not changed. Japan hastily backtracked on the bolder elements of Koizumi's plan and ended up contributing very little militarily to the Afghan war -- much less than did Germany or Italy, which also have constitutions repudiating war. And although Tokyo may undertake additional symbolic military measures in the future to meet U.S. expectations, it is unlikely to be any more supportive of active military cooperation with the United States either globally or in East Asia on issues beyond its own defense. The reasons are strategic: Japan's leaders are neither doves nor hawks but pragmatists, for whom economic and military security are equally important. The country has enjoyed broad consensus on this well-established doctrine of comprehensive security for nearly half a century now, and this doctrine has continued to inform Tokyo's posture since September 11. This comprehensive security policy is manifest today, in an evolving strategy that can be called "double hedging."

On the one hand, Japan has relied on its alliance with the United States as a hedge against military threats. On

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