Michael J. Green is Associate Professor of International Relations at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and Japan Chair and a Senior Adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
These days, any book on Asia with the word "rising" in the title is likely to be about China. It was doubtless with that in mind that Kenneth Pyle decided on the clever title "Japan Rising" for his masterful new treatise on Japan's strategic culture. At a time when cabinet secretaries, CEOs, and journalists are rushing past Tokyo on their way to Beijing, Pyle reminds us that China is not the only actor making strategic choices that will shape Asia's future. As he notes in his introduction, "After more than half a century of national pacifism and isolationism, [Japan] is preparing to become a major player in the strategic struggles of the twenty-first century."
The more assertive Japan of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is often described by observers as "nationalistic" or even "remilitarizing." But beyond noting that the familiar moorings of Japanese pacifism and passivity seem to be eroding, few authors have been able to explain what the basis for current Japanese strategic thought might be. Pyle helps to fill that gap by spotlighting the enduring qualities of Japan's strategic culture and by elucidating Tokyo's long-running success at adjusting its domestic institutions and sources of relative power to get the most out of the prevailing international system. Taking the reader from the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry's black ships in Edo Bay in 1853 to the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere of the 1930s and 1940s and then to the postwar alliance with the United States, Pyle demonstrates how Japanese elites have maintained an intense focus on maximizing the nation's autonomy, rank, and honor. He also shows how they have remained attentive to the distribution of international power and adopted the hegemonic powers' most successful practices. In reading this elegantly presented history, one comes to appreciate that Japan is not returning to its realist roots; it never left them.
One of the most striking elements of Pyle's account is the way in which
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