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Sheila Smith: The Politics of Japan’s Military Power and East Asian Security

Sheila Smith, Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, will discuss how a nuclear North Korea and an increasingly assertive China have made Japan rethink its constitutional commitment to renounce the use of offensive military force—and its reliance on US security.

Japan has one of Asia’s most technologically advanced militaries and yet struggles to use its hard power as an instrument of national policy. The horrors of World War II continue to haunt policymakers in Tokyo, while China and South Korea remain wary of any military ambitions Japan may entertain. Yet a fundamental shift in East Asian geopolitics has forced Japan to rethink the commitment to pacifism it made during the US occupation. The military, once feared as a security liability, now appears to be an indispensable asset, called upon with increasing frequency and given a seat at the policymaking table. In “Japan Rearmed” Smith argues that Japan is not only responding to increasing threats from North Korean missiles and Chinese maritime activities but also reevaluating its dependence on the United States. Why exactly are Tokyo’s political leaders no longer convinced that they can rely on Americans to defend Japan? How is Japan now confronting the possibility that the country may need to prepare the nation’s military for war? How has Prime Minister Abe and President Trump’s relationship affected foreign relations?

Sheila Smith
Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

C. Lawrence Greenwood Jr.
President, Japan Society of Northern California

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