Kenneth Pyle says the alliance is reaching the end of its natural lifeby David Warren / January 30, 2019 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2019 issue of Prospect Magazine
In this book, Kenneth Pyle analyses Japan-US relations over the past hundred years and exposes what he describes as “a strange, anomalous alliance.” He begins with Roosevelt’s insistence on unconditional surrender during the Pacific War, which made Hiroshima and Nagasaki inevitable. The occupation imposed a liberal constitution on Japan. But Mao capturing China made Japan a US priority as a bulwark against communism.
Japan’s post-war leader Shigeru Yoshida used the pacifist constitution as a lever to maintain US security support. The US saw the alliance not just as containing communism but preventing Japan from reverting to 1930s imperialist over-reach, and stopping it going nuclear.
The public statements were of undying partnership. But there were always tensions. The 1971 “Nixon shocks”—outreach to China and abandoning the international financial system—recalibrated the alliance. The Japanese rapidly accommodated themselves to the new geopolitics. But US frustration at Japan’s divergence from what it defined as universal social and economic norms—such as Japan’s reluctance to accept immigration and slow progress with gender equality—still persisted.
Pyle’s view is that the alliance is reaching the end of its natural life. The rise of China and the threat from North Korea necessitate a higher Japanese security profile. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is steering Japan towards greater military autonomy. President Trump’s challenging of the status quo both empowers and alarms the Japanese.
This is a magisterial survey, full of fascinating detail and provocative judgement. Editing could have been sharper and the “Ron-Yasu” years of Reagan and Yasuhiro Nakasone are covered too lightly. But in its rigorous analysis of what George Kennan called “an unnatural intimacy” between two powers that share neither identical values nor consistently aligned interests, it is an important and authoritative work.
Japan in the American Century by Kenneth B Pyle (Harvard, £25.95)