Japan, LLP

Tokyo has by turns been seen as a promising newcomer, an evil enemy, a dedicated junior partner, a serious economic and technological threat, and now a strategic disappointment. This attitude is detrimental to Washington and Tokyo alike.

Issue: May-June 2010

IN 1827, the German economist Friedrich List warned Americans that if they did not protect their manufacturing industries more effectively, in one hundred years they would end up facing China from a weak position. Reading that admonition in the late 1980s, one was struck by what seemed his glaring error: List had missed Japan-the real Asian threat. Yet, with another quarter-century behind us, he seems more than prescient in seeing Beijing as Washington's preeminent competitor; we were in fact the ones who erred by focusing on the wrong country. In now shifting our attention to the Asian mainland, however, we risk making yet another mistake by consigning Japan to the status of a relatively unimportant, even irrelevant, ally. The strategic realities underlying the U.S.-Japan relationship have in fact not changed dramatically-certainly not as much as the rapidly oscillating perceptions of the alliance on both sides of the Pacific would suggest.


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