The Forgotten Player

For seven years, the Clinton administration has ignored or belittled the political importance of Japan. As nationalism reawakens in that country, this may prove to be a costly mistake.

Issue: Summer 2000

Until his stroke this past April, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's ruling coalition had repeatedly challenged the pacifist consensus that has prevailed in Japan since 1945, knocking over half century-old taboos and replacing them with the symbols of a "normal" state. A telling example occurred in March 1999, when Japanese destroyers fired on North Korean spy boats, driving them from Japan's territorial waters. The fusillades were the first fired in anger by the Japanese navy since the Second World War, and though they were only warning shots, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) promptly crafted legislation that would enable Japanese ships to fire for effect the next time. Support for the Obuchi cabinet increased by 5 percent in the wake of the confrontation.

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