The Rise of the Abe Doctrine

After sixty-five years, the U.S.-Japan alliance is getting an essential update.

This year marks the sixty-fifth anniversary of the signing of the Security Treaty between the United States and Japan, the bilateral treaty that formalized the U.S.-Japan alliance. The alliance began largely as a Cold War expedient designed to transform postwar Japan into an anti-communist bulwark dependent on U.S. forward military presence for its security. Indeed, as the Korean War unfolded on Japan's doorstep at the time of signing, the future of the fledgling nation still preoccupied with potential communist-inspired domestic disturbances did not seem to be bright. In fact after Prime Minister Yoshida signed the document, successors like Prime Minister Kishi paid the ultimate political price for supporting the alliance, never recovering politically.

But thanks to Kiishi's grandson, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the U.S.-Japan alliance in 2016 is stronger than ever. While the role of domestic politics has not become any less important in either Washington or Tokyo, the focus has shifted in both countries. The U.S. is in the midst of the 2016 presidential elections, where candidates have largely ignored foreign policy beyond discussions of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Alliances like the U.S.-Japan bilateral are inevitably being taken for granted rather than celebrated by Americans.

By contrast, Japan under Prime Minister Abe is growing ever more confident in the pairing, increasingly willing to implement a more proactive foreign policy and stretch the tradition bounds of this relationship. Addressing the joint-session of the Congress on April 29, 2015, Prime Minister Abe delivered his aptly titled speech, Toward an Alliance of Hope, conveying to the American people his lofty vision for strengthening the alliance for global peace and stability. Abe's confidence is widely supported by the Japanese public; in 2015, 82.9% considered the alliance as contributing to the country's national security, while 84.6% favored the maintenance of bilateral relations in the future.


Enter the “Abe Doctrine”

Recent changes in Japan's foreign policy corroborate and re-enforce such optimism for the alliance. At the heart of these changes is the slow demise of postwar Japan's mercantilist realism, the Yoshida Doctrine. When its architect, former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, signed the alliance treaty in 1951, he all but relegated Japan's own security burden to the United States in exchange for economic development. His formula immediately bore fruit, allowing Japan to become the second largest economy by the 1960s, yet it also left a legacy of severely restricting Japan's diplomatic flexibility—most recently resulting in the tragic execution of two Japanese nationals by ISIL in early 2015.

Abe's security reform has been so sweeping that it is increasingly being seen as the Yoshida Doctrine’s contemporary successor. According to Christopher Hughes of the University of Warwick, the “Abe Doctrine” promotes a "more assertive, high-profile, and high-risk foreign and security policy for Japan." Such ambitious foreign policy thinking has significantly strengthened the U.S.-Japan alliance. The 2015 revision of the Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation eliminated the geographical limits on the scope of the alliance, allowing for global security cooperation between Washington and Tokyo. Moreover, Abe's signature initiative, Proactive Contribution to Peace, links defense and development, further expanding the areas of U.S.-Japan security cooperation.


Alliance Management: Charting Japan's Path toward Global Security Leadership