Blocked on revision, Abe will undoubtedly try to push other defense-policy reforms. His government already raised the defense budget for the first time in eleven years, and will likely do so again in the next fiscal year. The government will likely pass legislation creating a Japanese-style National Security Council during the autumn Diet session, and has already announced steps to streamline the chain of command in the defense establishment. But some of the bolder changes being mooted by the panel reviewing Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines, a ten-year plan for security policy, could run into opposition from within the LDP, New Komeito, or the public at large, especially if Abe’s economic program has stalled and his approval ratings have fallen. There is unease even among members of the LDP about Abe’s enthusiasm for giving Japan’s Self-Defense Forces capabilities with which to launch preemptive strikes against foreign targets or lifting the ban on the exercise of the right of collective self-defense. Here too Abe’s legacy may prove to be less than transformational, not least because in all likelihood Article 9 will remain unchanged at the end of Abe’s tenure, whether that is sooner or later.
In retrospect, it may seem that the upper-house election was both the end of the beginning of Abe’s second government—and the beginning of the end. Because the challenges facing Abe are so numerous and the basis of his support so fragile, it is easy to see ways in which his government can stumble or collapse, and increasingly difficult to see how Abe can realize his dream of becoming the triumphant leader remembered for decades to come as the man who saved Japan.
Tobias Harris is the author of Observing Japan, a blog on Japanese politics. He writes regularly on Japanese politics in publications in North America and Asia. In 2006-2007, he worked for a member of Japan’s House of Councillors. Twitter: @observingjapan.