How Does the Democratic Party of Japan Affect Security Policy? High Profile Stumbles and Quiet Progress

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Weiner, Robert
Tatsumi, Yuki
Date of Issue
"When the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) took power in Japan in 2009, both Japanese and American observers feared sea changes in Japanese security policy. Compared to the longgoverning and familiar Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the DPJ seemed young and inexperienced, farther left and less ideologically coherent, and eager to make policy change for change's sake. The DPJ has appeared to earn this reputation over the last three years, as exemplified by its early mishandling of reorganization plans for U.S. military installations in Okinawa, which prompted widespread criticism both within Japan and from U.S. alliance managers and observers. This notion of a hapless DPJ is only partly correct. The DPJ government has indeed begun to popularize and politicize Japanese security policy, leaving security decisions more exposed to political and public leverage. This reflects the party's anti-bureaucratic policymaking instincts, its top-heavy structure, and its promotion of two-party competition. In some ways, though, the party has been a victim of its own success. It has stumbled most badly over the most high-profile, politically salient issues: military base politics, incidents surrounding territorial disputes, North Korea crisis management. This has reflected poor coordination more than misguided or unpopular policy stances. But at the same time, on many substantively important but less politically salient issues -- arms non-export policies, military-military relations with South Korea, the updating of National Defense Program Guidelines -- the DPJ is quietly progressing along a security policy trajectory that is familiar, constructive, and not particularly worrying for either the U.S. or the Japanese public. This pattern may be somewhat reassuring for American alliance managers, but it suggests the need to watch for gradual politicization of previously under-the-radar security matters. It also suggests that the handling of security policy has new potential to vex all incumbent Japanese governments, DPJ-led or otherwise, and thereby to contribute to governance destabilization across the board in Japan."
Series/Report No
National Security Affairs
NPS Report Number
2012 008
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Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.
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