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Sheila A. Smith

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies

Expertise

Japanese domestic politics and foreign policy; Northeast Asia regional security; international relations of the Asia Pacific

Programs

Asia Program

Bio

Sheila A. Smith, an expert on Japanese politics and foreign policy, is senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). She is the author of Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China (Columbia University Press, 2015) and Japan's New Politics and the U.S.-Japan Alliance (Council on Foreign Relations, June 2014). Her current research focuses on how geostrategic change in Asia is shaping Japan's strategic choices. In the fall of 2014, Smith began a new project on Northeast Asian Nationalisms and Alliance Management

Smith is a regular contributor to the CFR blog Asia Unbound, and frequent contributor to major media outlets in the United States and Asia. She joined CFR from the East-West Center in 2007, where she directed a multinational research team in a cross-national study of the domestic politics of the U.S. military presence in Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. She was a visiting scholar at Keio University in 2007-08, where she researched Japan’s foreign policy towards China, supported by the Abe Fellowship. Smith has been a visiting researcher at two leading Japanese foreign and security policy think tanks, the Japan Institute of International Affairs and the Research Institute for Peace and Security, and at the University of Tokyo and the University of the Ryukyus.

Smith is vice chair of the U.S. advisors to the U.S.-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Exchange (CULCON), a bi-national advisory panel of government officials and private sector members. She teaches as an adjunct professor at the Asian Studies Department of Georgetown University and serves on the board of its Journal of Asian Affairs. She earned her MA and PhD degrees from the department of political science at Columbia University.

Japan's Response to a Rising China

Since World War II, Japan has embraced pacifism, depending on close ties with the United States to guarantee its security. But as a more powerful and assertive China begins to challenge Japanese interests, Tokyo today faces a fundamentally different security environment, causing it to reconsider its postwar strategy. Armed conflict between these two neighbors has suddenly become a real possibility and could test the U.S. commitment to defend Japan. In 2013, I examined Washington's options in dealing with the Chinese-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in a Contingency Planning Memorandum entitled A Sino-Japanese Clash in the East China Sea. My new book, Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, examines the growing influence of Chinese decisions over Japan's domestic policy. Going forward, the main question I will address is whether Japan will change its strategic orientation as China further develops its military capability and continues to challenge its neighbors. Will Tokyo look to the U.S.-Japan alliance to cope with this growing strategic challenge, or will it reorient its strategy to act independently of U.S. security priorities? Will it balance with other Asian powers or bandwagon with Beijing?

Japan's Political Transition, Nationalist Politics, and the U.S.-Japan Alliance

Japanese politics have been in transition since electoral reforms in the early 1990s prompted a broad political realignment. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan rose to challenge Japan's traditionally dominant conservative party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and unseated it briefly in 1993 and again in 2009. Today, the LDP is back in power, and voters are tired of successive governments that have failed to address the nation's challenges. This new political reality has immediate implications for the United States. The staying power of Japanese governments is far less predictable, and relations with its leaders far more difficult to sustain. Moreover, the Japanese public is increasingly sensitive to Washington's policy choices in Northeast Asia as China and South Korea continue to challenge their postwar settlements with Japan and the interpretation of the history of twentieth century Asia. In Japan's Political Transition and the U.S.-Japan Alliance, I argue that it is time for U.S. policymakers to abandon old alliance habits based on assumptions of single-party dominance and embrace a strategy for alliance management that addresses the concerns of a more anxious public. Over the next several years, my new project on Nationalist Politics and the U.S.-Japan Alliance, which includes the Roundtable Series on Japan, will explore how the United States can help reduce the tensions between Japan and its neighbors caused by the resurgence of nationalism in Northeast Asia.

These projects are made possible through support from the Smith-Richardson Foundation and the U.S.-Japan Foundation.

Featured Publications

All Publications

Interview

Little U.S. Can Do on Takeshima if not Invited: Takeshima, Senkakus

Sheila A. Smith interviewed by Oriental Economist

Sheila Smith argues that while recent tensions between Japan and South Korea over territorial issues are deeply worrisome for the U.S. government and for regional stability, the reality is that a stronger bilateral relationship can only come about if it is the Japanese and Korean people that lead the effort on reconciliation.

See more in Japan; South Korea; Oceans

Video

The U.S.-Japan Summit: Three Things to Know

Speaker: Sheila A. Smith

CFR's Sheila Smith highlights the significance of the U.S.-Japan Summit as the first state visit by the Democratic Party's Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, which features a broad agenda and comes at a time when both Prime Minister Noda and President Obama face political challenges domestically.

See more in Japan

Op-Ed

Japan's Nuclear Quandary

Author: Sheila A. Smith
East Asia Forum

Sheila A. Smith says the short-term prognosis for Japan's electricity supply is uncertain, yet it is the longer term effort to reform energy policy that is vital to resolving the current impasse in Japan's nuclear debate.

See more in Disasters; China

Recent Activity from Asia Unbound

Events

Northeast Asian Nationalisms and Alliance Management

Staff: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
Director: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
September 1, 2014—Present

Japan is increasingly seen as being in the grip of nationalist politics. Regional diplomacy is rife with criticism of Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and his nationalist agenda. Leaders in Beijing and Seoul both call on Washington to rein in a Japan that is provocative and revisionist. Geopolitical change presents a dangerous background in which political leaders in Northeast Asia are stoking popular sensitivities. These complex dynamics have profound implications for the United States, and U.S. concerns about nationalism in Japan are already beginning to shape alliance management. The expression of U.S. "disappointment" in the wake of Prime Minister Abe's visit to Yasukuni Shrine in December revealed serious differences between Tokyo and Washington over Abe's willingness to exacerbate tensions in the region. This project, which will run from September 2014 to March 2017, will look carefully at Japan's nationalist politics to examine their impact on the U.S.-Japan alliance, and will engage leading experts from the United States and Japan in a conversation about how to manage these reactive nationalisms in Northeast Asia. Research findings will be made available on the Asia Unbound blog on CFR.org, and through other writings. The project will culminate in a final report that will analyze the impact of nationalist politics on U.S.-Japan alliance cooperation as well as provide prescriptions for U.S. policymakers on how to navigate tensions between Japan and its neighbors in Northeast Asia.

This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S.-Japan Foundation.

Japan’s New Strategic Challenge

Staff: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
Director: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
September 1, 2013—Present

Japan's security choices have far-reaching consequences for the United States. U.S. strategy in Asia depends heavily on Washington's alliance with Tokyo. Yet, frequent leadership changes in Tokyo have raised concerns in Washington about Japan's ability to be a strategic partner. Today, Japan faces a fundamentally different security environment. China's rise is beginning to challenge Japan's ability to pursue its national interests. Armed conflict between these two Asian neighbors has suddenly become a real possibility as a territorial dispute in the East China Sea has elevated tensions. Beijing has challenged Japan's administrative control over these islands, testing the ability of Japan's military to defend its territory. An aggressive and militarily powerful China could also test the U.S. commitment to defend Japan. Could this be the turning point for Japan? Will Japan finally assume a more proactive military posture in the U.S.-Japanese alliance? Or, will nationalism prompt Japan to act independently of U.S. strategic priorities? Dr. Smith will conduct research on the indicators of Japanese strategic transition, which will be the basis of a book on Japan's New Strategic Challenge.

This project is made possible by a grant from the Smith Richardson Foundation.

Japan’s Political Transition and the U.S.-Japan Alliance

Director: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
January 11, 2011—Present

The challenges that confront the U.S.-Japan relationship today are many, and the opportunities to devise new ways of cooperating ample. Yet we still know too little about how to adapt our alliance to the changing demands within Japan for greater accountability and transparency in governance. The March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake has confounded the governance pressures on Japan's new government, and expanded our bilateral alliance agenda. The confusion and disconnect between the two governments during the early months of Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) rule suggest the need for a much better understanding of the domestic pressures on Japan's new government for change in alliance policy. The Japan studies program is excited to announce a new study to analyze domestic political change in Japan and its effect on the U.S.-Japan alliance.

This project is made possible by grants from the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership and the U.S.-Japan Foundation.

Roundtable Series on Japan

Director: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
July 1, 2011—Present

The Roundtable Series on Japan is an ongoing series that provides a forum for leading U.S. and Japanese experts to analyze Japan's domestic and foreign policy. Of particular interest is the analysis of U.S.-Japan policy cooperation in a fluid Asia-Pacific region.

This series is made possible in part by the generosity of the following corporate and foundation sponsors: US-Japan Foundation, Mitsui & Co. (U.S.A.), Inc., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America, Mitsubishi International Corporation, Sony Corporation of America, Toyota Motor North America, and the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.

CFR Events

Academic Conference Call

Japan: One Year Later

Speaker:

Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
March 8, 2012 12:00-1:00 p.m. - (ET)

This meeting is on the record.

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Conference Panel Session

China 2025: Panel Two: China Goes Global

Moderator:

Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Panelists:

Evan A. Feigenbaum, Senior Fellow for East, Central, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations, Michael A. Levi, David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change, Council on Foreign Relations, Adam Segal, Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow for China Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, David H. Shinn, Adjunct Professor, George Washington University
October 19, 2009

This meeting is on the record.

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Conference Panel Session

Symposium on the U.S.-Japan Partnership, Session Three: Ensuring Stability in Northeast Asia

Panelists:

Elizabeth C. Economy, C. V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Tanaka Hitoshi, Senior Fellow, Japan Center for International Exchange, Gary Samore, Vice President and Director of Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Presider:

Evans J.R. Revere, President, Korea Society
December 1, 2008

This meeting is not for attribution.

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Symposium

Symposium on the U.S.-Japan Partnership: An Agenda For Change

Chair:

Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
December 1, 2008

This meeting is on the record.

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Conference Panel Session

Symposium on the U.S.-Japan Partnership, Session One: Global Transformations and the U.S.-Japan Partnership

Introductory Speaker:

Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations

Panelists:

Tanaka Akihiko, Professor of International Politics, Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies and Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, Michael A. Levi, David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment, and Director, Program on Energy Security and Climate Change, Council on Foreign Relations, Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Presider:

Funabashi Yoichi, Editor-in-Chief, Asahi Shimbun
December 1, 2008

This meeting is not for attribution.

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Press/Panels