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.
Japan's new politics challenge some basic assumptions about U.S.-Japan alliance management. CFR Senior Fellow Sheila A. Smith explores this new era of alternating parties in power and reveals the growing importance of Japan's domestic politics in shaping alliance cooperation.
Sheila A. Smith argues that tensions between Japan and China over disputed islands in the East China Sea could seriously harm U.S. interests. She discusses steps the United States could take to de-escalate the crisis.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan's reelection as head of Japan's ruling Democratic Party means some long-needed continuity in Japanese government, but the party needs to demonstrate its effectiveness, says CFR's Sheila Smith.
The surprise collapse of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's government raises questions about the DPJ party's ability to lead the country, its U.S. ties, and its security policy, writes CFR's Sheila Smith.
CFR Senior Fellow Sheila Smith says the Six Party Talks have built cooperation among Northeast Asian countries, which need to work together, particulary on North Korea, but also on growing tension between the United States and China over planned U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
Ahead of President Obama's Asia trip, CFR experts Sheila Smith, Joshua Kurlantzick, Elizabeth Economy, and Scott Snyder discuss what the president should focus on during his visit to Japan, Singapore, China, and South Korea.
Electoral politics in Japan have been upended with the defeat of the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party. CFR's Sheila Smith says the rise of the Democratic Party of Japan could test the U.S.-Japan alliance and advises U.S. policymakers to focus on economic and energy-related cooperation.
CFR's Northeast Asia expert Sheila A. Smith says it is imperative for the United States to make it clear that it will not accept a nuclear North Korea. The UN's nonproliferation regime is also facing a moment of truth, she says.
CFR's Sheila Smith says Pyongyang's latest attempt at a rocket launch shows the regime is clearly bent on acquiring a nuclear delivery capability. She says Washington must reassure North Korea that diplomacy is the only way forward.
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 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.
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.
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.
General Meeting ⁄ Washington
A Look at North Korea From Its Neighbors
Bonnie S. Glaser, Senior Advisor for Asia, Freeman Chair in China Studies and Senior Associate, Pacific Forum, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Marcus Noland, Executive Vice President and Director of Studies, Peterson Institute for International Economics
Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
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
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
Symposium on the U.S.-Japan Partnership, Session Three: Ensuring Stability in Northeast Asia
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