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

Project Expert

Sheila A. Smith

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies

About the Project

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.