Why Shinzo Abe Thought Japan Had to Change

Will His Vision for a Stronger Country Outlive Him?

Prof Jennifer Lind weighs in on the legacy of Japan's former Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe and asks if his vision for Japan will ever be achieved.   

In the years before Shinzo Abe came to power as prime minister, Japan staggered under multiple blows. Its years of fast economic growth were long gone, the end of the Cold War had raised doubts about the durability of the U.S.-Japan alliance, and Tokyo's fumbling reaction to the 1991 Persian Gulf War had led Japan to be widely perceived as a free rider in the international order. The region showed signs of a gathering storm, with China's surging economic and military power and North Korea's escalating nuclear activities after its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

In the face of these challenges, Abe was the rare Japanese leader who not only observed this changing world but also developed a clear vision for his country's role in it and worked alongside Japan's partners to see it through. Many in Japan and many of the country's neighbors embraced Abe's conservative vision for foreign policy: that Japan was "back!" Some of his countrymen and neighbors, however, were troubled by the sometimes extreme manifestations of Abe's nationalism and unwilling to bring "back" a Japan that dodged the lessons of its wartime past. Forced to choose between his conservative security policy goals and his conservative nationalism, Abe compromised. In his foresight, astuteness, and adaptability, Japan has lost a formidable leader who was still actively shaping policy debates in an era of tremendous change. The magnitude of his loss raises real questions about whether his vision will ever be achieved. 

Read the essay article HERE via Foreign Affairs.