As the United States’ commitment to global leadership and principles grows ever more uncertain under President Donald Trump, Japan finds itself with little choice but to look beyond its closest ally to ensure economic and military security, according to analyst Ian Bremmer, the head of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.
Bremmer earned his doctorate in political science from Stanford University and is the author of a number of books on foreign affairs, as well as a columnist and editor-at-large for Time Magazine. His most recent book, released in April of 2018, is titled “Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism.”
He sees seismic shifts in U.S. and other Western countries’ foreign policies, which have significant implications for Japan.
“Abe’s relationship with Trump is warm personally, but clearly there is volatility in the U.S.,” Bremmer told The Japan Times in a telephone interview last week.
“America is showing limited interest in being the world’s policeman, the architect of global trade, and the promoter of global values. … These are long-term structural trends that Japan knows they have to deal with,” he added.
The Eurasia Group will bring together policymakers and corporate executives at the inaugural G-Zero Summit in Tokyo on Wednesday. Bremmer hopes the event will produce a clear road map for the challenges ahead.
But even if Japan and other nations recognize the need to revamp their foreign policy approaches, Bremmer said that changing tack may be easier said than done in a world characterized by retrenched Western allies and rising Asian nations.
“It is hard to pivot (Japan’s foreign policy) because of the military relationship with the United States, and because of the cultural and historical enmity between Japan-China, and Japan-South Korea,” said Bremmer. “But Japan is clearly trying (to pivot).”
Bremmer listed negotiations over the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, new diplomatic initiatives with African nations and an improving relationship with Beijing as illustrations of Tokyo’s drive to find a diverse set of partners to ensure economic and military security.
Despite the U.S. appearing to be on an inevitable drift further away from its Asian allies, Bremmer is confident that straight talk from Tokyo could help keep Washington engaged in the region.
“It is very important for the Japanese to learn that they are America’s best ally in Asia,” Bremmer said. “(The U.S-Japan relationship) can’t be like the 1950s, where they are like a faithful spouse — that they just do whatever they ask. The Japanese have to be thinking of what is in the best interest of both countries long term. That sometimes mean telling your partner when they are screwing up.”
Casting a wide net over traditional and nontraditional allies, as Japan has so far attempted, may be the only way forward in a multipolar world. By definition, most countries will not be able to simply replace the U.S. with another superpower as both the European Union and China are either wary — or unable — to fill any global leadership vacuum.
This lack of global leadership and jockeying for international position is what Bremmer calls the “G-Zero” world, a term he presciently coined in 2012 prior to the wave of populist backlash that has since pushed a number of Western countries to turn inward.
Bremmer calls recent global political developments part of a “geopolitical recession,” and he believes Tokyo’s policies over the past few years can serve as a template to help create a political environment palatable enough for countries to remain open to free trade and international cooperation.
“The Japanese are the one major advanced industrial democracy that isn’t really falling apart right now. It is increasingly becoming a model for stability,” said Bremmer, who attributes this stability to low levels of immigration and nonparticipation in foreign conflicts.
Even if Japan continues to defy the global pattern with stable domestic politics, externally the country is likely to be caught in uncertain waters due to its location between the West and its rising neighbors.
“Asia is where we are going to have the world’s largest economies and a bulk of the global population. It is where we are going to see the biggest changes,” said Bremmer. “Japan is a place that understands the G-Zero world because they are on the front lines of it.”
The Japan Times is supporting the Gzero Summit as exclusive livestream partner.