Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to office in 2012 with a promise to change Japan. Looking at his term thus far and his efforts to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance, revise his country's security policies, and pursue difficult economic reforms, Abe has already proven to be one of Japan's most transformative prime ministers. This year, after a speech to the U.S. Congress and a 70th anniversary statement marking the end of World War II, he even successfully addressed the historical ghosts of Imperial Japan's wrongdoings. Perhaps more than anything else, he has drawn attention for the successful effort to pass his security bills.

Abe has pursued most of his international efforts under the banner of "proactive contributions to peace." While this slogan has become part of the discourse in Abe's Japan, there has been little examination of whether his actions translate into contributions to peace that differ substantially from those of his predecessors, who relied primarily on various forms of financial assistance.

In reviewing his record, it is clear Japan has not lived up to the heightened expectations that his rhetoric has generated — except in cases involving China, when Japan's security has been directly affected. Unless Japan makes more substantial contributions in dealing with problems in which it does not have such a direct stake, Tokyo risks disappointing the international community for not playing an international role commensurate with its international standing and capabilities.