Meiji Restoration Thesis

Meiji Restoration Thesis-8
Abe is evoking a strategy in which Japan defends its maritime approaches while upholding a maritime-based neoliberal order, which Paine rightly notes has always been “positive-sum,” and which, for all its many flaws, “is the only world order that benefits all who join because its laws and institutions are designed to promote economic growth in order to create wealth” (178).The maritime strategy relies on alliances, and the core of Japan’s modern approach is to deepen the alliance with the United States and like-minded maritime powers rather than break away in search of autarky again.Each of the conflicts began with a surprise attack before a formal declaration of war (something planners at the Naval War College warned about in the decades before Pearl Harbor).

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The great strength of —situating the evolution of Japanese grand strategy in the geopolitics of Northeast Asia and applying a grand strategy test to each conflict—may also be the source of the few weaknesses in the volume.

Paine describes the book as an effort to “turn inside out” her previous work on Imperial Russia and China, and a welcome contribution that is.

But in certain places Paine takes shortcuts to describe Japan’s strategic culture that do not do justice to the contents of the book.

On the first page, for example, Japan’s objectives in the wars from 1894 to 1945 are defined as containing “the march of Russian imperialism into Asia that became the march of Communist Imperialism post-1917”—a description belied by the twists and turns that follow.

It is this aspect of Japan’s emerging grand strategy that many of Abe’s critics have missed as they focus on the seeming links to Japan’s predatory prewar strategy.

But, as Paine emphasizes, Japan’s prewar strategy was flawed precisely because it had shifted away from a maritime focus.

Chapter 4, on the transition from a maritime to a continental security paradigm, is the most important in the book and does an excellent job isolating factors such as the external environment and the loss of strategic cohesion caused by the death of the Meiji oligarchs.

Yet this pivotal chapter also tosses in state Shintoism as an ideological driver without connecting it to the core theme of the demise of maritime strategy (Imperial Navy ships were also blessed by Shinto priests, for example).

Paine of the Naval War College builds on her well-regarded books on Imperial Russia and China to complete her tryptic on the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century grand strategies of Northeast Asia with this compelling short study of Imperial Japan.

However, what Paine brings is a fresh comparative treatment at a time when echoes of past imperial rivalries are again shaping the international relations of East Asia.


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