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Japanese National Identity and the Search for Realism Toward North Korea and Russia
Published February 29, 2016
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North Korea and Russia are seen as posing an increasingly dangerous military threat as we enter 2015, and the responses of other states to them are widely perceived as realist in nature, prioritizing security and setting aside other concerns. The United States, in turn, is regarded as the leader of the international community, steering the way in realist policies to forge coalitions with allies, partners, and others to diminish and counter these threats. To many observers, Japan under Abe Shinzo is rapidly turning into a realist state as well, prioritizing its alliance with the United States, strengthening defense ties with countries such as Australia and India as it seeks domestic agreement on the right of collective self-defense, and focusing on the expansion of China’s military and the nuclear and missile threats of North Korea in rethinking regional security. Yet, however much one agrees that Japan is realist in relations with the United States, the puzzle remains with respect to Japan’s recent policies or debates over South Korea, North Korea, and Russia. I concentrate here on the revisionist roots of Japanese policy toward North Korea and Russia, linking them to the much more widely discussed revisionism displayed to South Korea, and assess the evolving balance between realism and revisionism in conservative Japanese thinking, led by Abe, as the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII and 50th anniversary of Japan-ROK normalization of relations put the spotlight in 2015 squarely on various views of history in Northeast Asia.

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