A Neoclassical Realist Account of Abe’s attempt at Constitutional Reinterpretation


Why did Japan recently begin a serious attempt to revise/reinterpret the constitution to allow the right to collective self-defense in the early 2010s? This is a serious research puzzle for the researchers of Japan’s International Relations. The primary aim of this paper is to put forward an alternative, yet theoretically rigorous explanation for it. The existing literature fails to explain why such an attempt was made in the early 2010s, not after the cold war or 9/11 when seemingly a window of opportunity was given. Nevertheless, Abe’s administration set it as a political agenda despite the absence of an apparent sea change in the international system. This paper employs a neoclassical realist approach with four ‘intervening variables’ – leaders’ image, domestic institutions, strategic culture and state-society relations. I argue that these variables mediate the influence of the international structure and are more effective in explaining the puzzle than structural realism and constructivism. Up until the second Abe administration started, a unique structure of domestic institutions and unpopularity of security policy that did not help in getting voters prevented the government from setting the constitutional reinterpretation. However, the LDP’s defeat of election in 2009 that led the unification of the party and Abe’s tactic manoeuvre of stabilising the government through another policy area such as ‘Abenomics’ as an effective election strategy finally enabled the cabinet to pursue the reinterpretation. This paper also sets itself apart from other studies of Japan’s international relations because of its rigorous theoretical application.

Author Information
Yuki Watai, University of Warwick, United Kingdom

Paper Information
Conference: IICJ2017
Stream: Japanese Politics and International Relations

This paper is part of the IICJ2017 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon