I’ve written a few posts on Realism as of late. Obviously from those readings you could peg me as a Realist as it pertains to international relations. When one unequivocally endorses a theory over another, the likelihood one is to be called an ideologue. International Relations isn’t quite that simple. Paradigms in the international system are far more lasting and concrete than domestic politics. Realism is the dominant theory in international relations for good reason. Realism comes closest to explaining and interpreting the world as it exists. It considers both human nature and behavior of states in a practical sense. That is not to say Realism is the only theory. When it comes to power capabilities shared across the system, and the need for states to gain security over their competitors; Realism is the only theory that can explain the whys and what fors.
Having said that, news that Japan is increasing its military and security role in the Pacific is welcomed news.
Already this year, Japan crossed a little-noted threshold by providing its first military aid abroad since the end of World War II, approving a $2 million package for its military engineers to train troops in Cambodia and East Timor in disaster relief and skills like road building. Japanese warships have not only conducted joint exercises with a growing number of military forces in the Pacific and Asia, but they have also begun making regular port visits to countries long fearful of a resurgence of Japan’s military.
And after stepping up civilian aid programs to train and equip the coast guards of other nations, Japanese defense officials and analysts say, Japan could soon reach another milestone: beginning sales in the region of military hardware like seaplanes, and perhaps eventually the stealthy diesel-powered submarines considered well suited to the shallow waters where China is making increasingly assertive territorial claims.
The driver for Japan’s shifting national security strategy is its tense dispute with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that is feeding Japanese anxiety that the country’s relative decline — and the financial struggles of its traditional protector, the United States — are leaving Japan increasingly vulnerable.
“During the cold war, all Japan had to do was follow the U.S.,” said Keiro Kitagami, a special adviser on security issues to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. “With China, it’s different. Japan has to take a stand on its own.”
Secondly, it does not mean that the US is leading from behind or is losing its place as a Pacific hegemon. Rather, a Japan that increases its own security increases the power capabilities of the US. Japan isn’t increasing its security to threaten the US. Japan is increasing its security as a way to balance against China. This is exactly what Realism prescribes. Great powers should balance against other great powers.
The power capabilities of several states aligned will represent superior power over the rival state. This political reality could lead the rival power to change course if its security becomes threatened. On the other hand, if the rival power is able to balance both internally and externally against the allied nations, then an arms race could ensue and a security dilemma will present itself. In other words, the rival power may judge its own power capabilities superior to the allied powers. However, because of the unequal power the US has over all other nations, the balance will tilt in favor of the allied powers. The US, in this sense, is the balancer.
According to Realism, states behave according to their interests. Whether those interests are right or wrong is irrelevant in an anarchical system. Nothing above the states exist which can determine or enforce justice.
China is filling the role of an expansive power seeking to disrupt the status quo in the Pacific Rim. Conversely, China’s neighbors like Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, India etc., in addition to the US, likewise have interests. And those interests are to keep the balance of power in their neighborhood.
This makes the US’ role as the balancer easier and cheaper. China’s interests are actually working against it. By increasing its power and showing signs of potential expansion, the neighboring powers become insecure and so will move to balance against China. In turn, the US’ security and power capabilities increase and their interests in the region can be better defended.
This is not leading from behind on the part of the US. This is not a sign of the US losing its hegemony in the region. It is to the contrary, in fact. China is pushing its surrounding powers into the waiting arms of the US, and they are supplying it with enormous power capabilities over China.
This is why Realism works.