Meiji Restoration Thesis

captures the rise and fall of Japanese maritime strategy over time while applying a critical template to Japanese grand strategy in each of the separate wars between 18.

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For that reason, I will probably slot this in for my courses either as a supplement to, or in lieu of, W. Beasley’s authoritative 1987 volume on Japanese imperialism.

In Paine’s account of Japan’s imperial wars certain themes recur.

This is certainly true and we will likely live with the challenge for decades more.

The more interesting contemporary application of Paine’s history is to the emerging maritime grand strategies of Shinzo Abe and Xi Jinping.

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.By the China wars of the 1930s, that unity of command was crumbling as competing army and navy priorities crippled Japan’s early advantages over her adversaries.War termination became impossible to define as Japan struggled after 1937 to knock China out by alternately capturing the capital of Nanjing, destroying the Nationalist Army, attacking the economy, and suppressing insurgencies.Each successive assault on China’s perceived centre-of-gravity met with a measure of tactical success, but never a strategic outcome.Meanwhile, Japan only made its own centre of gravity more vulnerable: the Japanese economy stalled, nationalism within China rose to levels previously unseen, and ultimately Japan found itself in a suicidal war with the United States that resulted in the complete collapse of Japan’s maritime security.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).Thus, Japan’s strategic approach shifted in the early- to mid-twentieth century from a focus on maritime control to a focus on continental control, where Japan steadily lost its competitive edge.The Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars were a narrow victory, but Japan prevailed through superior definition of objectives and unity of command.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.


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