Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Japan as the New (Pre-1914) France

In a previous post, I argued that India could be compared to France when comparing the present Asian balance-of-power system with the classical 19th century European system. Former Economist Asian editor Bill Emmott argued in his book Rivals that the present and near-future Asian system consists of three Asian great powers: China, Japan and India. One could then add two Pacific powers to the mix: Australia and the United States. It has now become normal to compare China to Wilhemine Germany and the U.S. to the late 19th century and early 20th century Great Britain. Australia could best be compared to the United States during the early 20th century--a possible future replacement for Britain down the road and an ally in the meantime. This leaves us with Japan and India to compare.

On second thought, it is probably Japan in the 20th century that could best be compared to France in the 19th century. During the French Revolution France made a bid for hegemonic status in Europe. This compelled Britain to intervene on the continent for the first time since the early 18th century against Louis XIV. By organizing a series of coalitions against first the French directorate and then Napoleon, Britain managed to thwart the bid. During most of the latter part of the 19th century Britain and France were imperial rivals in establishing colonies in Africa and Asia. France experienced nostalgia for Napoleon's glory and empire that was not satiated until Napoleon III was defeated at Sedan in the summer of 1870 by German forces in the Franco-Prussian War. Napoleon III was forced to surrender and then abdicate. France became a democracy under the Third Republic from 1875 to 1940. 

In 1894 France, in order to compensate for its lower birthrate and state of industrialization compared to Germany, allied herself to autocratic Tsarist Russia under Nicholas II. This forced Germany to plan for a two-front war in the event of a war in Europe. A series of diplomatic crises in Europe over colonial rivalries between France and Germany in Morocco led Britain to align herself with France in the entente cordiale or "friendly alliance." This was the coalition that eventually fought the Central Powers of Germany, Austro-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria for control of Europe in World War I. The Allied powers won largely because first Italy and then the United States joined their side during the course of the war. 

Japan after making an attempt to hegemony in first northeast Asia (Korea and Taiwan) and then on the Chinese mainland finally kicked off World War II in Asia by attacking the United States and the European colonial powers in response to American economic sanctions. Thanks to the United States, Britain, and Australia the bid for hegemony failed. Japan emerged from World War II as a defeated power. It became a very loyal ally of the United States during the Cold War with Washington providing a nuclear umbrella against the Soviet Union and Japan providing the U.S. with bases and low-cost consumer goods. Like the British-French imperial rivalry, the United States and Japan were economic rivals in the 1970s and 1980s as Japan could produce better quality automobiles, televisions, and even computers (like the one I'm typing on). Japan today, like France in the 1870s and 1880s is torn between nostalgia for the imperial period and the need to make a new start as a genuine democracy instead of a one-party system with a democratic facade. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the grandson of a wartime cabinet minister,  embodies that dilemma. To deal with the Chinese challenge he needs close cooperation with South Korea and the United States. 

The natural ally for Japan may be a more distant and weaker ally than the United States. India is in many ways a democratic version of Russia in the late 19th and early 20th century. Like Russia, India is a geographically large power with a growing navy. Like Russia for France, India is not a real threat to Japan's vital interests. And in China they both share a common enemy or at least rival. Both Japan and India have territorial disputes with China. Japan's dispute is over a group of uninhabited islands that may have oil near by. India's dispute is over the common border with China in the high Himalayan Mountains. India is like what Russia could have been had Alexander Kerensky and the provisional government not been snuffed out in a coup by the Bolsheviks in November 1917. India has had decades to develop a rather corrupt, nepotistic but genuine democracy. Watch for greater Japanese-Indian ties to develop in the future in the form of naval maneuvers and greater trade ties.

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