On Thursday, November 3rd, the 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI*) hosted Mr. Christopher B. Johnstone of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in its in-person “Japan Politics & Society” multidisciplinary public speaker series. Mr. Johnstone is senior adviser and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Prior to joining CSIS, he served in government for 25 years in a variety of senior positions with a focus on U.S. policy toward Japan and the Indo-Pacific—most recently as Director for East Asia at the U.S. National Security Council (2021-2022).
Mr. Johnstone’s campus engagement activities included a public seminar entitled “The U.S.-Japan Alliance and Security Challenges in East Asia,” an informal dialogue with students about careers in U.S. foreign policy, and various meals and exchanges with faculty. Despite the beautiful weather, more than 40 IU students, faculty, and staff gathered in the Global and International Studies Building to hear Mr. Johnstone’s talk on the significance of the U.S.-Japan alliance and its evolution over the past 30 years.
During his remarks, Mr. Johnstone provided a brief overview of U.S.-Japan relations since the early 1990s, when the two countries began to reassess the value and appropriate role of the alliance in the post-Cold War era. He placed great emphasis on the resilience of the relationship, especially during periods of severe tensions over trade, responses to the Persian Gulf War, and the so-called “Dark Days” between 2006 and 2012 that saw a revolving door of Japanese Cabinets—e.g., six prime ministers in six years. Mr. Johnstone compared and contrasted the leadership styles and legacies of relatively long-serving former prime ministers Junichiro Koizumi (2001-2006) and Shinzo Abe during his second term (2012-2020), noting that while both leaders achieved significant new ground in US-Japan security cooperation, , Prime Minister Abe ensured a more lasting legacy via permanent security legislation, new institutions like the National Security Secretariat, and membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Later in his talk, Mr. Johnstone argued that the strength of U.S.-Japan relations today was by no means inevitable; rather, it was the culmination of various factors including an enabling strategic context, political leadership, and robust relationships of trust at the working level. Finally, he highlighted the multiple challenges the allies face today, such as tensions in the Taiwan Strait, North Korean aggression, and economic security concerns.
After concluding his remarks, Mr. Johnstone fielded audience questions for roughly half an hour on a wide variety of topics about Japanese foreign policy, the U.S.-Japan relationship, and the future of the East Asian region.
*The 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI) was launched at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies in 2018. Under the leadership of Founding Director and HLS faculty member Adam Liff, 21JPSI aims to invigorate and expand research, teaching, and programming on contemporary Japanese politics, society, and international (esp. U.S.-Japan) relations, and to educate, raise awareness, and debate policy responses to the various political, social, and foreign policy challenges that Japan faces in this extremely dynamic era of 21st-century change. Seeded by a generous $900,000 grant from the Japan Foundation, in its first five years 21JPSI has enabled a new tenure-track faculty line in contemporary Japanese politics and society; facilitated the creation of four new courses on contemporary Japan; launched a new multidisciplinary speaker series on Japanese Politics and Society, national conferences and webinars on U.S.-Japan relations, and academic manuscript workshops; and funded graduate fellowships and faculty travel grants to support field research in Japan. For more information, please see https://jpsi.indiana.edu/ or write to email@example.com.