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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien
Axel Karpenstein

Axel Karpenstein

Axel Karpenstein
Political Science
Since September 2003
(PhD Students, September 1, 2003 - August 31, 2004)


  • Japan’s foreign policy
  • Sino-Japanese relations
  • Asian regionalism
  • Political economy

Dissertation Project


“Restoring the ‘Normal Nation’: Japan’s Changing International Environment and the Conservative Revolution in Foreign Policy at the Beginning of the 21st Century”


Considered passive, reactive, or even largely absent for a long time, Japan’s foreign policy has displayed significant changes over the past decade: the country has been trying hard to strengthen its leadership role in East Asia, it has deepened its commitment to international norms, values, and institutions, and it has paved the way for an expanding role of its military abroad. How are we to understand these recent developments? Is Japan finally ready to meet expectations for a more proactive role in international society, or is it, once more, merely responding to pressures from its security patron, the United States of America?


My dissertation project endeavors to put the recent developments in Japanese foreign policy into a broader perspective by examining the interaction of the changing international environment with different foreign policy paradigms, which I uncover within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The project does this in two parts: First, it maps foreign policy positions within the LDP since World War II and establishes two different foreign policy paradigms – a (waning) conservative-pragmatic “Yoshida line” and a (increasingly dominant) conservative-nationalist “Kishi line.” Second, I ask what kind of new constraints and opportunities have been created for domestic political actors by the recent changes in Japan’s international environment (for instance, the end of the Cold War, the rise of global terrorism, the shifting objectives of US American security policy), and how domestic political actors, especially within the Kishi line, have been influenced by, responded to, and made use of these developments.


In a preliminary assessment of the findings of this study, I advance the proposition that rather than merely adjusting to international pressures, Japan’s foreign policy is, in fact, undergoing a far-reaching “conservative revolution” whose objective is a fundamental revision of Japan’s positions within the international system and a restoration of Japan as a strong, “normal nation.”