Japan is positioned to become East Asia’s foremost economic and military power in the coming decades, but it’s traveling a bumpy road to get there. Growing strategic challenges in its backyard related to China’s rise give it little choice but to push for a dominant role in the region, and it has the underlying fundamentals needed to do so. Yet at the same time, it is locked in a decades-long economic slump and is contending with a worsening demographic crisis – factors that could hinder its rise as a regional leader. And it is only beginning to shed the self-imposed pacifistic constraints that have blunted its military ambitions since World War II. Thus, at the moment, early indicators of Japan’s ascendance must be balanced against signs that it’s merely spinning its wheels.
Japan’s ambitions to break free from its internal limitations have become particularly acute under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, which won re-election last month. Under Ab