Very few people leave a legacy that spans the world. Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese prime minister who was assassinated on Friday, was one of them.
Abe was first elected to the Diet, Japan’s national legislature, in 1993. He was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, serving from 2006-2007 and 2012-2020. While we extend our condolences to his friends and family, we might also choose to honor Abe with our actions by honoring his legacy in the areas of foreign policy and maintain international security.
As prime minister, Abe’s foreign and defense policies aimed at making what his administration described as “proactively contributing” to international peace.
Abe faced numerous foreign policy challenges during his tenure: North Korea’s nuclear and missile program and the kidnapping of Japanese citizens, territorial disputes and the pursuit of a peace treaty with Russia, tensions with South Korea and an increasingly aggressive Chinese Communist Party.
In 2013, Abe established Japan’s National Security Secretariat (the equivalent of our National Security Council) and issued his country’s first-ever National Security Strategy. In 2016, he enacted a package of 10 laws, the Peace and Security Legislation, and steered the reinterpretation of Japan’s constitution to expand the situations in which the country can engage in collective self-defense.
Abe also strengthened the Japan-US alliance. He was the first Japanese leader to speak at a joint session of Congress and describe our nations’ relationship as an “alliance of hope.” He asked rhetorically, “What shall we call this if not a miracle of history?” Enemies who fought so bitterly have become friends in spirit.”
Abe hosted President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima and made his own visit to Pearl Harbor. He has had close ties with three US Presidents, but his golf diplomacy with President Trump, from Mar-a-Lago to Bedminster to Tokyo, has received the most attention from the international press.
From my first day as national security adviser at the beginning of the Trump administration, it was clear to me that the “miracle” of the US-Japan alliance in the face of threats from North Korea and the People’s Republic of China is more important than ever to the principles and values that stand for peace and stability are fundamental.
Abe was the first world leader to elaborate the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. He encouraged collaboration between the so-called Quad – Japan, the United States, Australia and India – to address emerging challenges in the region.
His government has been a key player in promoting prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific with the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2016 and the Data Free Flow with Trust initiative in 2019, establishing a global approach to digital data stewardship and security.
And Abe fostered collaboration among world leaders worldwide by hosting and chairing G-7 and G-20 summits. Visiting more than 80 countries, he raised Japan’s profile on the international stage as a strong democratic nation at a time when the regimes of China and Russia were promoting their authoritarian models and belittling democracy.
Abe’s leadership will be missed as the world faces the prospect of cascading crises: Russia’s war on Ukraine and the global energy and food disruptions it will cause, nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea, Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and East China Sea.
A year ago, I spoke to Abe about his legacy and told him to be proud of the progress that has been made toward realizing his vision in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. But he steered the conversation to what is still needed to keep the peace through strength, expand international cooperation, strengthen the US-Japan alliance, and restore confidence in democratic governance and free markets.
Fulfilling this agenda is the best way to honor Abe and build on his legacy. Now it’s up to us.
HR McMaster, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, served as national security adviser from 2017-2018. He is the Japan Chair at the Hudson Institute and the author of Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World.
https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-07-08/shinzo-abe-legacy-japan-indo-pacific-region-quad-self-defense Op-Ed: How to honor the legacy of Shinzo Abe