Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unexpectedly resigned today, apparently tired of political battles over diplomacy and economics. The move stunned the political establishment in Tokyo, which had prepared for an Abe defense of a counterterrorism policy that had encountered some resistance:
Embattled Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday he would resign in hope of making it easier to extend a naval mission in support of U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan, sending shockwaves through Japan.
The hawkish Abe, who took office a year ago promising to boost Japan’s global security profile, has suffered low support rates and dwindling clout after his ruling camp suffered an election drubbing in July, but the announcement came as a bolt out of the blue.
“I determined today that I should resign,” a weary-looking Abe told a news conference. “We should seek a continued mission to fight terrorism under a new prime minister.”
This comes at a delicate moment for the US and Pacific Rim security. Abe has played a strong role in bringing North Korea to account for its nuclear program, and US and UN inspectors just arrived in Pyongyang to start shutting down Kim Jong-Il’s nuclear plants. Instability in Japan could encourage intransigence from Kim and perhaps quell the enthusiasm for the denuclearization effort in Beijing — if either or both believe a more malleable PM will take Abe’s place.
Abe wanted to continue the Japanese Navy’s support mission for NATO in Afghanistan, a position with only tepid support. His resignation will delay the decision, although it’s likely Japan will continue his policies in the interim. Most of his problems came from domestic issues, such as a failure to contain scandals among his ministers and a dispute over pensions that threaten the fragile Japanese economy.
All of these problems will await the next PM. Abe’s relatively short period of governance will not have left much resolved, and perhaps left an impression of despair on reaching resolutions at all. The US will have to hope that our enemies don’t get the notion that they can stall now and hope for a better deal with the new government in Tokyo down the road.