Reluctant Warriors: Germany, Japan, and Their U.S. Alliance Dilemma 

  • Published

Reluctant Warriors: Germany, Japan, and Their U.S. Alliance Dilemma by Alexandra Sakaki, Hanns W. Maull, Kerstin Lukner, Ellis S. Krauss, and Thomas U. Berger. Brookings Institution Press, 2020, 278 pp.

 Reluctant Warriors is an analytical work on the strategic context shaping Germany’s and Japan’s alliance with the United States post–World War II. Cumulatively, its authors encompass a highly qualified lineup of strategic-minded international policy influencers and higher-level educators from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Mercator Institute for China Studies, Johns Hopkins University, the Alliance on Research on East Asia Ruhr—a joint program at the Universities of Bochum and Duisburg-Essen, the University of California, and Boston University.

This work examines the strategic environment that shaped Germany’s and Japan’s foreign defense policies through the Cold War (chap. two) and after the end of the Cold War (chapter three). It also discusses the evolution of each nation’s willingness to deploy troops, particularly outside of NATO (Germany) or its own borders (Japan) (chap. 4). The book further explores the evolution of each nation’s arms export policy as a measurement of its respective commitment to defense outside of actions requiring constitutional justification (chap. 5).

The underlying story told is the balance that each country struggles to maintain between pleasing its population and supporting US-led conflicts while highlighting the benefits and costs of the two bilateral relationships. Germany and Japan have been able to focus on domestic development while relying on the US to bolster their security postures, particularly for nuclear deterrence. Rising pressure from the US on the two countries to involve themselves in conflict juxtaposed against postwar, anti-militaristic populations strains the relationships.

At the same time, the authors present a well-curated evolution of Germany’s and Japan’s willingness to intervene in conflicts outside of their borders. Both countries have followed their own unique paths from being self-defense focused to becoming more willing to involve themselves outside of their own borders. Each path is influenced by the population’s anti-militaristic sentiment, the perception of the threat at hand, and the context of the alliance in which it operates. Germany, for example—despite its lack of response to Iraq and Afghanistan and its opposition to intervene in Libya—has committed to operations within the European Union context, especially peacekeeping operations in Mali. Japan has grown similarly willing to increase troop commitments, initially providing non-combat troops to US-led operations in the past. Japan is now willing to commit forces to aid allies including the US outside of its own borders provided that a country threatens Japan’s survival or independence. The reader gains a solid understanding of the complexity and frailty of the alliances.

Reluctant Warriors is thorough and well researched, though the back-and-forth format switches between Germany and Japan make the book somewhat difficult to follow. Additionally, while providing a comprehensive look at the complexity of the alliances, the authors have omitted any discussion on the strategic implications of the struggling relationships, particularly as they relate to NATO, Russia’s strategy with Germany, and China’s and North Korea’s strategies with Japan. All things considered, this is an excellent primer for anyone looking to gain a baseline understanding of the evolving dynamic of the German-US and Japanese-US alliances. It would be a staple for anyone working in a NATO or Japanese environment and for the international relations student looking to gain insight into the challenges of today’s US alliances.

MSgt Dave Dunn, USAF



"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."