What’s Past is Prologue…
How the Indo-Pacific Alliance reveals the importance of women’s participation
Strong alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific are becoming more important each day for both Japan and the United States. Taking a step back into history can reveal WPS elements that have contributed to the building of peaceful and sustained alliances and may be key to success today. For example, there are many lessons to learn from the successful building and sustainment of the U.S.-Japanese alliance after the Second World War.
After WWII, Japan and the U.S. built an alliance with one another that at the time seemed nearly impossible, but it is now one of the strongest on the international stage. One seemingly small but key piece of the puzzle that contributed to this success was the participation of women.
In the 1940 and 50s, Japan rebuilt its nation based on principles of democracy, international order, and human rights. The United States played a key role in the rebuilding process as Americans led the Allied Occupation of Japan from 1945-1952. During this time, it was General Douglas MacArthur, who as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, had the primary objectives of pacifying and democratizing Japan.
As part of his plan to achieve these goals, MacArthur immediately called for the enfranchisement of women’s rights and for women’s suffrage. During the occupation, Japanese women would be granted suffrage, elected to the Japanese Diet, and granted rights in the new Japanese constitution.
Why is this significant?
MacArthur was not a champion of women’s rights and did not arrive in Japan with “progressive” ideals about gender equality. Rather, he was a strategist, who understood that all of society must be part of this effort. Therefore, his focus on women’s rights indicated that he recognized that women’s participation went beyond being a “nice thing” to do. Rather, he saw it as an important and imperative part of rebuilding.
While all Women Peace and Security principles, as we understand them today through the United Nations Security Council and the U.S WPS Act of 2017, were not present in post-WWII Japan (and those present were in many ways incomplete), MacArthur seemed to understand what research tell us today. There is a direct link between a nation’s treatment and rights of women and girls and that country’s level of peacefulness on the international stage. Furthermore, nations with high level of sex inequality are more likely to be a fragile state, be corrupt, and unstable and violent.[i]
While the relationship between WPS and the U.S.-Japanese alliance needs deeper investigation, I propose that as we face a world in which alliances are becoming more important and essential, we must recognize that WPS principles may not simply be “nice ideas.” Rather, they are key pieces to ensuring peace and strong relationships.
In post-WWII, they were a part of the formula that American and Japanese leaders implemented in efforts to build a peaceful and sustainable relationship based on shared values. Today, if Japan and the U.S. wish to strengthen old and form new partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, then both nations may need to consider something that MacArthur in the 1950s knew: to build strong democracies and lasting alliances, all of society, including women, must be part of the process.
Grace Hoffman, Ph.D. is a CountryIntel employee and a Fellow at the American Council on Women Peace and Security. She is currently researching and writing a chapter exploring how Women Peace and Security played a role in the successful rebuilding of Japan post-WWII and the formation of the U.S.-Japanese Alliance. Her work will be published in a forthcoming edited volume.
[i] See Valerie Hudson, The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide (New York, 2020); https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1a02/327babfb20be0982b5154e40c0ca5695cb3b.pdf