Ms. Kotler was hesitant to characterize Japan as pacifist. The country has substantive defense forces. Even during the discussion of the postwar constitution there was a strong emphasis on maintaining self-defense. Today, Japan's defense forces are sophisticated and capable. It's Maritime Self Defense Force is a potent blue water fleet. What is true is that Japan has refrained from using its defense forces and has been a free rider on the United States. The "alliance" is a linguistic construct designed to legitimatize the American defense of Japan.
Today's Asia is economically and politically stronger than after WWII. Independent democracies with feisty publics exist. What is happening is threefold: 1) the United States no longer wants to carry the full burden of Japan's defense; 2) Japanese politicians want to test the American commitment to the country's defense; and 3) Japan's neighbors are asserting their own nationalism and question Japan's rhetoric of change.
The new Abe government, abjectly unapologetic about Japan's aggressive wartime past, worries its neighbors. It is not that the self-defense forces will get any stronger, but the Japanese leaders making the decisions are viewed as militarists with retrogressive views of Asian history and culture. The judgement of Japan's leaders is what worries many. Unilateral actions and militarist rhetoric further undermine trust. This is the danger ahead.