Published in 1983, Strategic Atlas was one of several atlases published during the 1980s that blended world maps with political, economic and military figures and trends. It was the kind of well done set of infographics that really isn’t done anymore, particularly now that nobody wants to pay for content. I’ll be featuring maps from it now and then, as they relate to Japan and the rest of Asia, both here and at Asian Security Watch.

I picked up a used copy last year, having gotten rid of my original more than a decade ago. Published during the Cold War, the book is rather dated in several areas, particularly the strategic importance of Asia relative to Europe. To be fair, twenty five years ago Europe was where it was at; even I concentrated in German history in college. I can’t imagine doing that now.

Here’s one map from back when Japan was considered an economic superpower, on the cusp of becoming a military and political superpower. We all know how that turned out. But this map in particular is interesting. Some observations:

Russia is not as hostile as the Soviet Union was, but only Russia would describe Japanese – Russian relations as “friendly”.

China has gone from a minor economic player and military midget to the world’s second largest economy, with a military racing to catch up. China is Japan’s #1 trading partner, but also #1 potential adversary.

North Korea is still a hostile state. Although a declining conventional military power, it now possesses nuclear weapons, which makes up for the conventional decline. And pretty much everything else.

South Korea is a bit closer these days, though one gets the distinct impression that unless the nationalism is toned down from both sides, the two countries have hit an impasse.

Relations with Indonesia and Australia are markedly better, particularly Australia.

Relations with Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, and the Gulf States are generally the same.

Relations with India are also markedly better, in ways that were unimaginable twenty years ago.

Relations with Cambodia and Vietnam are much improved, particularly with Vietnam.

All of the trade routes are still pretty much valid, although there should be arrows pointing towards Shanghai and other major Chinese ports. Also Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and Thailand.

Unlike its neighbors, a good number of Japan’s sea lanes are safe from interdiction or blockade…so long as it remains friendly to the United States. As long as the Japan – U.S. alliance stays intact, Japan could re-route air and sea traffic away from countries like China and Russia.

Unlike Europe, which enjoys a respite from direct confrontation, Japan has not so clearly benefitted from the end of the Cold War.


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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch