Since 2012, Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Shinzō has sought to remake the country’s foreign and security policy. Abe’s agenda, which is increasingly called an ‘Abe Doctrine’, has prompted considerable debate as to its true nature. Is the Abe Doctrine nationalist, revisionist, or realist? This article contributes to these debates by tracing the competing characterizations of an Abe Doctrine’s policy ideas and assessing these against the doctrine’s policy prescriptions. It argues that the Abe Doctrine–situated within the long-term evolution of Japanese policymaking – is chiefly realist rather than nationalist in its policy prescriptions. In fact, where the doctrine does constitute a major departure from past policy practice, largely unrecognized until now, is not so much in how it expands Japan’s international role but in how it narrows this role. The underlying logic of the Abe Doctrine may therefore be pushing Japan towards a new form of regional realism.