Sat, 05 Jul 2003

Diplomacy should go beyond alliance with U.S.

Yoshihide Soeya The Asahi Shimbun Tokyo

When I talk with people from various countries, they often speak of Japan's declining presence and voice concern for the fact the country is unable to extricate itself from the economic slump. From time to time, they diplomatically say Japan is still important, encouraging the country to recover its confidence soon.

More recently, some people have begun to express concern that Japan's security policy could spiral out of control, causing the country, which is unable to lift itself from a crisis, to explode.

Amid this uneasiness is the fear that the North Korean threat could provoke Japan into arming itself even with nuclear weapons and becoming a major military power.

Many Japanese should find it difficult to share such feelings. This, however, creates a huge gap between Japan's insensitivity and foreign nations' serious feelings of threat.

I believe the argument that Japan could become a military threat will prove groundless. Setting aside whether such views reflect the actual situation, it is important to understand that they present an obstacle to Japan's foreign policy.

Since the Social Democratic Party virtually fell apart and postwar pacifism regressed, a nationalistic atmosphere has begun to swell in Japan. This affects the way foreign countries view Japan much more than we think.

I have heard that Japanese students who maintain a hard-line attitude to foreign countries and have conservative views toward the history issue are called "Japanese neocons" by Asian students in U.S. universities.

But this trend among young people may not necessarily indicate Japan as a whole has become nationalistic.

With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the 1955 system, it was only natural for the Japanese to develop a greater sense of vague frustration directed at politics and foreign policy. I think many Japanese feel uneasy with no new policy framework to replace the 1955 political system.

Debate on Japan's diplomacy and security is more active than it used to be, but this is by no means a negative trend. The important thing is for Japan to have a clear diplomatic vision for the future. In other words, what kind of diplomatic philosophy does the country want to follow and what are its goals?

Ten years have passed since the 1955 system collapsed; it is time we got over the shock and started to build a platform for sound debate.

Self-assertion that only gives vent to frustration for the postwar regime, including the Constitution, or to the ways foreign countries deal with Japan is hollow, as are Japanese leaders who cling to the image of Japan as a major power.

When Japanese advocate major power diplomacy, they often deplore the fact that actual Japanese diplomacy is far from it. This seems to be a way of expressing the Japanese determination to be a major power, rather than an explanation of where Japanese diplomacy actually stands.

Japan may be a major power economically but when it comes to foreign policy and security, Japan actually fails to live up to the role expected of even a so-called normal country, much less a major one.

The origins of postwar Japanese diplomacy that ceded anything related to power politics can be traced to former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida when Japan was under U.S. occupation.

Yoshida prioritized the pacifist Constitution and the Japan- U.S. security system as the mainstay of postwar Japanese foreign policy. This was very significant in the sense that it marked a departure from traditional major power diplomacy based on Japan's reflections on militarism.

Diplomacy based on Yoshida's decision played an important role in keeping traditional nationalistic ideology in check. In fact, traditional nationalists sealed revision of the Constitution from their political agenda as early as the 1950s and had to lean toward centrist diplomacy premised on the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi's U.S. policy to strengthen the Japan-U.S. security alliance under the slogan of equalizing Japan-U.S. relations was an important precedent.

This in essence showed the strength of postwar Japan's essential "middle-power diplomacy," which can be traced to Yoshida's decision.

In this sense, it is interesting to note that former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who is regarded as a traditional nationalist, advocated Japan as a "non-nuclear middle power" while calling for "autonomous defense" in the early 1970s when he was director-general of the Defense Agency in the administration of Prime Minister Eisaku Sato. To Nakasone, the idea aimed at confirming the basis of Japan's security policy. When he became prime minister in the 1980s, Nakasone advanced foreign policy based on close Japan-U.S. ties and virtually practiced middle- power diplomacy.

Today, we do not need to confirm the restoration of nationalism as a result of regression of postwar pacifism. Instead, we need to validate the strength of postwar Japanese foreign policy as essential middle-power diplomacy that decided not to be part of power politics by major powers.

This leads to the country's foreign policy as exercised by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi today.

Japan's faith in its alliance with the United States forms the root of Japan's middle-power diplomacy. To such diplomacy, the image of Japan as dependent on the United States is nothing but a burden.

Japan can only understand how to use this position as well as the United States to its advantage, when trust in Japan-U.S. relations forms the root of Japanese diplomacy.

But this is only the starting point of middle-power diplomacy. True, if the starting point wavers, Japanese foreign policy can never move forward.

Japanese diplomacy, however, must show its real worth in the area beyond the Japan-U.S. alliance.

I urge Japan to redesign its foreign policy centering on the Japan-U.S. alliance from the perspective of middle-power diplomacy. Agenda for such diplomacy should be deeply embedded in democratic ideas, aiming at creating a middle-power network with neighbors in the region as equals.

When this happens, a totally new horizon will open up for Japanese foreign policy.

The writer is a professor of international politics at Keio University's Faculty of Law and also a faculty fellow at the Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry.