electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies

Article 7 in 2005
First published in ejcjs on 6 October 2005

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Pursuing a Major Power Role

Realism with the US and Idealism with Europe in Japan's Post-Cold War Foreign Policy


Elena Atanassova-Cornelis

Doctoral Candidate
Catholic University of Leuven

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This article analyses Japan's move towards becoming a major power after the end of the Cold War, by way of examining how Japan adds an 'idealist' approach through its relations with Europe to the 'realist' one, pursued in its partnership with the US. After 1989, the military alliance with the US has remained crucial to the country's national security and the pursuit of a realist foreign policy towards Washington has, therefore, continued to be a priority for Tokyo. In this context, Japan has expanded its role within the bilateral security arrangement and has further strengthened it since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US. At the same time, Japan has pursued throughout the 1990s an idealist foreign policy towards the EC/EU, through the development of a Euro-Japanese human centred and non-military security cooperation. Since the start of the 2000s, however, Japan has expanded its military profile, showed a greater willingness to engage in security and defence matters, and embarked on revising its peace constitution. Although it may seem that Tokyo has moved towards pursuing more realism with the US at the expense of idealism with Europe, this article argues that the non-military partnership with the EU is also important for Japan in that it facilitates the country's transformation from a 'reactive' to a 'proactive' state, which is encouraged by the military alliance with the US.

Introduction: Rethinking Foreign Policy - Why and How?

The altered international system after 1989 has created a new environment for Japan, in which it has started looking for ways to actively pursue the role of being a 'major power'. While scholars and analysts generally expected that Japan would raise its international profile following its economic growth throughout the 1960s and 1970s (Unger, 1993, p. 4), the country's contribution to the world order during the Cold War had been very modest. Having embraced a 'realist' approach1 through its alliance with the US, Japan prioritised the maintenance of its national security and peace, and focused exclusively on expanding its economic capabilities. Yet, the country's over-reliance on its bilateral relationship with the US resulted in its 'reactive'2 (Lincoln, 1993) international behaviour and inability to assert a distinctive foreign policy posture throughout the Cold War period. However, the ending of the Cold War and the Gulf Crisis of 1990 created the momentum for a serious redefinition of the reactive approach, which had to be adapted to both Japan's rise to the level of a major power and the post-1989 international order.

Such a redefinition implied two important changes for Japan. First, in order to be able adequately to contribute to the post-Cold War world, the country needed to engage in a greater burden sharing with its US ally. This, however, meant that Tokyo policy-makers3 had to consider a greater role on the part of Japan, particularly, in the area of security and defence. Second, a greater contribution to the maintenance of the world order could best be achieved if Japan embraced other forms of international diplomacy beyond the exclusive one of bilateralism with the US. However, due to Japan's dependence on its ally for security, any other engagement had to be considered carefully so that it would not present an alternative to the alliance. Cooperation with an international actor such as the EC/EU, with whom Japan did not have military-security ties, could, therefore, become a possibility for Tokyo to raise the country's profile in the international arena without jeopardising its alliance with Washington.

The first post-Cold War decade was characterised by a reaffirmation of the US-Japan alliance, with Japan showing a greater willingness to engage in security and defence matters (e.g., respond to regional contingencies, provide logistical support to the US armed forces), pursuing thereby its realist approach. At the same time, the 1990s marked the deepening of Japan's relationship with the EC/EU within an 'idealist' framework4 (i.e., pro-UN, human centred, pacifist) of Japan's intensified international behaviour throughout the period. The Euro-Japanese partnership5 came to encompass strictly humanitarian and civil agendas and non-military security cooperation, and was further strengthened by the adoption of the Joint Japan-EU Action Plan in 2001, which has been followed by a process of implementation by both sides.

The military alliance with the US has remained top priority for Japan, particularly, in the area of security and defence. Therefore, the pursuit of a realist foreign policy towards the US ally has continued to be viewed in Tokyo as crucial to the country's national security. Moreover, after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US the partnership between two has further expanded. It has developed into a closer strategic alignment, characterised by Tokyo's strong support of Washington's foreign policy initiatives, which was unthinkable in the 1990s. With its non-military contributions in the war against terrorism and the reconstruction of both Afghanistan and Iraq, Japan has come to be recognised by the United States as a strong and valuable ally. At the same time, the strengthened partnership between the two has encouraged a transformation of Japan's security policy. The country has expanded its military, or 'hard', profile; showed a greater willingness to engage in security and defence matters; and, last but not least, has embarked on revising its peace constitution.

Against this background, it may seem that Japan's pursuit of a realist approach through its military alliance with the US (e.g., sending SDF overseas, military build up) has started diminishing the importance of the idealist one (e.g., human security, post-conflict peace building), expressed through Japan's non-military partnership with Europe. However, this article aims to demonstrate that although the process of Japan's transformation from a 'reactive' to a 'proactive' (and even 'assertive') state is encouraged by the developments in the US-Japan alliance, the non-military Euro-Japanese cooperation remains in fact important for Tokyo, for it helps Japan promote its 'soft' profile of a major power.

This article starts with examining Japan's constrained foreign policy during the Cold War in the context of Japan's reactive approach as a consequence of its over-dependence on the US ally, and in the framework of 'weak' Japan-Europe relations. It then looks at the developments in Japan's foreign policy after 1989 with regard to its relations with both the United States and the EC/EU. Finally, it analyses the process of Japan's transformation on security and defence after 9/11. The article concludes that the strengthened US-Japan alliance serves Japan to become more assertive with regard to security and defence matters, while the non-military partnership with Europe facilitates Japan's proactive international behaviour, adding thereby an idealist approach to the realist one.

This article differs from most studies of Japanese foreign policy, which, so far, have tended to offer either realist or constructivist interpretations6. Realist works have ranged from those explicitly arguing that Japan would acquire massive military capabilities (including nuclear weapons) and become an assertive international actor (e.g., Kahn, 1970; Layne, 1993; Waltz, 1993) to softer depictions of Japan as a modestly armed and less threatening military actor (Kawasaki, 2001), concerned with economic security, albeit clearly not ignoring military aspects (Heginbotham and Samuels, 1998). Constructivists, for their part, have explained the country's foreign policy with Japan's 'culture of anti-militarism' (Berger, 1993, 1996) and domestic anti-militarist norms (Katzenstein and Okawara, 1993), and preference for peaceful means of foreign policy (Katzenstein, 1996), such as foreign aid and investment, and cooperation in the civilian and non-military sphere of action. The purpose of this article is not to engage in a debate between these dominating perspectives on Japan's international behaviour. Rather, by way of examining Japan's military alliance with the US, on the one hand, and its non-military partnership with the EC/EU, on the other, this article aims to look beyond the military versus non-military paradigm. Its purpose is, therefore, to offer a broader explanation of the current foreign policy of Japan, in which national security concerns and greater involvement in defence matters do not replace Japan's proactive behaviour in the area of non-military security.

Japan's Constrained Foreign Policy During the Cold War

The US Factor: Japan's Foreign Policy 'reactivity'

The norm of bilateralism with the United States has been the main characteristic of Japan's foreign policy after the end of the Second World War. At the heart of this bilateralism lies the US-Japan Security Treaty of 1951, which not only shaped the 'follower-leader' character of Japan's partnership with the US, but also determined Tokyo's 'passive' (Kuriyama, 2000, p. 215) foreign policy behaviour and over-reliance on Washington during the Cold War period. Consequently, this prevented Japan from having an active foreign policy, hindering its ability to shape international events independently7. A tendency to be guided by Washington's leadership came to be represented by a specially coined word, gaiatsu, or foreign pressure. It meant that the priority for Japan was not to act, but to respond to the demands of other countries, mainly the US, which resulted in Japan's adopting a generally reactive response to international events (Hook et al., 2001)8.

The policy of being a member of the Western camp brought numerous advantages for Japan. It helped the country, firstly, maintain peace and democracy, and, secondly, achieve economic growth and prosperity under the security shield of the US (Kuriyama, 2000, p. 212, 214). By way of prioritising its military alliance with Washington, Tokyo pursued a realist approach to ensure the guaranteeing of Japan's national security. Post-war 'economism' or 'GNP-ism' became, furthermore, a way for Japanese policy-makers to avoid engaging the country politically (Funabashi, 1991, p. 60). The priority given to economic expansion was strengthened by the non-acceptance of the use of military force as an instrument of national security policy9. This was incorporated in the post-war pacifist Constitution of 1947 through Article 910, which restricted Japanese military activities to self-defence, and, together with the Preamble, was interpreted as permitting the maintenance of Self-Defence Forces (SDF) and not of a military as such. Based on Japan's post-war Constitution, the Cold War era did not see Japan's participation in such non-military initiatives as peacekeeping and humanitarian relief missions, which came to define the country's foreign policy posture in the 1990s.

Economic developments in Japan throughout the 1970s and 1980s, leading to Japan becoming a large owner of foreign assets and with large trade and current account surpluses, engaged the Japanese state with the rest of the world in economic and political terms (Lincoln, 1993, p. 2-3). Japan, therefore, could not continue having almost no involvement in its international environment. The country's rise with regard to its enormous economic capabilities was, however, achieved under the US security umbrella, allowing it to focus on non-military spending at the expense of a military one. As Japan became capable of challenging the US in the key sectors of the economy, which resulted in numerous trade frictions between the two, Washington increased its pressure on Tokyo to assume a greater burden sharing role in the bilateral security arrangement. The 1970s and 1980s thus saw four successive US administrations calling on Tokyo to boost Japan's defence spending beyond the one percent barrier of its GNP, and to make the country play a greater military role in the Far East (Holbrooke, 1991, p. 52). Against this background, the 1978 Guidelines for US-Japan Defence Cooperation served to ensure both the US commitment to Japan's defence and Japan's more active involvement in the alliance.

US demands were further intensified with the Persian Gulf Crisis of 1990, to which Japan responded with a $13 billion financial contribution, yet Japan failed to make a human contribution, i.e. to dispatch its Self-Defence Forces to the Gulf. In this sense, the Gulf War clearly revealed the gap between the country's 'overdeveloped' economic capabilities and 'underdeveloped' ability to act in an international context.

Japan's general lack of preparedness to deal with such an international crisis became, therefore, a clear sign to Japanese policy-makers that the path of a reactive state and the exclusively economic strategy in dealing with international affairs could no longer be applied to the world order. Furthermore, the multipolar11 post-Cold War system demanded that major powers, that is, countries capable of exerting significant influence on political and economic matters in the international arena, combine their efforts in order to both build and protect the new world order (Kuriyama, 2000, p. 216). In this sense, Japan was expected to carry out a foreign policy in line with its capabilities of a major power12 (ibid.). In order to achieve this, the country had to engage actively in cooperation with the other major powers, by way of seeking to harmonise with them both its foreign policy orientations and actions. This implied, in first place, a greater burden sharing with its ally - the US - as it continued to be viewed in Tokyo as the sole guarantee of Japan's national security.

Japan-Europe Relations: The 'weak side' of the Japan-US-Europe triangle

The ending of World War II left not only Japan, but also the states of Europe completely devastated and facing an urgent need for economic and societal rehabilitation and security protection from the Soviet threat and expansion. The US provided significant contributions to the economic and political reconstruction of both Japan and the countries of Western Europe (Gilson, 2000a). Furthermore, as it cemented its leading position in their foreign policy orientations through military alliances (cf. Japan-US alliance and NATO), both Japan and the Western European states became a part of the US led anti-Communist camp (ibid.). In Japan, it was the 'Yoshida doctrine'13 and the signing of the Japan-US Security Treaty that tied the country to the US. In Europe, the Truman doctrine and the Marshall Plan of 1947, followed by the creation of NATO in 1949, played the same role.

These post-war developments were the main reason why Japan's relations with Europe have come to be analysed mostly within the triangular framework established between the US, Europe and Japan after the Second World War (e.g., Daniels & Drifte, 1986; Wilkinson, 1991; Van Agt, 1993; Gilson, 2000a; Gilson, 2000b; Iwanaga, 2000; Hook et al., 2001). Consequently, Japan and Western Europe (the European Community from the late 1950s14) were seen during the Cold War period as merely two poles of the Japan-Europe-US triangle with the US at the apex (Gilson, 2000a). The lack of a military-security linkage between the two sharply contrasted with the US-Japan and Atlantic alliances. In addition, the absence of an institutionalised Euro-Japanese framework for regular consultations and cooperation on foreign policy issues led to further references to the Japan-Europe relationship as 'the weak side' of the triangle (Wilkinson, 1986; Wilkinson, 1991; Bradbury, 1999; Gilson, 2000a; Gilson, 2000b) or 'the dotted line' of the triangle (Van Agt, 1993).

The Cold War era saw a rather distant political relationship between Japan and the EC, characterised mainly by mutual ignorance and indifference to the problems and intentions of the other (Satoh, 1982, p. 190; Iwanaga, 2000, p. 208). As far as their economic relations were concerned, the period was coloured by economic friction and trade imbalances. However, Japan's emergence as an economic actor, the deepening of European integration and the changing global environment (e.g., the oil crises; the global recession; the collapse of the US-Soviet detente) throughout the 1970s and 1980s encouraged the two actors somewhat to broaden their cooperation. Moreover, as the Cold War resumed in the early 1980s, it became clear that international security had to be regarded as a matter of common concern for Western industrialised nations. Peace and security of East Asia, therefore, had to be seen in relation to that of Europe and vice-versa. It was against this background that the then prime minister of Japan, Nakasone Yasuhiro (1982-1987), declared at the Williamsburg summit in May 1983 that western security was 'indivisible' (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1985, p. 97). Furthermore, during his administration relations with the EC were declared as an important pillar of Japanese foreign policy (Iwanaga, 2000, p. 222), which consequently led to the establishment of twice-yearly consultations between the foreign ministers of Japan and the EC Presidency (Gilson, 2000b, p. 35).

Until the late 1980s, however, the political (and security) cooperation between Japan and the EC, such as their attempts to achieve a coordinated approach in response to the Iranian and Afghan crises, remained underdeveloped and conducted on an ad hoc basis. In contrast, it was the economic interactions between the two that came almost to exclusively define the nature of their relations. The dependence of both Japan and Western Europe on the US in the security arena ensured the continuation of this 'unbalanced' (Edstrom, 1998, p. 4-5) form of cooperation, which represented 'the weak side' of the triangle. However, while the absence of military-security ties inhibited the development of a Euro-Japanese partnership during the Cold War era, it became an important factor in furthering their dialogue in the post-1989 period. The reason for this is that the lack of a security linkage prompted the development of the Japan-EC/EU non-military form of international cooperation. For Japan, in particular, the post-Cold War opportunities for a deepened partnership with the EC became a furthering factor in the promotion of the country's non-military and human centred diplomatic posture of a major power.

Towards a Major Power Role in the 1990s

From reactivity to pro-activity: Beyond the US-Japan alliance

As has been discussed above, the demise of the Communist threat and the aftermath of the Gulf War became a turning point in Japan's foreign policy in that the country actively engaged in a greater contribution to the world order. Since the main concern for Tokyo policy-makers remained the US commitment to Japan's defence, it was the realist approach, which continued to define Tokyo's foreign policy priority, i.e. the maintenance of the military alliance with Washington. The post-1989 developments showed also that the US-Japan alliance had to be reassessed so that it could respond adequately to the new political agenda and security challenges of the post-Cold War era. In this context, Japan was expected to undertake greater defence responsibilities within the bilateral security framework, which would help the two allies harmonise their efforts and improve joint contributions to the world order.

Against this background, the 1990s witnessed a series of steps directed towards redefining and strengthening the US-Japan alliance, among which the 1996 Japan-US Joint Declaration on Security: Alliance for the 21st century and the 1997 revision of the original 1978 Guidelines for US-Japan Defence Cooperation played a very important role. The Joint Declaration paved the way for the revision of the Defence Guidelines, which served to define Japan-US cooperation with regard to situations in areas surrounding Japan. Subsequently, in order for Japan to be able to implement the tasks set out in the Revised Guidelines and support the US militarily in regional contingencies (however, strictly in a non-combat role), the Japanese Diet passed a new package of legislation on May 24, 1999. The so-called Surrounding Areas Emergency Measures Law expanded the range of bilateral defence cooperation outside the territory of Japan, which was defined as 'the areas surrounding Japan'. Most importantly, however, was that the concept 'situations in areas surrounding Japan' was described as 'not geographic but situational' (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, 1997), which implied that both the interpretation of its scope and the measures taken in response to regional contingencies would depend on the situation in question.

In addition to the above developments, in April 1998 the United States and Japan signed an amendment to the existing agreement (Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA)) related to reciprocal provision of logistical support, supplies and services between Japan's SDF and the US armed forces. The ACSA amendment became particularly important for the implementation of the Revised Guidelines because it set up the framework for mutual support between Japanese and US forces during situations in 'areas surrounding Japan'.

Despite all these developments aimed at strengthening the alliance, the 1990s were not characterised by very smooth US-Japan relations. Economic frictions between the two during the first half of the decade resulted in so-called 'Japan bashing'15, while Japan's slow economic recovery and the contrasting expansion of China in the second half of the 1990s led to 'Japan passing' (Funabashi, 2004) by the US. Although the importance to the US of formal alliances, such as the one with Japan, was strongly underlined and elaborated in President Clinton's National Security Strategy of the United States of America of December 1999 (Mochizuki, 2003, p. 88), the Clinton administration maintained the old 'leader-follower' approach towards its ally and partner.

While the first post-Cold War decade saw Japan's willingness to expand its role within the US-Japan alliance, it also marked a shift in the country's basic foreign policy orientation from an exclusive bilateralism towards encompassing other forms of international diplomacy. Japan increased its presence in both economic and non-economic multilateral fora at regional and global level, and started building a political partnership with the EC/EU within the trilateral-Japan, US, EU-form of engagement. Throughout the 1990s, the country developed a policy in the field of global stabilisation through development programs and humanitarian aid programs (Keukeleire, 2001, p. 174), and focused on promoting and implementing 'human security'16. Japan also became actively involved in both global crisis management and 'comprehensive conflict prevention'17, as well as in the prevention of global warming and environmental protection. All these avenues for exercising a proactive world role have permitted Japan to promote non-military security18 cooperation.

In the course of the 1990s, Japan also significantly increased its multilateral personnel involvement for the maintenance of international peace and stability. Following the Gulf War's severe international criticism of Japan's 'chequebook diplomacy', i.e. its exclusive reliance in foreign policy on financial contributions, the country enacted in June 1992 the International Peace Cooperation Law (IPCL)19 (the Law Concerning Cooperation for United Nations Peacekeeping Operations and Other Operations, or also known as PKO Law). The IPCL enabled Japan's personnel participation in international humanitarian relief operations and contribution to the United Nations PKOs on a fully-fledged scale20.

As has been shown with the above analysis, Japanese foreign policy throughout the 1990s was characterised by two important trends. On the one hand, Japan continued to reaffirm the crucial importance of its alliance with the US, by way of undertaking steps for strengthening the partnership between the two. This illustrated Japan's realist foreign policy approach, i.e. the continuing importance of the issue of the country's national security. On the other hand, Japan began to contribute actively (as part of multilateral actions) and even proactively (cf. human security, Official Development Assistance (ODA)) to the world order, by way of pursuing an idealist foreign policy approach.

Accordingly, while for Japan the significance of military security expressed through the US-Japan alliance did not diminish, the pursuit of international initiatives in the civilian and non-military sphere came to define its emerging major power role. This role was, furthermore, strengthened in the framework of Japan's partnership with the EC/EU, which served the country to promote its non-military foreign policy posture21.

Japan's partnership with Europe: Strengthening Japan's major power profile

The ending of the Cold War presented an opportunity for Japan to deepen its existing economic links with the European Community (the European Union from 1993) and build a bilateral political partnership. One factor that influenced Japanese policy-makers to expand their relations with the EC/EU in the 1990s was the growing economic and political presence of Europe as a result of its 'deepening' and 'widening'. The processes of integration and enlargement thus made Japan recognise the EC/EU as a rather coherent international actor22. Furthermore, a closer partnership with Europe (with which Japan did not, and does not, have military-security ties) presented a possibility for Japan to expand its non-military major power role, and enhance its contribution to the world order in the sphere of non-traditional security challenges, such as global environmental degradation, human (in)-security, conflict prevention. The second important factor that pushed Japan to deepen its relations with the EC was the reduction of the US military commitments to the region of Asia23 (and generally to Europe) (Gilson, 2000a, p. 528), which increased the demand on Japan for a greater burden sharing. Thus, Japan came to recognise the fact that it was becoming more responsible for its own stability, as well as for stability at a global level. A partnership with Europe, therefore, came to be regarded as an opportunity better to fulfil these responsibilities.

The political dialogue between Japan and the EC was formally recognised with the signing of the Japan-EC Joint Declaration on 'relations between the European Community and its Member States and Japan' in The Hague in 1991, initiated by the Japanese government24. The document set joint political objectives and created regular channels for consultations and policy coordination on international political issues (Iwanaga, 2000, p. 228). Following the declaration, the two partners submitted in 1992 a joint proposal for the establishment of a UN Arms Register, which represented their first joint initiative. Japan and the EU have further cooperated in the field of ODA based on their commitment to interregional support 'for the development of the East Asian wing and East European wing of the newly emerging global order' (Hook, 2000, p. 247). In the framework of the East European wing, Japan has contributed to the economies of Russia, NIS countries and South East Europe. The EU, for its part, has extended financial assistance to South Asia and other Asian countries, such as Cambodia, North Korea, Thailand, and Mongolia, in the framework of the East Asian wing.

An important aspect of the Japan-EU partnership has, furthermore, become cooperation at multilateral level - within the UN, Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation (KEDO), the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the G7/8, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF); and Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). These regional and global fora have come to play a particularly important role for Japan's promotion, together with the EU, of a non-military stance on political cooperation and security diplomacy.

Ten years after the Joint Declaration, at the 10th Japan-EU Summit in 200125, Japan and the EU adopted a common Action Plan for EU-Japan Co-operation, which formulated four main objectives for partnership26. The document covers issues as various as UN reform; cooperation on the Korean Peninsula; trade; the ageing society; the fight against terrorism; and cultural exchanges. The main aim of the Action Plan, as was stated during the 9th Japan-EU Summit held in Tokyo in 2000, was to translate Japan-EU relations into 'coordinated policies and concrete actions' (Japan-EU Summit, 2000). In addition to the adoption of the Action Plan in 2001, the same year was marked by the beginning of a 'Decade of Japan-Europe Cooperation', during which the two partners are planning to reinforce their cooperation in view of making Japan-EU political relations commensurate with their economic partnership.

With the deepening of the political dialogue between Japan and the EC/EU since the Hague Declaration, a substantial improvement of their relations in the domain of economics has taken place too. Trade tensions that dominated Japan-EC agenda in the 1970s and 1980s gradually decreased throughout the 1990s when Japan embarked on structural reforms and on opening its markets to foreign investors. As a result, the EU has become one of the largest foreign direct investors in Japan in recent years, particularly, in the telecommunications, car manufacturing, retailing, and insurance sectors. Thus, from trade disputes and imbalances, Japan-EC/EU economic relations have developed into a cooperative partnership, which was, furthermore, strengthened in 2002 with the adoption of the Mutual Recognition Agreement27 - the first bilateral trade agreement between Japan and the EU.

The developments in bilateral Japan-EC/EU relations since the early 1990s clearly show that their political dialogue has deepened and enhanced, in particular, if compared with the Cold War period. By way of focusing on issues such as nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament, conflict prevention28, post-conflict peace building, environmental degradation, human rights, and drug trafficking, Japan's partnership with the EU has come to reflect the country's idealist stance on foreign policy, which gives priority to non-military security cooperation29 and humans rather than states. The growing importance of the EU in Japan's foreign policy since the adoption of the Joint Action Plan in 2001 is, furthermore, seen in the official documents, which refer to the EU as a 'strong partner' for Japan (Taigai Kankei Tasuku Fōsu, 2002, II-8)30, and underline that Japan should take 'a more active approach' regarding its relations with the EU (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2002, p. 67), by way of building a 'strategic partnership' (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2003, chapter 2-D) and further advancing 'cooperative relations' between the two (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2004, p. 92).

Despite the expansion of Japan's relations with the EC/EU since the start of the 1990s, the US-Japan alliance continues to be viewed in Tokyo as the main pillar of Japan's foreign policy, being the only guarantee of the country's national security. Therefore, any future developments between Japan and Europe (as had been the case in the past) are likely to be influenced by it. Furthermore, the fact that the rather 'neglected' Europe of the pre-1989 period came to be viewed in the 1990s as an important partner for Japan in the pursuit of its major power role should be explained with the non-military nature of this cooperation, which, first and foremost, would not present an alternative to, or jeopardise, Japan's military alliance with the US.

Qualitative Change in Japan's Security and Defence Policy Since 9/11

The September 11 terrorist attacks on the US had a dramatic impact on American foreign policy in that they led to the development of the extremely unilateralist foreign policy of the Bush administration. This became particularly expressed on issues that pertain to fighting terrorism and 'rogue states', and preventing the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (Tanaka, 2004, p. 6). In this context, the 'National Security Strategy' of the Bush administration, released by the White House in September 2002, emphasised that in order to combat security threats, pre-emptive military action could be considered as an option (The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, 2002, p. 6)31. The Iraqi Crisis of 2003 further confirmed the US determination to act in such a way.

Legislative Changes

In light of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the following assertive foreign policy of the US, Japan - as an ally and a 'dependent' partner - had little room for manoeuvre but to show its support of what US refers to as 'a war on terror'. Yet, any cooperation had to be carefully considered so as not to go beyond the scope of Japan's pacifist constitution. Against this background, a series of security-related laws have been enacted or amended, which have served as a basis for the country's greater engagement in defence and security issues.

In the wake of the US-led military operation in Afghanistan and the strong pressure from Washington for Japan's support, the Japanese Diet 'swiftly debated' (Midford, 2003, p. 333) and passed on October 29, 2001 the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law32 (only within less than a month from the introduction of the bill at the beginning of October of the same year). The anti-terrorism legislation expanded the scope of permitted non-combat operations for the SDF (ibid. 331), thereby enabling a wider support for Japan's allies33. After the enactment of the Law, in early December 2001, Japan dispatched for the first time since the end of World War II its non-combat troops to an area of international military conflict. This was a deployment of Japanese supply ships to the Indian Ocean to provide rear-area logistical support for the US and British naval ships fighting in Afghanistan. The end of 2001 was marked by yet another change in the already started process of Japan's transformation on security issues. The law, revising a part of the 1992 IPCL, was legislated in December 2001. The amendment unfroze Japan's full-scale participation in the primary duties of Peacekeeping Forces (PKFs)34. It also expanded the scope of the use of weapons and the subject of protection by SDF troops using their weapons (see Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2003, p. 137).

The primacy of security and defence policy issues on Japan's political agenda and the top priority Tokyo policy-makers accorded to the alliance with the US were further expressed through the continuing developments in Japan's legislation. On June 6, 2003 three emergency bills on Japan's response in the case of an armed attack against the country were enacted, establishing the basic framework for Japan to deal with contingencies35. As Japan became one of the first supporters of the US policy towards, and actions in, Iraq in 2003, the Koizumi government initiated a bill for the reconstruction of Iraq. The bill was enacted in July 2003 as The Law Concerning the Special Measures on Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq, which permitted Japan to engage proactively in the rebuilding of the country. Moreover, the law on Iraq served the government to dispatch at the beginning of 2004 Japan's SDF on a controversial humanitarian mission to southern Iraq, without the sanction of the international community. In December 2004, the Japanese government extended the mission for one more year.

The issues of the ban on exporting arms and constitutional revision

Along with the enactment of the security-related packages of legislation and the following troop deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, Japan has embarked on developing its arms industry and revising its pacifist constitution. In this context, the Koizumi government has focused on lifting the ban on arms exports, which would enable Japan to export weapons to a number of countries, including the United States and its allies.

The prohibition of weapons exports was introduced in 1967 with the so-called 'three principles'36 and reinforced in 197637, and since then Japan has applied this policy not only to arms and their parts, but also to arms manufacturing technology. In 1983, however, Japan lifted its ban on the export of arms technology to the US (not applicable to exporting weapons or their parts), which was seen as an exception due to the country's strong ties with its ally (Hatakeyama, 200538). Since then, Japan and the United States have conducted joint research on arms technology and, from 1999 on, have collaborated on a missile defence (MD) system project, which has entered its final phase. While the US has continuously expressed its dissatisfaction with the ban in the context of joint Japan-US missions against a possible North Korean missile attack (Berkofsky, 2004), the issue of lifting the ban on arms exports has become salient only under the Koizumi government. This has, furthermore, become clear when the Japanese government announced in November 2004 a plan to relax the three principles on arms exports39.

In addition to the issue of lifting the arms exports ban, the topic of constitutional revision has come to occupy an important place on the security policy agenda of the current Japanese government. A civilian panel, advising Prime Minister Koizumi, called in October 2004 for a general revision of the country's post-war security and defence policy in its report Vision for Future National Security and Defence Capabilities. The report recommended modernising Japan's military and strategic initiatives and lifting the ban on exporting arms or arms related technology, and suggested that Japan acquire pre-emptive strike capabilities (for more on the report, see Berkofsky, 2004). The panel also strongly advised strengthening the military alliance with the United States, including greater MD cooperation40, identifying the removal of the arms export ban as an important step for this (ibid.).

While the above-mentioned report was drawn up by a panel of academics and business leaders, the Koizumi government's move towards amending the constitution was clearly expressed in the constitutional revision draft of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Completed in November 2004 by the LDP research commission on the Constitution, a document titled Constitution Draft states that Japan will 'renounce the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes,' but calls for possession of military force for national defence (The Japan Times, 2004). Furthermore, while the draft proposal contains the war-renouncing Article 9 of the current Constitution, which says that 'land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained', it approves Japan's right to engage in collective self-defence and take part in collective security frameworks (ibid.). The LDP plans to finalise its proposal for a constitutional amendment in November 2005, which will mark the 50th anniversary of the party's foundation. Although it is not known yet what clauses the proposal will contain and whether constitutional amendment will take place in the near future, a definite change can be anticipated, as is clear from the words of the LDP President and Prime Minister Koizumi: 'It is our responsibility in this landmark 50th anniversary year to address the important issue of enacting a new Constitution' (Asahi Shimbun, 2005).

Towards an 'assertive' foreign policy

The developments in Japan's security and defence policy since the September 11 terrorist attacks indicate a clear trend: the country's old reactive approach has been replaced by a rather assertive foreign policy posture, in particular, in terms of Japan's increased role in its alliance with the US and the country's intensified move towards security and defence responsibilities.

Japan has enacted and implemented a series of security-related laws, which has allowed it to expand the activities of its SDF, deploy non-combat troops to areas of international military conflict, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, and counter a possible attack. Furthermore, the Koizumi administration has clearly committed itself to further collaborating with the US on the development of a ballistic MD system, and showed willingness to expand its domestic weapons industry and modernise the military. Related to these developments is the current administration's proposal for revision of the war-renouncing Constitution, which could allow the country to engage in collective self-defence. With its non-military support of Washington's policies towards both Afghanistan and Iraq, Japan has come to be seen by the United States as an important ally, somewhat 'surpassing' Washington's expectations (Funabashi, 2004). Moreover, with the decision of the current Bush administration to decrease the number of US armed forces in East Asia41, Japan has become even more valuable to its ally in terms of military contributions for the maintenance of Washington's interests in East Asia and the Middle East (De Boer, 2004).

However, the country's recently increased military profile is the reason why the debate on Japan's move towards 'a normal state', i.e. a state that may act militarily in the pursuit of national interest and not only for self-defence, has gained salience both domestically and internationally42. The main opposition party in Japan - the Democratic Party of Japan - and the Japanese people, but also Asian countries, do not favour an expansion of Japan's military capabilities. They fear that a more active behaviour in the area of security and defence might lead the country to undertake initiatives beyond the strictly non-military framework of action. Yet, having capabilities does not necessarily mean that Japan will become an assertive military actor, as neo-realists have been predicting (e.g., Layne, 1993; Waltz, 1993). Accordingly, one should regard Japan's expanded military profile rather as an expression of greater realism in the country's foreign policy, in view of Japan's need to respond to the changing international environment (cf. the North Korean threat; US withdrawal from Asia; spread of international terrorism), than a sign of revival of its former militarism.

Moreover, while being largely pushed by the United States to participate in the war on terror, Japan's continuing transformation on security and defence issues should also be seen in the context of the country's pursuit of its major power role. In this sense, the US pressure has acted as the initial push, which the Koizumi government has used to start developing a more assertive foreign policy. A deeper commitment to the alliance has thus served Japan to become a bigger player in security affairs. Nevertheless, all these developments do not indicate an ambition on the part of Japan to 'normalise' in the exclusive military interpretation of the concept.

Conclusion: Towards a Major Power Role - Adding 'idealism' to 'realism'

Japan's position in the international arena has changed substantially since the middle of the 20th century. From being a defeated and occupied nation after the Second World War, with almost no say in international affairs, Japan has risen to the level of a major power at the beginning of the 21st century, with abilities to exert influence on its environment. Such a change has been largely possible due to Japan's evolution under the protective security shield of its US ally. While this shield acted as a constraint on Tokyo policy-makers to act independently during the Cold War period, it became a pressure for the country's active international contributions since the beginning of the 1990s. From the start of the 2000s, it has served both as a push for intensified Japanese international actions (in particular, with regard to security issues) and an opportunity for Japan to promote its more assertive defence posture.

The realist approach, in terms of the priority accorded to national security and to the US-Japan alliance, determined the country's reactive foreign policy behaviour during the Cold War period, which generally meant that Tokyo had to follow Washington's lead. As far as Japan's relationship with Western Europe was concerned, it was generally weak - in the realm of politics and security - though characterised by economic interactions. Although the first post-Cold War decade continued to see the dominating realist strand in Japan's foreign policy with regard to the US, Japan also pursued an idealist approach, by way of being actively involved in multilateral initiatives (within the UN) and in the area of civilian and non-military security cooperation. In this framework, Japan has developed its non-military partnership with the EC/EU, which has become, furthermore, an opportunity for Tokyo to pursue a more proactive foreign policy.

In the 2000s, Japan continues to employ realist and idealist approaches in its relations with the United States and Europe respectively. The country's recently strengthened military profile and move towards projection of its SDF overseas (albeit in a non-combat role) has, however, been encouraged by Japan's alliance with the US. Yet, this does not suggest that Japan has turned towards exclusive realism through the military alliance at the expense of idealism, pursued through Japan's non-military partnership with Europe. This article has shown that while the top priority for Tokyo remains undoubtedly its relationship with Washington, the Euro-Japanese partnership continues to be favoured by Japan as it enhances Japan's proactive soft profile. The pursuit of a realist foreign policy through the alliance could, therefore, be seen as the basis on which Japan has started building its more assertive defence and security policy. The non-military cooperation with Europe, on the other hand, plays a facilitating role in the whole process of Japan's transformation from a reactive to a proactive state.


1. The assumption that states are concerned, fist and foremost, with their national security is the normative basis of realism. While realist scholars have not agreed on a common definition of 'national interest', the contemporary neo-realist view is that the main national interest is state survival in the anarchic structure of the international system, and that this national interest determines a state's foreign policy behaviour (see, Waltz, 1979; Schelling, 1980; Mearsheimer, 1995). Consequently, the term 'realism' in this article is used to refer to the priority accorded by Japanese policy-makers to national security in view of ensuring state survival. Although a 'realist' approach has been pursued by Japan towards other countries than the US, e.g. Russia and China, such an analysis goes beyond the scope of this article.

2. While 'reactive state' means a state that reacts to international situations and rules imposed from the outside, in the case of Japan it mainly refers to the US pressure on Japan to act.

3. Japan's policy-making is mostly described as a 'tripartite elite model', which includes the central bureaucracy, the governing LDP and the big business (zaikai) (Hook et al., 2001: 41). As its name indicates, the model stresses the role of the power elite in decision-making, within which Japanese political leaders, big businessmen and bureaucrats are interconnected, forming a strong alliance (Fukui, 1977). Although the three participating parties represent the most important actors in the country's foreign policy-making process, it is the central bureaucracy that has generally been regarded as occupying the core of decision-making in Japan (see Pempel, 1979; Johnson, 1982; Abe 1999) and thus dominating over political and business actors.

4. The term 'idealism' is used in this article to contrast the importance of fundamental human values with realists' exclusive focus on national interest. It refers, therefore, to Japan's foreign policy behaviour aimed at contributing to the peace, well-being and prosperity of people all over the world through non-military security cooperation, promotion of human security, financial aid, and participation in multilateral humanitarian and peace operations.

5. In this article, 'Europe' refers primarily to the European Community, later the European Union, as a coherent unit composed of 'old' member states. Euro-Japanese relations, therefore, do not imply here Japan's bilateral relations with the individual member states, which have not been replaced by the Japan-EU partnership. By the same token, this article does not discuss Japan's relations with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, 10 of which became the 'new' member states of the EU in May 2004.

6. For a comparative analysis of realist and constructivist explanations of Japan's foreign policy, see Lind (2004).

7. In the context of Japan's inability to assume a leadership role and influence the international environment, Japanese foreign policy has been described as 'mired in immobilisms' (Stockwin et al, 1988) and 'reactive' (Calder, 1988).

8. An example of Tokyo's reactive behaviour in response to Washington's pressure on Japan to act is the Sato administration's political 'support' of the war in Vietnam, i.e. without involving Japan militarily, in the 1960s.

9. For a detailed analysis of Japan's national security policy, see Katzenstein and Okawara (1993) and Katzenstein (1996).

10. 'Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognised.' (The Constitution of Japan, Article 9).

11. In neo-realist terms, a multipolar system implies mostly a non-bipolar one, although the latter can also refer to a unipolar system (as the US position may be considered after the Soviet Union's collapse). On the other hand, a unipolar system is seen as a 'geopolitical interlude' between bipolarity and multipolarity (Layne, 1993, p. 5, 7).

12. While the concept of power is central to both realist and neo-realist scholars, there has been no clear consensus among them as to how to define it. For some (e.g., Morgenthau, [1948] 1960, 1973; Waltz, 1979; Gilpin, 1981), 'power' was a combination of a state's military, economic, political, technological and other capabilities, and was thus regarded 'as a possession or property of states' (see Baldwin, 2002, p. 178). This 'static' view of power (called also 'elements of national power' approach), i.e. being an equivalent to a sum of capabilities of a given state, was challenged from the start of the 1950s by the so-called 'relational power' approach, which employed a 'dynamic' definition, i.e. viewed power 'as a relationship in which the behaviour of actor A at least partially causes a change in the behaviour of actor B' (ibid.). This causal notion thus focused on the control or influence one state has over others (see Dahl, 1957, [1963, 1984] 1991; Frey, 1971; Nagel, 1975).

The term 'major power', which is often used by scholars working on Japan's foreign policy (e.g., Katzenstein, 1996; Kuriyama, 2000), refers to the impact Japan's behaviour has on the international environment (for a detailed explanation of the distinction between 'power' (capabilities) and 'influence' (the result from having capabilities), see Baumann et al., 2001, p. 40).

13. The 'Yoshida doctrine' was named after Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru who was elected five times between 1946 and 1954. It meant an alignment and close cooperation with Washington with regard to Japan's post-war economic recovery and national rebuilding, and the pursuit of minimal military rearmament.

14. Initially, the European Community consisted of six countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined in 1973, Greece in 1981, and Spain and Portugal in 1986. Austria, Finland and Sweden became members of the European Union (established with the Maastricht Treaty in 1992) in 1995.

15. The phenomenon of 'Japan bashing' refers to some extremely negative sentiments which were directed at Japan, and which began to define the attitude of the American people from the mid-1980s. This was mainly a result of a closed Japanese market to US products, Japan's trade surplus with the US, and the imbalance between imports and exports stemming from Japan's unfair trading practices. The sentiments of hatred and hostility in the US society became so strong that the Americans started viewing Japan as a bigger threat than the Soviet Union, blaming it for the US deficit and for 'stealing' the jobs of the American people.

16. The concept of human security originates from the 1994 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). While after its launch human security became a central topic in international discussions on foreign policy and the new security agenda of the post-Cold War world, it has remained rather inconsistent in academic terms (for definitions and approaches, see Thomas, 2000; King and Murray, 2001; Newman, 2001; Paris, 2001). In Japan, the concept of human security gained ground only after 1998. Nevertheless, the Japanese state quickly became one of the world's leading states to promote and develop it, identifying it as a 'key perspective' of the country's foreign policy (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2000, chapter 2, section 3).

17. This concept includes 'preventing the emergence of conflicts before they begin, keeping conflicts from escalating, working toward their prompt resolution when they do occur, and preventing their reoccurrence' (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2002, p.97). Japan's assistance in the reconstruction of East Timor, Kosovo and Kosovo's neighbouring countries Macedonia and Albania are examples of such 'comprehensive' approach in dealing with conflict prevention.

18. 'Non-military security' encompasses 'political, economic, societal and environmental' sectors (see Buzan, 1991). It is also referred to as 'soft' security, in contrast to 'hard', or military, security.

19. The 1992 IPCL was passed in the Diet as the second International Peace Cooperation Bill after an attempt made by the Kaifu government to pass a first bill, called United Nations Peace Cooperation Bill, failed in 1990.

20. Since the enactment of the IPCL Japan has dispatched its SDF to participate in UN PKOs in Angola, Cambodia, El Salvador, Mozambique, Israel's Golan Heights and East Timor; as well as in non-combat humanitarian relief missions for refugees from Rwanda, East Timor and Afghanistan. In addition, Japan has sent electoral observers to the elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina, East Timor and Kosovo.

21. Against this background, Japan has been defined as a 'civilian power', i.e. a country that is concentrated on non-military initiatives and emphasises the economic dimension of international diplomacy (for a definition, see Maull, 1990, p. 92; see also Gilson, 2000b, p. 145, 169; Hook, 2000, p. 250; Ueta, 2001).

22. While most scholars agree that the EU's 'presence' in the international arena is significant, they maintain that it does not display effective international 'actorness' (Ginsberg, 1999, p. 432). For 'actorness', see Sjostedt, 1977; Hill, 1993; Caporaso and Jupille, 1998. For 'presence', see Allen and Smith, 1990.

23. George H.W. Bush administration's 10-year plan (from 1990 to 2000) aimed at decreasing the number of the US armed forces in Asia from 135,000 to 98,000 by the end of 1995 (Sugita, 2004).

24. The declaration could also be seen as a consequence of the 'opportunities to demand equality' in the sense that the signing of the 1990 Transatlantic Agreement between the EC and the United States made the Japanese government request the formulation of a similar document with the EC (Gilson, 2000a, p. 526).

25. At the same Summit, Japan and the EU issued a Joint Declaration on Terrorism.

26. The objectives are: 'promoting peace and security', 'strengthening the economic and trade partnership', 'coping with global and societal challenges' and 'bringing together people and cultures'.

27. The Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) between Japan and the EU aims at reducing the cost of certifying products for conformity with the technical regulations of both parties in four areas: pharmaceuticals, chemicals, telecommunication and electrical equipment.

28. Even though conflict prevention and non-military crisis management have already become promising areas on the bilateral Japan-Europe agenda for cooperation, the stage of conflict resolution, rather than the post-conflict peace building process, is still an area in which a more active cooperation is necessary (Shinyo, 2003, p. 8).

29. Examples of non-military security cooperation, in particular in the area of post-conflict reconstruction or peace consolidation, are the joint Japan-EU actions in the reconstruction of Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

30. This is a task force report titled Basic Strategies for Japan's Foreign Policy in the 21st Century, which was produced by the nine-member Task Force on Foreign Relations (taigai kankei tasuku fōsu) for Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro and released in November 2002.

31. ' ... we [the United States] will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country ... '.

32. Formally known as: The Special Measures Law Concerning Measures Taken by Japan in Support of the Activities of Foreign Countries Aiming to Achieve the Purposes of the Charter of the United Nations in Response to the Terrorist Attacks Which Took Place on September 11, 2001, in the United States of America as well as Concerning Humanitarian Measures Based on Relevant Resolutions of the United Nations.

33. The law enabled Japan's SDF to cooperate with, and support the activities of, the armed forces of the US and other countries in areas related to transportation and supply; search and rescue of combatants in distress due to combat; and provision of relief for affected people with regard to the terrorist attacks, including transportation of daily necessities (see Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2002, p. 19).

34. PKFs primary duties refer to such activities as monitoring of disarmament of armed forces; stationing and patrolling in buffer zones; traffic check or disposal of abandoned weapons among the international peace cooperation works.

35. The three bills are called: Legislation on the Response in the Case of an Armed Attack and Other Such Emergency.

36. The three principles prohibit the export of weapons or weapons related technology to the Communist bloc; countries to which arms export is prohibited under UN resolutions; and states involved in, or likely to enter into, international conflicts.

37. The ban on weapons export was extended to cover all countries.

38. The author is chairman of the Japan Economic Foundation and a former Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) official. In MITI he served as the director of the Aircraft and Ordnance Division, director-general of the International Trade Administrative Bureau and vice minister for international affairs.

39. The proposal includes approval of the Japan-US joint development and production of a missile defence system; export of arms to the United States; Japan's participation in US-led multilateral joint development and production projects; and export of arms to counter terrorism (Japan Press Weekly, 2004).

40. In October 2004 Japan announced its decision to help the US develop components of an Asian missile defence architecture, planned by the Bush administration (American Foreign Policy Council, 2004). The declaration is a clear expression of Tokyo's willingness to expand its missile defence cooperation with Washington, yet is not in accordance with Japan's ban on arms exports, because such cooperation would require Japan to deliver certain interceptor components to the US (ibid.).

41. In December 2003, the US announced its decision to reduce approximately 100,000 troops in East Asia.

42. See, for example, Hughes (2005) who argues that Japan has once again embarked on the road towards becoming a 'normal' and assertive military actor.


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About the author

Elena Atanassova-Cornelis received her Bachelor's degrees in both Slavic Studies and Japanese Studies from Sofia State University in Bulgaria. She also obtained a Master's Degree in Japanese Studies after having studied at Jochi (Sophia) University in Tokyo, Japan; and completed an MA in European Studies at Catholic University of Leuven (K.U.Leuven), Belgium. At present, she is a PhD researcher at the Japanology Section of K.U.Leuven with a primary research focus on the current foreign policy of Japan from the perspective of Japan's relations with both the United States and the European Union. She is also working on Japan's
policies in the field of the so-called 'non-traditional' security challenges, analysing the country's approach and response to issues such as human security; environmental degradation; conflict prevention and resolution; international terrorism.

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Copyright: Elena Atanassova-Cornelis
This page was first created on 6 October 2005. It was last modified on 30 January 2006.

ejcjs uses Dublin Core metadata in all of its pages. Click here to enter the Dublin Core metadata website The Directory of Open Access Journals includes ejcjs within one of the most comprehensive online databases of open access journals in the world. Click here to enter the DOAJ website.

The International Bibliography of the Social Sciences includes ejcjs within one of the most comprehensive databases of social science research worldwide. Click here to enter the IBSS website

The electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies is permanently preserved at research libraries worldwide by the LOCKSS electronic data storage system. Click here to be taken to the LOCKSS homepage.

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