Pursuing a Major Power Role
Realism with the US and Idealism with
Europe in Japan's Post-Cold War Foreign Policy
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Conclusion: Towards a Major Power Role - Adding 'idealism' to
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
For a comparative analysis of realist and constructivist explanations of Japan's
foreign policy, see Lind (2004).
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).
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.
For a detailed analysis of Japan's national security policy, see Katzenstein and
Okawara (1993) and Katzenstein (1996).
'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).
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).
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,  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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
'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
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,
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
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,
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
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,
37. The ban on weapons export was extended to cover all
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
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
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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
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