Leadership, Strategy, and Policy Entrepreneurship in Japanese Security Politics
A Comparison of Three Prime Ministerships
Volume 13, Issue 1 (Article 11 in 2013). First published in ejcjs on 24 May 2013.
Since the end of the Cold War, Japanese prime ministers have played an important role in the realm of defense policy and politics. They have done so by empowering different actors (bureaucratic actors, independent commissions, or civil actors), through agenda setting, policy entrepreneurship, and symbolic acts of state. The power of the prime minister to directly influence policy, however, has varied from one prime minister to another. This paper compares three prime ministers: Hashimoto Ryutaro (1996-1998); Koizumi Junichiro (2001-2006); and Hatoyama Yukio (2009-2010). Though each of these figures was but one actor in a larger policy process, each nevertheless influenced Japan’s overall defense trajectory. For this reason, a case study approach that compares elements of these prime ministers’ approaches can tell us much about the limitations and potential of Japanese prime ministerial leadership, as well as provide important insights on relevant domestic and regional contexts.
Keywords: Japanese Prime Minister, foreign policy leadership, Japanese defense policy, Japanese defense politics, policy entrepreneurship.
Introduction: The Trajectory of Japanese Defense Politics and the Japanese Prime Minister
Since the end of the Cold War, Japan’s defense policy has gone through significant changes. In the post cold war era, Japan’s first major experience was the “Gulf War shock,” where Japan was criticized for not providing a human contribution to coalition forces commensurate with its hefty financial contribution1. In the early 1990s, elites at every level internalized this incident as a failure. From this original shock, Japan has evolved into an active “civilian power,” a staunch supporter of the US military presence in Asia (and to a lesser extent a supporter of its global security agenda), and a gradually “normalizing” middle power country (see Izumikawa, 2010; Oros, 2011; Samuels, 2007; Shinoda, 2007b; Soeya, 2005). In the early 1990s, the government enacted legislation that allowed the Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) to be more active in peacekeeping, and gradually adjusted its Official Development Assistance to become more active in the realm of UN-supported human security initiatives (Edstrom, 2008; Oros, 2008; Shinoda, 2007b). In the mid-1990s, the government also reconfirmed its commitment to the US-Japan alliance through a joint declaration between the US president and Japanese prime minister. In 2006, the two countries agreed to enhance military inter-operability by establishing joint bases. This agreement increased the integration of Japan’s military establishment with that of the US (see Sunohara, 2007). Throughout this period, the Japanese government also took steps to expand the role of military-civilian relations and expanded its military capabilities within the one per cent GDP limit on defense expenditures. Gradual changes in Japan’s defense posture included: the elevation of the Japan Defense Agency to a ministry; more frequent dispatches of the JSDF for reasons of alliance contribution, peacekeeping, and disaster relief; and the acquisition of an operational Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system (Hughes, 2009; Tatsumi and Oros, 2007). Throughout this period, the legacy of Japan’s colonial past has hindered relations with its closest neighbors. In addition, in the wake of multiple long-term crises—demographic decline, chronic deficits, the pension issue, and political immobilism—combined with the 11 March 11 tragedy of 2011, the question remains whether Japan can rehabilitate itself into a healthy middle power able to exert its influence in the region.
Against the backdrop of the last two decades of the post Cold War world—a period best defined by its uncertainty and periodic shocks—the transformation of Japan’s defense policy and politics has been anything but inevitable. US-Japan alliance managers, politicians with differing visions and preferences, scholars, think tanks, and the actions of foreign governments have all influenced this trajectory. Along with these actors, Japanese prime ministers have played an important role in the realm of defense policy and politics. The Japanese prime minister, though weaker than heads of state in presidential democracies and weaker than the British prime minister, nevertheless plays an important role in policy by empowering different actors (bureaucratic actors, independent commissions, or civil actors), and through policy entrepreneurship, agenda setting, and symbolic acts of state (Angel, 1989; Hayao, 1993; Stockwin, 2008; Shinoda, 2000). The power of the prime minister to influence policy, however, has frequently varied by prime minister.
At first sight, Japanese politics would seem like an unlikely setting for a study of leadership, strategy, and policy entrepreneurship. After all, Japanese politics is usually associated with tedious consensus-building, gradualism, and at times even immobilism (Angel, 1989; Curtis, 1999; Sebata, 2010; Stockwin, 2008), not creativity, flexibility, and innovation. Yet, given the tenuous position of the prime minister—underpinned by his institutional restrictions and cultural norms against assertive leadership—effective prime ministers must often exert more ingenuity and skill than their counterparts in other government settings. Prime ministers must not only look carefully at the opportunities in front of them, but must also think carefully about which actors will make the best partners, and which initiatives in the realm of defense will best support their domestic political power.
This essay employs a comparative case study approach to examine how different prime ministerial strategies and policy entrepreneurship have mattered in the realm of Japanese defense policy and politics. Three prime ministers have been chosen: Hashimoto Ryutaro (1996-1998); Koizumi Junichiro (2001-2006); and Hatoyama Yukio (2009-2010). These prime ministers have been chosen to provide maximum contrast on issues of policy preference, cabinet management, choice of political partners, and overall strategy. Though each of these figures was but one actor in a larger policy process, each nevertheless influenced Japan’s overall trajectory in the post Cold War defense landscape. For this reason, a case study approach that compares policies of these prime ministers can tell us much about the limitations of various strategies, the role of prime ministers as agents in defense policy and politics, as well as provide important insights on relevant domestic and regional contexts. Most importantly, insights from these case studies can help us understand the challenges future prime ministers will face.
Theorizing the Japanese Prime Minister as a Political Actor
A common theme in the political literature on Japan is the relative weakness of the prime minister in comparison to other heads of state, even the prime minister in Westminster styles of government (Angel, 1989; Mulgan, 2002; Stockwin, 2008; Shinoda, 2011). Hayao (1993), for example, characterizes the prime minister’s role as “reactive,” serving as a mediator of last resort when consensus breaks down in the normal running of the various subgovernments. Since Hayao’s study appeared in the early nineties, several administrative reforms, new institutions, and changing public sentiment have given more formal and informal strength to the prime minister’s office. Despite these changes, his overall characterization of the office remains relevant. Prime ministers continue to be weak figures within the Japanese political system because: one, they must contend with powerful subgovernments—combinations of elites from business, politics, the bureaucracy, and other organizations who have vested interests in specific areas of policy; two, they must expend their energy balancing and maintaining order within an unruly party; and three, cultural norms and the selection process for prime ministers often encourages prime ministers who can maintain consensus within the party, rather than leaders adept at implementing bold new policies.
Even reaching back before the postwar period in Japanese politics, the position of the prime minister has been weak. Before the war, the prime minister was little more than an equal among cabinet ministers. Often certain cabinet members, through the influence of their powerful bureaucracies, could rival the power of the prime minister. Much like today, dissent within the cabinet had the power to bring down the government (Angel, 1989; Stockwin, 2008). Factors contributing to this weakness include cultural inhibitions against aggressive leadership styles, a tradition of consensus building in Japanese politics, the strong position of subgovernments, and the influence of power brokers within the political parties (Angel, 1989; McCargo, 2004; Mulgan, 2002; Shinoda, 2000, 2011).
Descriptions of the role of the prime minister often refer to the preference of parties for leaders who have extensive connections, are skilled at fundraising, and typically make decisions only after extensive consultation. These skills are often necessary to maintain the coherence of a government (and the ruling political party) against strong centrifugal forces. A prime minister must deal with sectionalism on two sides: the side of the party faction, or habatsu; and on the other side, the power of the bureaucracies and other permanent members of the subgovernments such as interest groups (Shinoda, 2000, 2011). The same politicians who have been skilled at intraparty patronage and backroom dealings have often had little skill at “going public” (Kurosawa, Kurosawa, and Takero, 2009; Shinoda, 2000; Hayao, 1993). In short, the skills that are needed to become a good “party man” are not the same skills that are likely to help win public popularity.
There are also compelling legal and institutional reasons for his weakness. The Constitution of Japan vests executive power in the cabinet (see Article 65) and deems that the prime minister represents the cabinet (Article 72). Article 6 of the Cabinet Law of 1947 more clearly establishes the limitations on the prime minister’s power, obliging him to seek the consent of the entire cabinet before exercising executive authority (GoJ, n.d.). Because the prime minister relies on the cabinet to wield power, the prime minister’s control over the cabinet determines his influence over government (Shinoda, 2000, p. 201; Shinoda, 2011, p. 50-51). Though prime ministers are technically free to choose their own cabinet ministers, in reality prime ministers have often been beholden to party elders in their choices. For a long time, intraparty competition and a weak support staff also limited the effectiveness of the prime minister. Though political and administrative reforms during the late 1990s and early 2000s increased the support staff of the prime minister and consolidated the number of cabinet ministers, thus making cabinet consensus easier, the problem of intraparty competition still remains.
Even given these observations, most authors (see for example, Hayao, 1993; Shinoda, 2000; Kurosawa, Kurosawa, and Takero, 2009) recognize that the efficacy of prime ministers has varied greatly on policy issues. As broader studies of leadership outside of the Japanese case have demonstrated, how leaders use the various resources at their command—administrative resources, unusual opportunities, and symbolic resources—matters greatly in the outcomes of policy initiatives (Grove, 2007; Hardgrove and Owens, 2003; Machiavelli, 2004; Preston, 2010; Samuels, 2003). The same can be said of Japanese politics: the timing of prime ministerial interventions in the affairs of subgovernments, their choice of political allies, their use of institutional resources, as well as the public framing of their initiatives has made significant differences in the outcomes of their policy initiatives. Though no one approach is superior in and of itself, when the right approaches are combined, they can create a powerful political punch.
Among the ranks of prime ministers who have been remarkably effective are Tanaka Kakuei, Sato Eisaku, Nakasone Yasuhiro, and Koizumi Junichiro. There has been some consensus that the ability of the latter two prime ministers in particular has been due to several factors, including their conscious pursuit of strong executive power, their canny use of the media to produce a more high-profile prime ministership, and their use of expertise outside of traditional party and bureaucratic resources, such as advisory commissions and special advisors2 (McCargo, 2004; Kurosawa, Kurosawa, and Takero, 2009; Shinoda, 2007a). These “presidential” style prime ministers have typically used different resources because their “clients” were different. Rational choice approaches would note that in most administrations fellow party members make up the main clients that prime ministers need to satisfy to stay in power. However, prime ministers such as Nakasone Yasuhiro and Koizumi Junichiro instead saw their clients as the people of Japan. Indeed, their weak power base within the party during their respective tenures made it necessary for them to appeal to popular opinion to counter their intraparty adversaries. Thus, as we will see in his case study, Koizumi adopted strategies that helped him fight off the influence of party insiders and factions by directly appealing to the public to support his policies.
Though the prime minister faces major constraints in his execution of power, he also has many significant resources that are unavailable to other actors. One, often as the leader of a party, he has control over who has membership in the party (as the Koizumi case study will demonstrate, this resource can be a powerful one). Two, he is the actor of last resort for the coordination of different sectional interests. Prime ministerial power thus becomes essential when extensive coordination is needed, as is often the case in issue areas that cut across several ministries, like trade and defense. Three, the prime minister is Japan’s senior diplomat and the Commander in Chief of the Japan Self Defense Force. As the lead diplomat for Japan, the prime minister has the ability to override the Foreign Ministry and conduct “tezukuri gaikō” (hand-crafted diplomacy), as Nakasone did during his tenure, thus frustrating professional bureaucrats. Four, the prime minister has an extensive platform for defining the basic ideology of the nation (as we will see with the example of Koizumi’s Yasukuni Shrine visits). Five, the prime minister has the ability to appoint cabinet ministers (though this power is somewhat constrained by the need to maintain unity within the party). Six, the prime minister can use his public platform to seek popular support for policies. As we will see in the case studies, popular support is an essential resource for prime ministers who wish to challenge entrenched sectionalism. For this reason, skill in using the media is an important resource for the prime minister. Another important facet of prime ministerial power is the role of US gaiatsu (“outside pressure”) in the formation of prime ministerial leadership. As Angel (1989) writes, in the early postwar years prime ministers often used the cover of US pressure to implement unpopular but necessary reforms like trade liberalization. US pressure thus can be an effective alibi for political leaders. As several authors (Sebata, 2010; McCormack, 2007; Shinoda, 2007a) argue in their own way, prime ministers—especially in the area of defense policy—have become addicted to US gaiatsu.
As this section has demonstrated, the prime minister faces significant formal and informal barriers to the execution of power, but also possesses a number of unique strengths. As the following case studies will demonstrate, during the post Cold Wßar period, prime ministers have been remarkably different in the approaches they have taken to defense policy and politics as well as the amount of success they have had in pursuit of their chosen policies.
The following short case studies examine the contributions of three important prime ministers—Hashimoto Ryutaro, Koizumi Junichiro, and Hatoyama Yukio—in the area of defense policy and politics. Though each of these figures has played an important role in Japan’s post Cold War defense policy and politics, as we will see, each chose a considerably different approach for achieving change, with varying levels of success.
Hashimoto Ryutaro (1996-1998): Measured Pragmatism
The prime ministership of Hashimoto Ryutaro (11 January 1996 to 30 July 30 1998, a tenure of 932 days) is an important, but nevertheless, neglected area of study in Japanese defense policy and politics. Despite being in power for just over two years, Hashimoto oversaw significant accomplishments in the area of defense. During his tenure he was able to: bring about the US-Japan Joint Declaration on Security (Joint Declaration); foster the 1997 US-Japan Guidelines for Defense Cooperation (Joint Guidelines); help negotiate the return in principle of the Futenma Airbase in Okinawa; and foster stronger ties between civilian and military officials (eroding some of the inhibitions against civilian cooperation with military authorities). In addition, Hashimoto also demonstrated a great deal of prescience in broadening Japan’s profile in relation to ASEAN countries (and Russia and Australia). Though these accomplishments came with a significant decline in relations with China, Hashimoto was nonetheless able to recover some ground with China as well. Perhaps more importantly, security-related initiatives helped Hashimoto (or at the very least did not hurt him) in his efforts at financial and administrative reform.
Hashimoto Ryutaro came to power at a time when many saw the US-Japan alliance as “adrift” (this term was used in the title of Funabashi’s (1999) famous book on the subject, Alliance Adrift). In the immediate post Cold War period, trade issues had dominated the Japan-US bilateral stage, pushing defense and security issues into the background. To make matters worse, in the aftermath of the “Gulf War shock,” Japan was going through something of an existential crisis in terms of its security identity. The shock of not having been acknowledged by Kuwait in their thank you letter to Allied Forces, despite Japan’s 13-billion-dollar financial contribution, reverberated deeply in Japanese political consciousness. Thus, the uncertain security environment of the post Cold War era was compounded by a crisis of national prestige. In the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War, much of the debate focused on how Japan could increase “international contributions” (kokusai kōken) to security. Early contributions were imagined largely in UN-based multilateralist terms. Japan would soon begin to enter cautiously into the realm of UN peacekeeping operations. However, it would not be long before the character of this debate became more firmly focused on the issues of the US-Japan alliance. Three crises in particular would bring the alliance back onto the agenda. In the first two, the North Korean nuclear crisis of 1994 and the Taiwan missile crisis of 1995-1996, alliance mechanisms were found to be hopelessly vague, while Japan’s political support for the US response had been found by US alliance managers to be inadequate. In the third crisis, the Okinawan rape case of 1995, it was the postwar US base structure on the island chain which would come into question. These events shaped a consensus among alliance professionals that the US-Japan security relationship needed to be reaffirmed and redefined.
Onto this stage stepped Hashimoto Ryutaro. Hashimoto was a seasoned Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) veteran who had made his political reputation through his tough trade negotiations with his US counterpart, Mickey Cantor. Despite his reputation as a tough negotiator with the US on trade issues, it soon became apparent to the US administration that Hashimoto was someone who could be trusted to stand up for the importance of the US-Japan alliance. The three prior prime ministers had all been relatively short-lived non-LDP prime ministers with few incentives to take political risks in support of the alliance. Hashimoto was well-known among his peers for his policy acumen and knowledge of how to work the bureaucracies (Okumura, 1998a; Funabashi, 1999; Tamura, 1998). From his predecessor, Murayama Tomiichi, he had inherited the lingering issues of an alliance “adrift,” including the issue of what to do about the US bases after the infamous 1995 rape case. However, he had also inherited a ready-made process and significant resources to deal with these crises. These resources included the Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) (a bilateral working group set up to work on the consolidation and reduction of bases on the island chain), a year-long consultation process between the Department of Defense and Japanese officials on defense issues, and the more specific language of the “Nye Report” which called for maintaining a US presence in East Asia of about 100,000 troops in total and about 45,000 troops in Japan.
Thus, Hashimoto was able to make use of shovel-ready initiatives such as the US-Japan Joint Declaration (accompanied with a summit meeting between the US and Japan) and the US-Japan Guidelines for Defense Cooperation. While these initiatives were essentially the product of dynamic interactions between alliance managers acting as policy entrepreneurs on both sides of the alliance, Hashimoto was nevertheless an active participant in these negotiations and initiatives, both shaping their evolution and pushing initiatives further where he could (see Akiyama, 2002; Tanaka, 2009; Funabashi, 1999). On 16-17 April 1996, President Bill Clinton and Hashimoto met and publicly reaffirmed the importance of the alliance relationship. Both parties signed the Japan-US Joint Declaration on Security: Alliance for the 21st Century. Many of the important building blocks for this document came from the ideas and language of the Department of Defense East Asian Security Report, or “Nye Report,” that linked the US-Japan Security Treaty with peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific region (MoFA, 1996; Funabashi, 1999; Tanaka, 2009). Like the Nye report, the Joint Declaration stated that the US-Japan alliance had underpinned the East Asia region’s extraordinary economic growth. The document also reaffirmed maintenance of “about 100,000 forward deployed military personnel in the region” (and by implication the maintenance of about 45,000 soldiers in Japan). More importantly, the document created a bridge to the Joint Guidelines by committing Japan and the US to jointly study “situations that may emerge in the areas surrounding Japan and which will have an important influence on the peace and security of Japan” (MoFA, 1996). The agreement solidly reaffirmed the importance of the alliance, maintaining a status quo that had been built over the long years of the Cold War, and took a small step toward redefining the alliance, leaving the details for later negotiation under the revision of the US-Japan Joint Guidelines.
The meeting between Clinton and Hashimoto took place four days after the announcement of the return of Futenma Airbase. Unlike the Joint Declaration and the Joint Guidelines that were to follow, the Futenma agreement would be the “prime minister’s play” (as Funabashi (1999:5) would famously dub it). Since Hashimoto had come into power earlier that year, he had taken a special interest in the Okinawan base issue and had made efforts to form a personal relationship with Okinawa’s governor Ota Masahide, who had made his political career opposing the bases. Throughout the negotiations for the return of Futenma, Hashimoto had taken extra precautions to keep the negotiations secret from the bureaucracy and political parties, thus minimizing the possibility of a leak to the press. Throughout the negotiations, top officials worked largely in secret to make sure many of the basic details were worked out before the agreement went public (Tanaka, 2009; Akiyama, 2002; Funabashi, 1999). Thus, the announcement on April 12, 1996 of the return in principle of Futenma came not only as a surprise to the people of Japan, but also to many in the defense and foreign policy ministries as well. In retrospect, it would seem as if Hashimoto had paid a steep price for the return of Futenma. One of the central conditions of the return - that the base’s function would have to be relocated to another part of Okinawa - would become a chief sticking point that would sow local opposition to the agreement (opposition that continues today). Still, in the immediate wake of the deal, the agreement appeared to be a stunning political success. Moreover, the close relationship Hashimoto had forged with Governor Ota would help him to maintain an image of even-handedness as he worked both to reaffirm the alliance and reduce the base burden for Okinawans.
His early success with the alliance, including the largely successful summit meeting with President Clinton and the dramatic announcement of the return of Futenma Airbase, helped to solidify Hashimoto’s popularity ratings, and thus, also opened the way toward a return to power for the LDP. Hashimoto’s early successes in the realm of alliance management helped to pave the way for an ambitious program of domestic reform. Hashimoto would set up a high-profile advisory committee and announce audaciously that he would pursue reforms in six major categories (administrative reform, government finance reform, economic structural reform, financial system reform, social security reform, and educational reform). Over time, Hashimoto’s reforms in finance and administration would prove to be groundbreaking in their own right (and indeed, his administrative reforms would pave the way for the more revolutionary leadership of Koizumi Junichiro). However, his decision to defer to party elder Nakasone Yasuhiro in a key cabinet appointment would prove to be a political disaster, significantly weakening his ability to pursue more extensive reforms.
Evidence of his shrewdness with defense policy (and indeed, foreign policy more generally), however, would continue throughout his administration. As Japan’s chief diplomat and spokesperson, he displayed an uncanny ability to balance and reconcile the needs of various actors. In the latter part of Hashimoto’s administration, much of his diplomacy would focus on alleviating various tensions and frictions that had arisen because of his decision to align more closely with the US’s regional security agenda. As Japan nudged closer to the US through the Joint Declaration and became more ensconced in Washington’s security agenda through revision of the Joint Guidelines, friction was inevitably created with China. Japanese-Chinese relations had been in decline for some time. The Tiananmen Square Massacre, anti-Japanese protests over issues of history and Japanese textbooks, and China’s use of ballistic missiles to intimidate Taiwan had all in their own way contributed to a general decline in relations. Hashimoto, himself, contributed to this decline through his 1996 visit to Yasukuni Shrine on his birthday.
Hashimoto announced at the beginning of his second administration that he would work hard toward improving relations with China. One method of alleviating tensions with China was to deny that revisions to the Joint Guidelines, particularly the pledges of support to the US in “situations in areas surrounding Japan” (MoFA, n.d.), had any specific geographical referent. To those who followed the negotiations and working groups, it was clear that “situations in areas surrounding Japan” must mean contingencies involving Taiwan and the outbreak of conflict on the Korean Peninsula. And yet, Hashimoto stuck hard to the logic that “situations in areas surrounding Japan” had no specific geographical content. The deliberate ambiguity of the guidelines, and Hashimoto’s own denial that they contained any specific content, allowed Japan breathing room for a thaw in relations. In his visit to China in September 1997, Hashimoto would call for increased mutual understanding, dialogue, cooperation, and an effort to build a common “order” (Kitamura, 1998:77-78). After a long freeze in Japanese aid to China, Hashimoto came offering economic aid valued at approximately $2.3 billion. In addition, he was the first Japanese leader to visit Manchuria since the end of Japan’s war with China in 1945. As part of his trip, he visited a museum dedicated to the 1931 Manchuria incident (Garran, 1997, 5 September). Most importantly, Hashimoto would also endorse the Murayama apology for war time atrocities, setting a precedent for future prime ministers (even ones with conservative leanings) (Kitamura, 1998:89). Hashimoto was met with a remarkably friendly reception. If progress between the two countries had not been dramatic, at the very least a tolerable sense of normalcy had been restored.
Hashimoto was also influential in other important ways. Through his personal relationship with Boris Yeltsin, he was able to breathe new life into Japanese-Russian relations and give some hope for a breakthrough on negotiations over the northern territories (even if progress would ultimately prove elusive). Hashimoto would also raise Japan’s profile in relations with ASEAN and Australia, setting the stage for greater cooperation with these nations in the future. He would also advocate joint research on ballistic missile defense with the US, setting the stage for greater cooperation during the Koizumi administration. Finally, Hashimoto would be the first prime minister in the postwar period to welcome uniformed officers into the prime minister’s residence, setting a precedent for greater policy input from uniformed officers (Okumura, 1998a, 1998b; Kitamura, 1998; Funabashi, 1999). All of these measures were important elements in Hashimoto’s administration that would set the way for further measures by bureaucrats and prime ministers in the future.
|Personally endorse the alliance/ push joint declaration and joint guidelines
|Bottom Up/involved US-Japan alliance managers at the bureaucratic level/ Nye Initiative language
|Successful Summit with President Clinton in April/ Approximately 20- point boost in popularity ratings
|Pursue the return of Futenma
|Top Down/Limited Involvement of Bureaucrats and Party Officials
|Agreement for return in principle of base (with the stipulation that base functions are relocated in Okinawa); public recognition of his role in agreement
|Pivot towards China
|An uptick in relations with China, reduction in tensions
|Allowing military officers into the Prime Minister’s Residence
|Would serve as an important step toward breaking down barriers between civilian policymakers and the military
|Hashimoto Doctrine, higher profile inrelations with ASEAN, Russia, and Australia
|A more varied diplomatic profile with the potential for diversification in security relations
Koizumi Junichiro (2001-2006): Maverick Politics and Political Theater
Koizumi Junichiro (26 April 2001 – 26 September 2006) ranks alongside Yoshida Shigeru, Kishi Nobusuke, Tanaka Kakuei, and Nakasone Yasuhiro as one of the most interesting and enigmatic prime ministers in Japanese history. Much has already been written about the style of Koizumi politics—books on his leadership often note his skillful use of mass media, his talent as a political “entertainer”, and his use of simple expressions (“one phrase politics”) and appeals to citizens’ common sense (Mikuriya, 2006; Iijima, 2006; Horiuchi, 2009; Uchiyama, 2010). However, beyond the style of Koizumi politics, there was one fundamental idea that gave Koizumi’s policies coherence. Insider accounts and personal testimony suggest that Koizumi understood that in order to enact controversial policies - like his policy of postal reform - he would have to draw on resources outside of his party (Mikuriya, 2006, p. 32; Iijima, 2006; Otake, 2006; Tawara, 2006). This included aggressively using the resources of the prime minister’s office (which had been strengthened by Hashimoto’s administrative reforms) to create project teams, negotiating with coalition partners and courting the rival Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), and appealing directly to support from the public (Shinoda, 2007a). In addition, an important element of Koizumi’s strategy would be the use of dramatic political acts—many of them confrontational in nature—that would help to prove his resolve to the public and promote his own personal brand as a political reformer and maverick politician.
From Koizumi’s emphatic embrace of the alliance, to his personal trip to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong Il, to the symbolic politics of the Yasukuni Shrine visits, defense issues would become an important stage for “Koizumi magic.” Critics of Koizumi, such as Gavan McCormack, have argued that Koizumi’s “performance made up in emotional force what it lacked in intellectual consistency” (McCormack, 2007, p. 192). Indeed, there seems little in common among the individual threads of his defense and foreign policies. His emphatic embrace of the US and support of often unpopular US objectives, his personal courtship of the US president, his normalization diplomacy with North Korea, and his stubborn visits to Yasukuni Shrine seemed to share few, if any essential elements. However, what seem like disparate and incoherent actions appear in hindsight to have a consistent and coherent strategy. Each policy act helped the prime minister keep the population engaged, supported his image as a reformer and maverick, and demonstrated his acuity in achieving short-term policy goals, thus boosting his support among the population. These successes, in turn, would help to support his ultimate political goal of postal reform.
To understand why the approach was appealing (and perhaps even necessary!) one first must understand Koizumi’s domestic situation. In the race for the presidency of the LDP party, Koizumi had largely been expected to lose to former prime minister Hashimoto Ryutaro, who had the support of much of the party’s elite. However, public dissatisfaction with the prior LDP prime minister, the gaffe-prone Mori Yoshihiro, had spurred the LDP to change the rules for electing their the party president. Prefectural chapters were awarded a larger number of votes. Party leaders in the LDP figured (incorrectly as it turned out) that factions and kōenkai would continue to shape the outcome of these primaries. Thus, most predicted—incorrectly—that former Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro would win the position of party president, and thus, become the next prime minister of Japan. Despite having weak backing within the party—especially from the most powerful factions—Koizumi was able to use his well-known image as a political and economic reformer to appeal to the prefectural chapters. Once it became clear that Koizumi would win a great deal of support from these chapters, it became difficult for LDP Diet members to vote against Koizumi (Lin, 2009; Mikuriya, 2006).
Koizumi’s campaign for LDP president displayed the very unorthodoxy that had defined his political career up to that point. Koizumi had run on the strength of his own personal brand and the slogan: “If I can not change the LDP, I will break the LDP.” Thus, from the very beginning Koizumi had a very different power base from many of the prime ministers who came before or after. Instead of strong factional support, Koizumi had a popular base that reached beyond his party. His campaign had also served notice to party insiders that he planned to play by a different set of rules. Thus Koizumi's persona was an important resource, but one that needed to be constantly renewed though dramatic acts that kept the public engaged and interested.
From the very beginning, the relationship with the US played an essential role in Koizumi’s approach to foreign policy and defense. He chose not only to embrace US policies wholeheartedly, but also to personalize the relationship between himself and the US president in unprecedented ways. The personal relationship between Koizumi and President George W. Bush would come to surpass even the “Ron-Yasu” relationship of Ronald Reagan and Nakasone Yasuhiro. Koizumi would be a frequent visitor at Bush’s Crawford Ranch in Texas, the beneficiary of several poolside chats, and would even have the honor of listening in on one of the President’s Daily Briefs by the CIA (Tawara, 2006, p. 135-136; Iijima, 2007). The two frequently bonded over their shared love of Elvis and their fondness for Gary Cooper’s western classic High Noon. In his final trip to the US, Koizumi was not only rewarded with a summit putting a final stamp on the alliance’s transformation, but was also treated to a presidential tour of Elvis Presley’s home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee (Faiola, 2006, June 27; Iijima, 2007, p. 277-279; Yoshida, 2006, June 29). Despite President Bush’s unpopularity in Japan, the personalization of the bilateral relationship nevertheless proved a great political success for Koizumi. The close relationship gave the prime minister another stage on which to demonstrate his charisma and flamboyance, and provided him with numerous opportunities to exploit his media savvy.
The substance of his contributions to the US-Japan alliance and his skill in manipulating the policy process were no less significant. One of the most studied aspects of the Koizumi administration is his acumen with the resources of the kantei (the prime minister’s office and its resources). Koizumi would use these resources to help overcome bureaucratic and political obstruction in formulating policy on contributions to the alliance in both Afghanistan and Iraq (Shinoda, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007a; Kliman, 2006). In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, many Japanese politicians and bureaucrats remembered painfully the “failure” of the first Gulf War, where Japan had been criticized for not providing a human contribution to the war, only a large financial one. The shock and embarrassment of this incident reverberated deeply in Japanese elite circles and provided permissive conditions for a bolder approach to alliance management should another crisis occur. Though elite attitudes were predisposed to a more active contribution, few would predict the boldness and speed of Koizumi’s policy responses in the wake of the September 11th attacks. Koizumi was able to use early public statements pledging concrete support to the US to outpace the bureaucracies, his party, and the Diet. This approach contrasted drastically with the traditional practice of intensive consultation (nemawashi) before announcing a policy course. As Kliman (2006, p. 83) argues, by setting high expectations with the US, Koizumi was using the threat of future American gaiatsu to overcome complacency and intransigence within his own party and the bureaucracy. Other attributes of Koizumi’s policy process were equally conspicuous in their effectiveness: Koizumi assembled the most skilled bureaucrats and experts from the relevant ministries under policy teams in the kantei in ways that allowed him to form policy options quickly under his own leadership; he used early negotiations with the LDP’s coalition partner the Komeito to help pressure his own party to take action; and Koizumi also framed his contributions in both Afghanistan and Iraq as contributions to international security rather than defining the contributions in collective self-defense terms (Shinoda, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007; Kliman, 2006; Samuels, 2007).
Dispatches of the JSDF to the Indian Ocean and Iraq would stretch the limits of constitutional pacifism without entirely alienating the Japanese public or breaking the coalition with the more pacifist Komeito. Though both the Anti-Terror Legislation of 2001 and the Iraq Dispatch Legislation of 2003 broke with tradition by dispatching the JSDF for de facto collective self-defense, they nevertheless adhered to Japan’s anti-militarist identity in ways that allowed Japan to maintain the façade of constitutional pacifism. Japanese SDF personnel were for the most part kept out of danger, and in the details of SDF dispatches pains were taken to limit contributions to tasks that were largely humanitarian in nature. Both these pieces of legislation also served the proximate goal of demonstrating to the public Koizumi’s skill at using the kantei to overcome the centrifugal forces of the government. In doing so, he helped avoid the trauma associated with the first Gulf War and strengthened the sense of trust with the US.
Just as Prime Minister Nakasone had done in the mid-1980s, Koizumi was using the contours of the US-Japan alliance framework to whittle away at the edges of Japan’s anti-militarist institutions (Envall, 2008; Samuels, 2007). Within this new alliance framework, old inhibitions against collective self-defense would fall by the wayside. Japan would acquire the necessary equipment for an operational ballistic missile defense shield. Building on a formal decision in 1998 to support joint missile defense research, a cabinet decision would be made in December 2003 to proceed with a two-layer system consisting of Standard-3 missile interceptors deployed on AEGIS-equipped destroyers and ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles (Glosserman, 2004, p. 4; Uriu, 2004, p. 177). The decision by the Tokyo government to deploy a limited missile defense system would require Japan and the US to integrate planning, development, and systems design in unprecedented ways. The missile defense systems would allow Japan access to US early warning intelligence and technology. These arrangements, in turn, would bring up thorny issues of legality. Not only would cooperation require modifications of the ban on arms exports, but it would also require maneuvering around constitutional issues of collective self-defense. During the Koizumi administration, alliance managers on both sides would continue to reshape the alliance in ways that strengthened Japanese capabilities and immersed Japan further in US technology and US global defense priorities. Indeed, McCormack (2007) would call the 2006 agreement leading to the fusion of command and intelligence functions of US and Japanese forces the most dramatic turn in the alliance since the signing of the security treaty. Joint force modernization plans would include enhanced intelligence capabilities, a coordinated network of satellites, missile interceptors, and radar, as well as increased joint training, and the establishment of the first joint command center (Samuels, 2007, p. 178-179; McCormack, 2007).
Though Koizumi’s close relationship with the US was the centerpiece of his approach to security and defense, other dramatic acts in the realm of security were equally important for supporting his image as a maverick politician. On 17 September 2002, Koizumi would make his dramatic trip to Pyongyang to meet with the reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. Despite predominantly being associated with a Gaullist/nationalist tradition with regard to defense, Koizumi was nonetheless willing to apologize for the “tremendous damage inflicted by Japanese colonialism” (Cha, 2002; Yomiuri Shimbun Seiji-Bu, 2006; Iijima, 2007; Uriu, 2003). In return, Kim Jong-Il apologized for the abduction of thirteen Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 80s. The two parties then signed the Pyongyang Declaration, which pledged both parties to work toward the normalization of diplomatic ties. As a result of Koizumi’s visit to North Korea, five of the original abductees were returned. Though negotiations over normalization of diplomatic ties between Japan and North Korea would slowly unravel during Koizumi’s administration, one can still see the North Korea trip as a success. Once again, Koizumi had demonstrated his ability to take risks, overcome obstacles, and find proximate successes that demonstrated his abilities to the public. As accounts of his administration suggest (Yomiuri Shimbun Seiji-Bu, 2006; Iijima, 2007), visits to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong Il were less about normalization of ties with North Korea and more about the return of the abductees to Japan.3
Koizumi’s most contentious acts in the realm of defense politics were his visits to Yasukuni Shrine every year during his prime ministership. Koizumi’s determination to visit Yasukuni was probably based on his assumption—an assumption that had regularly proven correct—that his reputation as a reformer was tightly bound with his ability to meet the letter of his campaign pledges, and that any retreat from these pledges would be exploited by his political opponents. Before becoming prime minister, Koizumi had promised the powerful Japan Association of Bereaved Families, which boasts close to a million voters, that he would make a formal annual visit to the shrine (McCormack, 2007, p. 50). The shrine had become a subject of controversy, especially after thirteen Class A war criminals were secretly enshrined there in the late 1970s. These visits put Koizumi at odds not only with China and South Korea, but also with left wing politicians, pro-China business elites, and even, during the last year of his administration, the US Congress. Despite lingering questions over the legitimacy of the shrine and its symbolism, Koizumi would frequently characterize his visits as a domestic issue and “a matter of the heart.” Prior prime ministers who had shared Koizumi’s political affiliation with the Japan Association of Bereaved Families, such as Nakasone Yasuhiro and Hashimoto Ryutaro, had visited Yasukuni Shrine as prime minister only to give up their visits in the face of official and popular protests in China and South Korea. With Koizumi, there would be no backing down. Polling data from several newspapers during this time, including the Asahi, Yomiuri, and Mainichi Shimbun, shows that by the end of his prime ministership Koizumi had turned an otherwise unpopular symbolic act of state into a quasi-popular one (Stockwin, 2008; McCormack, 2007; Mong, 2010). The reversal in popular opinion may have reflected the growing insecurity of the Japanese public against the backdrop of rising Chinese power and the noxious North Korea abductee issue, but probably also demonstrated the public enthrallment with Koizumi’s ability to overcome political obstacles. In short, his Yasukuni visits became one more symbol of a prime minister who could stare down opposition.
Finally, Koizumi’s record on postal reform bears noting because of its relevance to theorizing future leadership on defense policy and politics. Prior to coming to office, Koizumi had campaigned on a reformist agenda. He had promised the electorate that if he could not change the LDP, he would smash the LDP. A priority for Koizumi was reforming Japan’s government-run postal system. Koizumi knew that privatizing the postal system would be a difficult task because of the formidable influence of the postmasters within the LDP. Indeed, their influence had significantly weakened prior attempts at privatization during the Hashimoto administration. When Koizumi's postal reform bill passed the Lower House with only a slim margin, and faced even stiffer opposition in the Upper House, Koizumi threatened to call Lower House elections if the bill did not pass the Upper House (Gaunder, 2007:129-130). In September 2005, despite flagging support for the party and his cabinet (his own support rating was still a robust 53 per cent), Koizumi made good on his campaign pledge to dissolve the Lower House of the Diet and called for snap elections based around the issue of postal reform, making the election a direct referendum on his postal reform project. In addition, he refused to grant party endorsement to Lower House LDP members who had voted against the bill. As for those who resisted his reform efforts, he had them kicked out of his party and sent “assassins” (hand-picked contenders) to compete with these Diet members in their districts. The election gave Koizumi an unprecedented 296 out of 480 seats—a resounding victory for his reform agenda (Gaunder 2007; Maclachlan, 2010, 2011). With a two-thirds majority in the Lower house, he now had the ability to override resistance in the Upper house if necessary.
Koizumi’s use of his power as party president and prime minister to attack dissenting members of his own party is an important example for the area of defense policy and politics because of its potential use in areas where entrenched interests currently prevent progress on key issues. These issues include revision of Article 9 of the Constitution, revisions to the US-Japan Security Treaty, and/or bolder moves on the Futenma Airbase issue. In each of these areas, short of dramatic tactics that appeal to popular opinion to fight policy dissenters in the coalition, ruling party, and minority party, little is likely to change.
|Personalize the relationship with the US
|Personal diplomacy, personal branding; exploit common interests between himself and President Bush
|An expanded platform for demonstrating charisma; a slight political liability in the unpopular George W. Bush
|Over-deliver on alliance contributions, define the content of alliance contributions
|Top-down decision-making; Special kantei teams; negotiations with coalition members before appealing to party base
|Concrete alliance contributions:-refuelling support in Afghanistan -JSDF dispatch to Iraq for humanitarian assistance
|Dramatic visit to North Korea
|Return of five abductees; boost in popularity ratings
|Visit to Yasukuni Shrine
|Security and historical symbolism
|Increased visibility; a liability during most of his administration, would nevertheless serve as a symbol of his resolve
|*Postal reform (non-security example)
|Direct Challenge to dissenting party members; confrontational politics
|Historic privatization of Japan’s postal services
Hatoyama (2009-2010): Romantic Politics of Yuai Diplomacy
The relatively short prime ministership of Hatoyama Yukio (16 September 2009 – 4 June 2010) is an important case study in Japanese defense politics because it is the first time in recent history that a prime minister has challenged—however subtle that challenge may have been—the primacy of the US-Japan defense alliance. In contrast to both Hashimoto Ryutaro and Koizumi Junichiro, who had believed in the importance of the alliance and helped deepen the alliance through their charisma and personal involvement, Hatoyama had throughout his political career stood against the deepening of the US-Japan alliance. In a sense, this distaste for the US military presence in Japan was generational. As the grandson of Hatoyama Ichiro, the prime minister in the tumultuous political climate of the 1950s who had espoused an end to the US base presence, Hatoyama Yukio was the heir to a trend of political thought that saw the US base presence in Okinawa as unnatural and an affront to Japan’s sovereignty. Hatoyama was also different in another crucial respect from Hashimoto and Koizumi. Whereas both Hashimoto and Koizumi had used the expertise of bureaucrats to help manage the alliance, Hatoyama’s politics were ideologically set against the continuation of bureaucratic control of policy in all areas. From his early political career, Hatoyama and the fellow founders of the early DPJ party had campaigned tirelessly against the continuation of strong bureaucratic rule in Japan. In the historic campaign of 2009, the party had campaigned on the theme of: shifting power from collusion between bureaucrats and politicians to cooperation between politicians and citizens. Given that the US-Japan alliance had benefited from the close ties and the accumulated personal networks of key bureaucrats, Hatoyama’s challenge to bureaucratic power was significant. Moreover, in his political rhetoric Hatoyama demonstrated a desire to strengthen the spirit of Japanese anti-militarism by becoming more active in civilian internationalist activities that the Japanese felt more comfortable with: nuclear disarmament, climate change diplomacy, and regional order building. Indeed, some of his actions early in his administration demonstrated that he hoped to displace the military aspects of the US-Japan alliance through contributions in these areas.
Yet, despite coming to power with overwhelming public support and new ideas about the direction of defense policy, Hatoyama would have to resign within a short period after embroilment in a money scandal and mismanagement of the issue of the relocation of Futenma Airbase. This was the first time in the post Cold War period that a Japanese prime minister’s resignation was directly due to the mishandling of a defense issue. By the end of his approximately eight months in office, Hatoyama’s popularity figures had plummeted from their postelection high of 71 per cent to a mere 17 per cent (Economist, 2010, 2 June). During the historic DPJ campaign, Hatoyama had promised the people of the Okinawa that he would move Futenma Base “outside of Japan, or at least outside the prefecture.” However, during the short tenure of his administration, Hatoyama would fail to make good on this promise, at some points suggesting he might backtrack on his campaign pledge and at other times suggesting he would press on to find a solution to the problem.
Hatoyama’s personal failings as a leader were often underscored by his critics in dramatic terms. Critics described him as “hapless” and “aloof”. One critic said he had a “diplomacy without a strategy” (Yamauchi and Inoue, 2010:99) and another said he had a “blindfolded diplomacy” (Nakanishi, 2010:113). Certainly, personal failings played a large part in his administration’s failure. Foremost among his failings was Hatoyama’s striking inability to choose. In his relations with his own cabinet, with the minority party, and with his US counterparts, Hatoyama was the consummate “peace lover” (see Hayao, 1993; Shinoda, 2000) hoping to appease all parties with nuanced and delicate compromises. Despite the limitations of this approach, there was nevertheless a basic logic to it. The DPJ had come to power mainly on the strength of its platform on economy and social issues, not on security and foreign policy. Moreover, the DPJ suffered from a fractured view on security more severe than anything the LDP had faced since the early years of its inception. The party ranks included the more conservative views of Hatoyama and Ozawa Ichiro, who endorsed constitutional revision and an independent military force, pro-US alliance conservatives like Maehara Seiji, as well as moderates such as Kan Naoto. In addition, important party members, such as former Socialist Yokomichi Takahiro, held extremely pacifist views (Easley et al, 2010:5; Konishi, 2009:2-3; Sneider, 2009:7-8; Koellner, 2011). Moreover, the DPJ had come to power at a time when the current US president was a celebrity in Japan. As one commentator noted at the time, President Obama’s approval ratings in Japan regularly trumped those of the prime minister (Green, 2011).
Hatoyama’s situation within his own administration was also surprisingly unsettled, despite trends that would suggest otherwise. The DPJ had come to power on a platform that promised a shift of power and responsibility from bureaucrats to politicians. The DPJ had taken concrete steps to pursue this course through the use of a greater number of political appointees, the abolition of coordinating meetings of the Vice Ministers (a key policy coordinating mechanism for bureaucrats), the creation of a National Strategy Unit, and deliberate steps to exercise power without the bureaucrats. Moreover, under the Hatoyama cabinet, the DPJ’s Policy Research Council had been abolished, significantly weakening the power of DPJ backbenchers to object to policies, and thus, centralizing policy making in the cabinet. Despite all of these changes in favor of policy making from the cabinet, Hatoyama’s position was nevertheless a comparatively weak one. Whereas other prime ministers had been both prime minister and head of the party, in this instance de facto power had been split with powerful party insider Ozawa Ichiro. Compounding the situation was the composition of his cabinet. The cabinet had been filled with powerful faction leaders and heads of the coalition party, many of whom had little hesitation in presenting their own (often different) views on issues directly to the public. The difficulty of Hatoyama’s situation became embarrassingly apparent during the Futenma crisis, where different cabinet ministers publicly voiced different views on their preferred option to resolve the issue.
Despite these limitations on Hatoyama’s power, in the immediate aftermath of the DPJ’s historic victory, Hatoyama’s administration showed signs that its shift in foreign policy might have a chance at success. An important pillar of Hatoyama’s approach would be the use of civilian internationalist issues such as nuclear nonproliferation and climate change as platforms for international leadership and as common ground for a close relationship with the US. In a sense, this approach substituted softer “international” agendas for regional ones that addressed the growing security dilemma in the region. Hatoyama’s early speech at the United Nations in September of 2009 would emphasize his government’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and his desire for Japan to act as a bridge between the developed and developing world (Hatoyama 2009, 22 September). He would also frequently state his desire to work with the Obama administration toward a world free of nuclear weapons. Early meetings between Hatoyama and President Obama also demonstrated the prime minister’s desire to reformulate the US-Japan bilateral relationship around these common civilian issues of nuclear nonproliferation and climate change. In a sense, these early meetings had been well planned by advisors on both sides who had counseled the leaders to avoid contentious issues such as Futenma Airbase and Hatoyama’s stated desire to review the Host Nation Support (HSN) and Status of Force Agreements (SOFA). For the Hatoyama administration, another unstated purpose of this greater emphasis on nonproliferation and climate was to capture two of the most popular themes of Obama’s historic campaign—which had been widely followed in Japan—and to use them as a way of putting distance between Japan and the military aspects of US global security strategy.
Prior to the November 2009 summit meeting with the US, Hatoyama’s government would announce that his government would not extend refueling assistance to allied forces in the Indian Ocean after January. As the opposition party, the DPJ had regularly pointed out the problematic nature of fuel assistance, given the constitutional ban on collective self-defense. As they had argued frequently in their battles with the LDP in the Diet, there was no way of knowing whether the fuel would be used for combat or non-combat missions. Since at least some of the fuel would plausibly be used in support of combat missions, fuel assistance could be seen as a violation of the constitutional ban on collective self-defense. Rather than directly repudiating the law, however, the administration would simply let the current legislation expire. As a replacement for this fuel assistance, Hatoyama’s government would support job training and agricultural assistance in Afghanistan with five billion dollars of aid over five years (Yomiuri Shimbun Seiji-bu, 2010).
Though these early policy moves were largely successful, it soon became clear that the DPJ would face stiff resistance from the US when it came to renegotiating military base issues. From public statements and high level bilateral contacts down to working level meetings, the Obama administration sent clear messages early in the new DPJ administration that it would not renegotiate the 2006 agreement that would transfer the functions of Futenma Airbase within Okinawa prefecture. When the issue was brought up during their summit meeting in November 2009, Hatoyama uttered the words “trust me” to Obama on the issue of Futenma, leading the president to believe that his administration would implement the original agreement. Instead, Hatoyama and his administration would undertake a lengthy reevaluation process that would drag on for several months. Ironically, Hatoyama’s failure to support the 2006 plan from the outset would eventually erode his ability to remain relevant in one of the civilian internationalist issues he cared about most. After months of mixed statements and contradictory proposals from the Hatoyama cabinet on Futenma Airbase, the Obama administration would deny Hatoyama a full meeting at the Washington Nuclear Summit in April 2010 (Yomiuri Shimbun Seiji-bu, 2010). Hatoyama would instead have to settle for a ten-minute sidebar. The brevity of this meeting would contrast sharply with the 90-minute meeting secured by his Chinese counterparts. This inability to secure a meeting with the US would turn out to be a significant political failure and would signal a steep decline in the prime minister’s support rating.
Over the course of Hatoyama’s reevaluation of the Futenma plan, there would be plenty of material for the media to harp on. Reports would leak out that members of the Obama administration had found Hatoyama to be increasingly “loopy.” Other reports would suggest Obama officials were nervous about Hatoyama’s pledge for a comprehensive review of the alliance (Yomiuri Shimbun Seiji-bu, 2010). To make matters worse, visible signs of the security dilemma would appear in ways that would provide the media with fuel to point out Hatoyama’s neglect of the alliance. If Hatoyama had hoped to emphasize “Yuai” diplomacy—creating relationships of trust and friendship—with countries in the region, North Korean belligerency would provide a poor backdrop for his approach. On 26 March, a North Korean torpedo sank the South Korean naval ship Cheonan, heightening tensions in the region. As Hatoyama would later state in an interview, the sinking of the Cheonan was on his mind during the negotiations for Futenma and would help shift momentum back to the original 2006 plan (Norimatsu 2011, 28 February). Small incidents with China in the East China Sea would also crop up late in Hatoyama’s administration, upsetting hopes of closer ties with China as a way of decreasing Japan’s “dependence” on the US. In April, a Chinese surveillance helicopter would come within 90 meters of a Japanese Marine Self Defense Force destroyer during a People’s Liberation Army naval exercise near Japanese territorial waters. Also, in early May a Japanese research ship operating within Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) would be pursued by a Chinese ship and ordered to cease its activities (Przystup, 2010).4 Each of these incidents served as a reminder of the sensitive security environment in the region and the importance of the US military presence as a stabilizing force.
As has been demonstrated thus far, Hatoyama’s broad strategic approach to defense corresponded poorly to his operational environment. Not only did he misjudge the degree to which he could substitute civilian internationalist policies for maintenance of the military aspects of the alliance with the US, but he also misjudged the degree to which overtures towards China would be rewarded with an alleviation of the security dilemma. Compounding the weaknesses of Hatoyama’s strategy, however, was poor execution and policy management. Failures at this level would include a callous approach to speaking about the US-Japan alliance, lax management of his cabinet, and shutting out valuable expertise in the Japanese bureaucracy.
By the end of May 2010, his popularity figures having plummeted to the high teens, Hatoyama would announce that he would endorse the original 2006 plan to relocate Futenma within the prefecture. In essence, he had capitulated to pressure from the US and had backtracked on his campaign pledge. Shortly afterward, he would have to dismiss Social Democratic Party (SDP) head Fukushima Mizuho from the cabinet for failing to approve the cabinet order that approved in principle the original 2006 plan to relocate Futenma’s functions within the prefecture. In his subsequent speeches, Hatoyama would apologize to the people of Okinawa and to Japan, characterizing the failure to move the base out of Okinawa as a personal one, not a failure of his party. In his resignation speech Hatoyama would say that he was disappointed that he could not get the people of Japan to approve his ideas with regards to the Futenma Airbase and security more generally. In addition, he would state that his ideas were not necessarily meant to refer to the present, but rather to a Japan five, ten, or twenty years from now, and that he one day hoped to see a Japan without permanent US bases (Hatoyama 2010, 2 June).
|Find common ground with president Obama on nuclear nonproliferation and climate change diplomacy
|Early efforts to focus on these issues and downplay various sources of friction such as Futenma
|Avoided overt friction with the US early in his administration
|Gradually substitute civilian internationalist measures for military aspects of the US-Japan alliance
|Allowed legislation providing fuel assistance to the US to expire; substituted with development assistance for Afghanistan
|The US expressed regret for losing fuel assistance but was pleased with development aid; fear over standoff on Futenma grows
|Attempt a “Muddle Through” approach to promise to move Futenma “outside the country, or at least outside the prefecture”
|Put off decision on Futenma until May; attempt to find alternative to 2006 agreement through consultations with various townships
|Fails to resolve the basic conflict between US insistence on 2006 agreement, and the SDP pledge not to support that agreement. Lax cabinet management fuels accusations that Hatoyama is not in control of policy
|Soft sell of “Review of the Alliance”
|Early statements in Diet to review the Alliance from the ground up, including Host Nation Support and Status of Force AgreementsCommission to review “Secret Pacts” with US
|Helps to fuel the suspicion within the Obama administration that the Hatoyama administration will impact the alliance negatively in the long term
|Yuai diplomacy / lean toward China
|Proposes notion of East Asia Community; insists that China and Japan implement agreement to jointly exploit resources in disputed territories
|In the back drop of the Cheonan shelling and frictions in the disputed waters, Hatoyama’s Yuai diplomacy has trouble evolving
Discussion: The Importance of the Prime Minister in Japanese Defense Politics
How have the different political strategies and policy entrepreneurship of the prime minister mattered in post Cold War Japanese defense politics? As the case studies have demonstrated, adeptness in defense policy has been an important element of Japan’s defense trajectory. For the most part, the policy skill of Hashimoto and Koizumi helped to entrench Japan in US technology, regional strategy, and to an extent, global strategy. However, Hatoyama—through both a combination of harsh contextual circumstance and his own inability to overcome these circumstances—was unable to significantly overturn any major aspects of these changes. In the case of Hatoyama, it was not a lack of motivation that prevented him from achieving his objective, but rather, a failure to take risks or to use unorthodox policy mechanisms (as Koizumi had done on postal reform) that prevented him from mounting an effective challenge.
If Hashimoto’s administration can be called a success, then one has to admit that it was a success made up of both perseverance and mundane political resources. Lacking Koizumi’s penchant for confrontation and dramatic acts to challenge opponents (as well as the enhanced resources of the new kantei he himself would create), Hashimoto was still able to achieve some remarkable successes. Both the Joint Declaration and the Joint Guidelines were prepared through exhaustive consultation among alliance managers at the bureaucratic level. Hashimoto’s own leadership came later at a time when the success of these initiatives was all but ensured. Negotiations on Futenma Airbase, on the other hand, were kept within a tight circle of confidants. This allowed Hashimoto to avoid intraparty and coalition wrangling that could have turned the negotiations into a spectacle. These tactics would stand in contrast to the methods of Hatoyama. Caught in a similar situation on the issue of Futenma Airbase, not only did he bypass the expertise of experienced bureaucrats with knowledge of past negotiations, and disregard the clear political signals of top US officials, but he also allowed negotiations on the issues to get bogged down in intraparty and coalition squabbling by allowing his cabinet to float their own individual proposals. Having let the policy process spin out of control, he eventually endorsed most of the original 2006 agreement established under Koizumi’s administration and then assumed personal responsibility for failure to live up to his promise.
The comparison between Hatoyama and Hashimoto is especially relevant for another important reason: Hashimoto’s level of success was well within Hatoyama’s grasp. Hatoyama always had the option of allowing negotiations to linger in working committees until such a time as they were ready for his personal involvement. Hatoyama even had the option of allowing the Futenma decision to remain in committees until the Upper House elections in 2010, after which he might have had a firmer political base on which to negotiate.
However, if Hatoyama had wished for a more revolutionary change in bilateral defense relations between the US and Japan, then the only option would have been to borrow the approaches pioneered by Koizumi. Koizumi appointed a cabinet and set up institutions and expertise specifically targeted toward uprooting the influence of the postmasters from Japanese politics. Indeed, much as the postmasters had made up an important constituency in Japan, with significant ties within the LDP, the US-Japan Security Treaty and the various permanent players involved in implementing it had also set down firm roots in Japan’s defense establishment. These interconnections were not only solidified with technological cooperation and joint training, but also benefited from extensive personal contacts between officials. In the key positions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defense, Hatoyama appointed independent-minded policy makers with a vision on Futenma Airbase significantly different from his own (and significantly different from each other!). If changing the relationship between the US and Japan was indeed Hatoyama’s top priority, then a cabinet with a shared sense of purpose would have been essential. Equally essential would have been some kind of “Koizumi magic” in the form of political theater and confrontational policies that openly stated the challenge and sought public approval for a dramatic shift. However, even with the full weight of these resources focused on reforming the US-Japan alliance relationship, significant changes would have been anything but guaranteed.
Koizumi, for his part, made good use of the US-Japan alliance as a political resource. Like Hashimoto, his high profile successes in alliance management would become the precursor to a major reform. However, the content of Koizumi’s alliance contributions were much bolder than anything Hashimoto had attempted and indeed seemed self-consciously aimed at promoting his personal brand as a maverick. Despite President Bush’s own unpopularity in Japan, the personalization of the relationship between the two leaders helped Koizumi maintain a high profile. Other measures, such as his dramatic trip to North Korea and his trips to Yasukuni Shrine, seemed to work in a similar way to demonstrate his maverick credentials and to solidify his image as a prime minister who was not afraid to take risks. In an age when most voters are not aligned with either party and are chronically uninterested in politics altogether, defense politics became yet another forum in which Koizumi could present himself as dynamic and interesting. Despite Koizumi’s popular performances, changes in defense policy and politics were more limited than they would appear. Japan would integrate deeper into US technology as well as its regional and global defense objectives, and it would continue to whittle away at the edges of prohibitions against collective security cooperation—but deeper transformations, such as overcoming the one per cent limit on defense spending and revision of Article 9 of the Constitution, would have to wait.
As this essay has sought to demonstrate, prime ministers matter in the realm of Japanese defense policy and politics. They matter in the way they endorse bottom-up initiatives, through top-down initiatives, through agenda setting, and through symbolic acts of state. Moreover, differences in the quality of leadership have also mattered significantly in the post Cold War world. Indeed, successful policies in defense have usually presaged important domestic reforms like Hashimoto’s administrative reform initiative and Koizumi’s postal reforms. Failures in defense have also presaged policy muddle and lack of energy in domestic reform and policy.
Conclusion: Challenges for Japan’s Future Leaders
The future leaders of Japan are sure to face challenges both unique and similar to the ones faced by the three prime ministers examined above. In the recent past, Japan has experienced one very extreme event—the triple disasters of 11 March, 2011—and has weathered smaller incidents, for example, the collision of a Chinese fishing trawler and a Japanese Coast Guard ship that was caught on film. These events have taken place in a landscape of evolving contexts that will shape Japan’s future. Leaders also face the deepening crises of economic malaise, growing sovereign debt, demographic decline, and widespread public disgust with politics. Against this backdrop, China will continue to rise as a significant regional power with growing military, political, and economic influence that challenge Japan’s interests and the regional status quo.
All of these contexts suggest the potential relevance of political leadership without specifying its content. As has been seen in the years following Koizumi’s resignation, leadership is as conspicuous by its absence as it is by its presence.
Will leaders embrace the US more closely, hoping to maintain US extended deterrence at a reasonable cost? Will leaders energize nonaligned voters through dramatic political acts? Will politicians—as many have in recent years—neglect the challenge of leadership, instead opting for backroom deals, party realignments, and muddle through? Or, are nonparty forms of political entrepreneurship in the making that will radically transform the Japanese state? The answers to these questions will help define Japan’s defense trajectory in the years to come.
This essay is based on dissertation research being conducted for Florida International University in completion of the PhD degree in International Relations. I would like to thank members of my committee--Professor Paul Kowert, Professor Clair Apodaca, Professor Harry Gould, and Professor Matt Marr--for their helpful comments thus far.
I would like to thank the Morris and Anita Broad Fellowship for its grant support during the writing of this paper. Language training obtained through the Boren Fellowship (administered by the National Security Education Program and IIE) also contributed significantly to the quality of this paper. The content of this article does not reflect the position or policy of the Government and no official Government endorsement should be inferred.
I would like to thank several scholars, journalists, and policy experts for taking time out of their busy schedules to discuss issues of Japanese security with me during the dissertation research leading to this article. These scholars include: William Brooks of John Hopkins University; Sebata Takao of Siebold University, Nagasaki; James Przystup of the Institute for National Security Studies; James Foster a Professor of Keio University; Watanabe Tsuneo of the Tokyo Foundation; Watanabe Akio of the Japan Center for Peace and Security; Yakushiji Katsuyuki of the Japan Institute for International Affairs; Kitaoka Shinichi of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies; Daniel Sneider of the Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University; Tanaka Naoki, President of the Center for International Public Policy Studies; as well as Hayashi Yuko and James Schlesinger of the Wall Street Journal.
Lorna Simons also contributed enormously through her editorial expertise and conscientious eye for detail.
While this essay would not have been possible without their support, all mistakes, errors, or omissions are, of course, strictly the responsibility of the author.
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 Despite contributing 13 billion dollars to coalition forces, Japan would not be recognized in the thank you letter published by the Kuwait government in the New York Times. This article thanked all the participants of the coalition, but failed to mention Japan. This came as a great shock to the Japanese government and proved to be a hot topic in the Japanese media. The lesson learned was simple: it was not enough to provide money; Japan would need to also provide a “human contribution” in order to be recognized for its contributions to global security (Akiyama, 2002, p. 10-11; Funabashi, 1999; Soeya, 2005).
 Kurosawa, Kurosawa, and Takero (2009, p. 122), for example, point out that strong prime ministers have often been supported by an extensive brain trust, usually consisting of scholars, think tank officials, and intelligent members of the business community. Prime Minister Nakasone was an exemplar in this respect. Another way to bolster one’s power as a prime minister—a method used especially by prime ministers Tanaka Kakuei and Takeshita Noboru—is to build extensive connections within the bureaucracies. By establishing their own connections within bureaucracies, both Tanaka and Takeshita were able to have privileged access to unvarnished information (Kurosawa, Kurosawa, and Takero, 2009; Shinoda, 2000).
 It is also not an insignificant detail that the dramatic trip to Pyongyang in late 2002 helped to boost his popularity ratings after they had taken a hit following the firing of his popular Minister of Foreign Affairs Tanaka Makiko.
 These incidents would be a harbinger of the much more serious incident in September during the Kan Naoto administration when a diplomatic row would ensue after a Chinese trawler clashed with a Japanese Coast Guard vessel.
Article copyright Daniel Clausen.