Japanese Strategic Thought toward Asia

Japanese Strategic Thought toward Asia

Editors:    Gilbert Rozman, Kazuhiko Togo and Joseph P. Ferguson 

ISBN:          978-1-4039-7553-9

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Year:           2007

Price:          $80.00


Reviewed by: Alexander Bukh, Associate Professor, Tsukuba University, Japan

This edited volume is part of the “Strategic Thought in Northeast Asia” series published by Palgrave Macmillan and as title states, aims at scrutinizing Japan’s strategic thought towards the Asian region. It is comprised of ten chapters written by established and well-known scholars from the US, Japan and South Korea. The geographical range of the chapters that comprise the volume focuses mainly but not solely on China, Taiwan, Korea, Russia and Central Asia. Other areas of Asia, which, as the authors themselves admit “are now becoming more closely intertwined” (p. 4) are omitted from the discussion, justified by the argument that “Northeast Asia is the core of Japan’s strategic interests in Asia” (p. 5).

The volume is divided into two sections, titled “Chronology” and “Geography”. This separation seems to be somewhat superfluous as the chapters under the “Geography” heading are very much chronological in their methodology. The first section aims at providing a broad outline of the changes in Japan’s strategic thought starting from the 1980s (Takashi Inoguchi), through the 1990s (Tsuyoshi Hasegawa and Kazuhiko Togo) and ends with analysis of Japan’s strategy under the Koizumi administration (T.J. Pempel). The second part of the volume examines Japan’s strategic thought towards the members of the Northeast Asian region, namely, towards China (Ryosei Kokubun), Taiwan (Ming Wan), the two Koreas (Cheol Hee Park) and Russia (Joseph P. Ferguson). The focus of the last two chapters in this section differs from the rest as they examine Japan’s strategic thinking towards the Central Asian region (Akio Kawato), and Japan’s strategic thinking towards regionalism in general starting from 1980s onwards (Gilbert Rozman).

In general, this concise volume provides a pretty good overview of Japan’s foreign policy towards the Northeast Asian region as a whole as well as the individual members. The time span covered by each chapter varies according to the particularities of the history of Japan’s relations with the country in question. Ferguson, for example, provides only a brief outline of Japan-USSR relations and focuses mainly on Japan’s policy towards post-Soviet Russia. At the same time Park starts his analysis on Japan’s relations with the two Koreas from the normalization of Japan’s relations with South Korea in 1965. The book as a whole, however, presents a well-balanced introduction to Japan’s interactions with the region in the post-WWII era with the main pillar of Japan’s foreign policy, the US-Japan relations, serving as an important background thread for most of the chapters.

Importantly, though, the conceptual framework of the book is precisely foreign policy analysis and it seems that most of the contributors share the understanding that the notion of “strategic thought” is identical to “foreign policy”. Quite often the text reads like it was intentionally and somewhat artificially edited to replace “foreign policy” with “strategic thought” and brings a strong urge to undo this modification. Therefore, a reader in search of insights into the ideological, ideational or other metaphysical debates that shape Japan’s foreign policy will probably be somewhat unsatisfied by this volume with its focus on policy. Following the premises of strategic studies the book is very much state-centric, and with few exceptions (like the chapters on China and Taiwan that examine trends in domestic public opinion), sees the government and the respective Prime-Ministers as the main actors responsible for designing Japan’s foreign policy, which, as most of the chapters conclude, has been very much reactive throughout the discussed period.

The focus on the state in discussing Japan’s foreign policy is quite understandable as an inclusion of non-state actors, such as corporations, local administrations and NGOs all of whom have their own strategies and visions which may and may not overlap with those of the state, would render the task of reviewing Japan’s interactions with the whole region in one volume simply impossible. On the other hand, the scarcity of references (with the exception of the chapter by Kawato) to the role of Japan’s powerful Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) and other ministries in shaping Japan’s foreign policy is quite puzzling, not only because one of the editors is a former Japanese diplomat but also because the importance if not centrality of the bureaucracy is shaping Japan’s foreign relations has been pointed out by numerous scholars.

To conclude, “Japanese Strategic Thought” provides an excellent introduction in Japan’s post-WWII foreign policy towards Asia (as defined by the geographical scope of this book) with the time span balance tipping strongly towards the last three decades. Those in search of novel insights into the thinking processes behind this policy, however, will be somewhat unsatisfied by the conception of “strategic thought” that dominates the analytical framework of this volume.