Japan’s International Relations: Politics, Economics and Security

Japan’s International Relations

Author(s): Glenn Hook, Julie Gilson, Christopher W. Hughes and Hugo Dobson

ISBN:          978-0-415-58742-6

Publisher: Routledge, London

Year:          2011

Price:         $58,95

Reviewed by Eyal Ben-Ari, Emeritus Professor, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

The volume under review comprises the third edition of the wonderful textbook first penned in 2000. Glenn Hook and Hugo Dobson are from the University of Sheffield, Julie Gibson is from the University of Birmingham and Christopher Hughes belongs to the University of Warwick. Covering the primary areas involved in Japan’s international relations and as befitting a textbook, the volume includes a very rich array of photographs and illustrations, a glossary and list of abbreviations, figures, tables, maps and appendices (the constitution, various treaties, communiqués and declarations and lists of summits, prime ministers and summits) and a very extensive references list. The book makes for easy reading that is at once very systematic of a vast field but presented in a manner that is not exhausting. Included are chapter summaries that help readers understand the coherence of the volume and to place individual chapters within its overall structure. As the author’s explain the third edition provides an update of major developments that have occurred since previous versions including the emergence of China as an international actor, the financial crisis of 2008, Japan’s changing role in the war on terror, relations with the Obama administration and new developments in Russia, the US and the Middle East. The volume examines the country’s international relations along three axes – politics, economics and security – in the major arenas within which they are constantly negotiated: the ties with the United States, East Asia (and to an extent Southeast Asia), Europe, and global institutions.

Let me trace out the contents of the volume. Framed by introductory and concluding parts, the main component of the volume that is devoted to a careful empirically based exploration of the country’s international relations is divided into the four arenas cited above. The introductory part sets up the analytical framework by explaining the need to understand Japan’s relations in more complex ways than was the case in the past. First rather than viewing these interstate ties as taking form not only in the mode of a mercantilist country with only economic interests driving it (as some earlier interpretations would have it) the authors suggest looking at Japan as a full-fledged and complex actor that pursues its various and at times contradictory interests through economic, political and security means. Second, in contrast to earlier analyses that tended to view all of Japan’s international relations through the lens of the ties with the United States, the authors make a convincing case for looking at the multiplicity of ties that have emerged especially since the end of the Cold War. And third, rather than viewing Japan as an anomalous case very different from other states, they suggest that we should analyze Japan as a normal country that is not only reactive but proactive as well. The authors forward these contentions by focusing on the various actors relevant to the nation’s international relations (for instance, politicians, bureaucrats, parties, business community, academics, the media, substate political actors, pressure groups, NGOs and social movements) the regional and global contexts (and the tensions between them), the types of norms governing interstate ties, and the preferences of different governments.

Part Two focuses on the most important bilateral tie that has characterized Japan in its post-war history: relations with the United States of America. It traces out the centrality of this tie harking back to the defeat in the Second World War and American military occupation and its importance in laying the groundwork for the country’s international relations and primarily bilateral ties with the United States. The chapter also argues that these ties have now reached a pivotal moment today with the outcome being open-ended. The changes of government in Japan and administration in the United States has led at once to a greater reluctance on the part of the former to engage the Self-Defense Forces in missions outside Japan but also a more proactive role vis-à-vis the demands and support of America. Today, the authors make clear, the move is back to greater reliance on the bilateral ties than was the case during the past decade. But the continued tension between the American emphasis on remilitarization and domestic opposition continues. As in previous editions there is still relatively little that said about Japan’s relations with South American nations.

Part Three involves a review and analysis of relations with East Asia. The chapter’s argument centers on the history of the Second World War and the legacy of colonialism as standing in the way of any normalization alongside the nation’s constant attempts since the end of the Second World War to reintegrate into the area. These attempts, in turn, have on the whole been successful especially in economic terms (through such means as Japanese ODA, the location of manufacturing bases in the area or trading for raw resources). In the political sphere the author’s conclusion is that quiet diplomacy and the promotion of a host of bilateral ties have led to a much more central role for Japan in the region in economic and political terms and in terms of non-traditional security. As of today, the situation is one of unresolved tension between the bilateral and Asianist norms of Japan’s commitment and constant tensions with both China and the United States (the other main actors in the region) in and around various issues.

Part Four focuses on the ties with Europe and as in previous editions continues to questions the degree to which Japan sees these relations as a central component of the nation’s foreign relations. Tracing out the slow development of these ties the authors are careful to point out that they form an arena that is independent from the power and influence of the United States. The growth of Japan’s power in the region is the outcome of its economic penetration during the 1980s and 1990s (especially through manufacturing and trade). The importance of Europe in economic and political terms has forced Japanese governments to address common problems and challenges in what the authors call a pragmatic effort focusing on specific issues rather than an explicitly formulated overall strategy. Some attention is also granted to an expanded Europe and especially Russia.

Part Five is devoted to relationships with a range of international institutions. Its argument is that country has steadily created a significant role in these forums and has thus become a recognized and accepted member of international society. Especially important in this respect has been its successful attempt to legitimize itself in security terms by participating in United Nations’ peacekeeping efforts beginning at the start of the 1990s. Indeed the authors show that the United Nations has been one of the most important forums for Japan to emerge as an international actor and one that can be independent of the United States. A similar contention can be found in the analysis of Japan’s actions in international economic forums – such as the WTO and IMF – where it has often pursued an agenda that is different from that of the United States. In this chapter again the authors point to the continued tension between bilateral ties with the United States and Japan’s diversified foreign policy as exemplified in international institutions.

The final part of the volume, perhaps moving into a consultative mode, offers a number of conjectures about the future of Japan’s international relations. The overall conclusion of this excellent volume is that in contrast to the past Japan is today characterized by a weakened international role (especially when compared to its position even a decade ago). The reasons for this weakness have to do primarily with the lack of domestic political direction, a much fuzzier international environment, and a host of newer and older challenges. Whether this is the trend of the future the authors leave for us but do suggest that the retreat to bilateralism should be seen alongside the pursuance of multiple strategies.

This is an excellent book that is a model for textbooks that appeal both to beginners and to advanced scholars who are looking for an integrative framework within which to understand Japan’s international relations. It is empirically based, very well situated in the relevant scholarly literature and provides a solid references in the tables, appendices and illustrations it includes.