Japan’s peace-building diplomacy in Asia: seeking a more active political role

Japan’s peace-building diplomacy in Asia

Author(s): Lam Peng Er

ISBN:          978-0-415-41320-6

Publisher: Routledge

Year:          2009

Price:          $39.75

Reviewed by Akihiro Ogawa, Associate Professor, Department of Japanese Studies, Stockholm University, Sweden  

This book develops an important argument concerning Japan’s peace-building efforts, which have become a new pillar in Tokyo’s foreign policy. Japan’s peace diplomacy is very distinctive,  combining a strong Official Development Assistance (ODA) component with consideration given to human security—or the survival and welfare of individuals rather than the state—and the eradication of poverty.This peace-building strategy is a new brand of diplomacy that Japan has been exploring in international politics since 1989.

The core of this peace diplomacy is Japanese pacifism as defined by Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution—the clause declaring the renunciation of war. It is a culturally embedded concept and practices that have defined Japanese individual and group identities, as well as social and political relations. Thus, Japan needs to avoid all attempts to enforce peace through the employment of military means. Conventionally, meanwhile, NATO and the European Union employ a substantial military force, including aerial bombardment, “to coerce a recalcitrant party in an internal conflict to yield” (p.9).

Japanese methods of promoting peace are very different, however. The book begins with a historical overview of Japan’s foreign policy from the early post-World War II era. Obviously, such a distinctive style of peace diplomacy has departed from the Yoshida Doctrine—Japan’s post-World War II grand strategy designed to focus on and enhance economic power by adopting a low political posture in international affairs under the umbrella of the US military. Instead, the new peace diplomacy is based on the Fukuda Doctrine, which was articulated in 1977 by Takeo Fukuda and emphasized that the country should play an active political role in enhancing regional order. The Fukuda Doctrine serves as the foundation of Japan’s current diplomacy.This current peace diplomacy was developed following a humiliating experience of international criticism, which was notoriously called “checkbook diplomacy,” because Japan, rather than provide manpower, contributed 13 billion USD to the US-led multilateral coalition against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991.

Following the overview, the book documents five case studies of peace building in which Japan was involved: Cambodia, East Timor, Aceh, Mindanao, and Sri Lanka. Tokyo actively sought to end civil wars and help rebuild shattered nations by offering generous economic assistance. The author provides a detailed analysis suggesting that Tokyo enjoyed relative success in Cambodia and East Timor because those cases were not civil wars underpinned by intractable ethnic conflicts. In Aceh, Japan achieved its mission in cooperation with Finland, which had more experience in peace building. The author explains it by citing the analogy of a baton relay race (p.72). Meanwhile, peace did not materialize in Mindanao and Sri Lanka because of the intractable nature of long-running ethnic conflicts, as well as the antagonistic and uncompromising attitudes of the protagonists.

The author conducted extensive document research in both policy and media for this book, coupled with extensive interviews of relevant policymakers, diplomats, and peace-building and development practitioners. (A list of the interviewees is available on p.165). This book is one of the most updated accounts of Japan’s foreign policy, documenting real voices about what actually happened in the peace-building fields, and it is a must-read for scholars, as well as students, who are interested in Japanese politics and foreign policy. In fact, the author mentions that this newly institutionalized approach to peace building is not well known, even among Japanese themselves, as the peace-building activities conducted abroad are not thoroughly covered by the major domestic media. This should receive more media attention since Japan now sees the emergence of a new state identity, creating a new practice of peace as Japan becomes a major actor in the international community. As the author points out, through the implementation of this new peace diplomacy, Japan can acquire a new identity and role as a significant and leading builder of peace (p.106).

As I have previously argued, (see Ogawa 2011), for Japanese people,  peace is not a fixed concept nor can it be defined only by the state or authorities. Framed by Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, peace represents a set of contested identities constructed (and reconstructed) not only through politics at the state level but also through everyday life at the individual level. As the topic of Article 9’s revision has a polarizing effect among the Japanese people, people are noted as simply being either for (revisionists) or against it (antirevisionists). However, as the Japanese state faces dramatic changes in its international political life, this new peace-building approach, which is primarily based on the human security philosophy,will extend beyond the current polarization of constitutional politics. This type of peace diplomacy would likely be the most realistic and practical solution because it is something Japan can achieve under the current restriction of pacifism, since the ideology of Article 9 in the Japanese Constitution is well transformed into a practical and feasible contribution to international efforts to build peace.

The key challenges to Japanese peace-building efforts actually exist within Japan itself. The author argues that the lacuna of Japanese political leadership is obviously a problem. Japan has money, personnel, and preparation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Self-Defense Forces (SDF), and Japan International Cooperation Agency are now ready to travel to troubled fields. This new peace-building strategy should be supported and facilitated by strong political leadership. Meanwhile, I would add one more concern: SDF involvement. SDF is indeed the only source in Japan to participate in such peace-building operations, and it plays a significant role in enhancing Japan’s presence in international peacekeeping operations.The Japanese government upgraded the Defense Agency to a Ministry in December 2006 under the Shinzo Abe administration of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party. It mainly stipulated international peace cooperation as a primary mission of the ministry. However, among the grassroots Japanese, quite a number of Japanese populations see SDF itself, or dispatching SDF overseas, as unconstitutional. It is against the pacifist Constitution. On April 17, 2008, the Nagoya High Court ruled in a suit that the Air Self-Defense Force’s airlifting of multinational combat troops intoBaghdad’s war zone is unconstitutional because it is an act integral to other countries’ use of force. Another similar judgment was issued by the Okayama District Court on February 24, 2009. If SDF is limited to further pursuing international peace cooperation, I believe it should be reorganized primarily as an international peace-building unit in drastic situations. When Japanese people identify themselves as members of the global community and seriously consider what they can do to achieve peace, a positive commitment to peace-building activities is necessary. The accumulation of such experiences would overcome the struggles embedded in their cultural norm of pacifism.

Finally,I have a couple of reservations. The pieces of background information are mainly documented in the Notes section (a total of 40 pages, from p.115–p.155) as endnotes, and the information greatly helps the reader to understand the context well. However, I wish the information had been made available as footnotes to accompany the main text on the same page, which would have made it easier to identify the necessary information. As the Notes provide important background information, I found myself having to flip through pages to locate the information at the end of the book. Apparently, this is not the fault of the author; it is the publisher’s style. Furthermore, the author points out, that Japanese peace-building diplomacy is guided by the concept of “human security.” However, in the index, there is no entry for this term. It would have been better to include it to aid the readers’ understanding.

Reference: Ogawa, Akihiro. 2011. Peace, a Contested Identity: Japan’s Constitutional Revision and Grassroots Peace Movements. Peace & Change: A Journal of Peace Research 36 (3): 373-399.

Suggested citation: 

Akihiro Ogawa (2013). Review of “Japan’s peace-building diplomacy in Asia: seeking a more active political role” edited by Lam Pang Er, East Asian Integration Studies, Vol. 6, no. 5, Internet file: http://asianintegration..org/index.php?option=com_joomlib&task=showCategory&catid=29&Itemid=75