The EU-Japan Security Dialogue. Invisible but Comprehensive

The EU-Japan Security Dialogue. Invisible but comprehensive

Author(s):  Olena Mykal

ISBN:           9789089641632

Publisher:  Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press

Year:           2011

Price:           $62.50

Reviewed by Judit Erika Magyar, Adjunct Lecturer, Waseda University, Japan.

Olena Mykal’s book focuses on the EU-Japanese relations from a security perspective. Although she acknowledges that these relations might not carry as much weight as the Chinese-European or Japanese-US relationships, she argues that contacts between the two parties during the period between 1959 and 2006 are still worthy of investigation. Her work serves to fill a void in security studies that examine the EU-Japanese relations via agreements over several decades. The evolution of these affairs started when “Japan’s Ambassador to the Benelux countries was accredited to the European Economic Community” (p. 21) and progressed into a more complex cooperation by 2006.

The book draws attention to the fact that a broader concept of security appeared in the 1970s which instigated a different approach in international relations and policy agreements, culminating in the idea of “civilian power” that became recognized in European political circles. Furthermore, security is examined from a perspective that “the European Union and Japan individually consider to be security” (p. 23) that expanded over time and incorporated more and more issues. The difficulty of the study lies in the fact that the European Union is a supranational organization and Japan is a sovereign state. Thus, Mykal uses “agential”, “relational” and “process” criteria in her search for suitable frameworks to which she later added “change during the process” (p. 25-26).

In this work, the ongoing discourse between the EU and Japan is discussed in a broad context. She employs a constructivist approach (‘systemic school’) to International Relations while examining not only secondary sources but an abundance of primary documents and interview materials. The book has seven main chapters which are divided into two parts, the first being history and the second the joint performance in areas such as the security dialogue. She summarizes the primary goals of the book in five points (p. 17):

1.    to analyse the EU and Japan’s individual and joint security agendas;

2.    to trace the expansion of security cooperation between the EU and Japan;

3.    to expose and analyse the problems hampering the dialogue;

4.    to demonstrate that EU-Japan joint activities have been in line with their security conceptualizations; and

5.     to propose some suggestions for forwarding their dialogue.

Mykal examines not only primary documents but also interviews and secondary sources, too. After setting the scene for more in-depth analyses by determining the framework and clarifying the usage of political science terms, she sets out to discuss the existing literature – the little that there is – on the topic. During her research she carried out studies into foreign policy documents and bulletins of various ministries in Japan whereas on the EU side she worked with official reports and memoranda, concluding her quest with joint EU-Japan documents. The interviews she conducted personally proved to be invaluable contributions to her argument and the bulk of the book relies on references to these conversations. At the same time, she directed her attention to monographs and articles that were written about the EU or Japan from a security perspective and finished with works that addressed bilateral cooperation. The only vaguely similar work to that of Mykal’s is Gilson’s “Japan and the European Union: A partnership for the Twenty-First Century” published in 2000 (p. 31) although the latter almost exclusively examines the roots of dynamism and driving forces behind the development of EU-Japan relations. Moreover, there is one more book on the market titled “Japan and European Union: Domestic Politics and Transnational Relations” (1999), written by Abe who focuses on the “internal domestic actors within Japan” with reference to the EU (p. 32). The remaining two articles that tackle a similar issue were written by Ueta and Remacle who scrutinize the security issues between the two parties from a Japanese and European perspective, respectively.

In her work, Mykal follows a strict timeline, dividing the first part of her book into three chapters, one comprising of the three initial decades, the next continuing with the Hague Declaration and its implications between 1991-2000 and she finishes off with the years until 2006. The first chapter is separated into three subcategories, focusing on the concept of security in Japan and the EU and finally, on their joint communiqué on the issue in the above-mentioned period which mainly covers the Cold War era. A marked shift occurred when Japan became a more notable actor on the European scene, resulting in trade imbalance talks all across the floor and culminating in an increased political role for the tiny island nation. Thus, the mutual views of the two sides on each other grew into “merchant nation” and “civilian power” (p. 55) from the 1970s onwards and gave rise to the formation of a more analytical framework in their interactions.

As was to be expected, the end of the Cold War brought about a marked shift in the conceptualization of security and Mykal examines this era in four sections. She not only draws heavily on the Hague Declaration but also inspects the developments in arms deals, common challenges and interregional links. The Persian Gulf War was a particular wake-up call for Japan when the world was taken aback by what was later cited as its “checkbook diplomacy”, urging the country to take a more decisive approach in international conflicts (p. 62). At the same time, the European Single Act, the fall of the Iron Curtain, the reunification of Germany and the Maastricht Treaty created a new outlook for the EU, necessitating a more momentous attitude suitable for a solid international entity not only politically but also from an economic perspective.

The third section of the first part of the book deals with the security challenges of the 21st century and follows the structure of the previous arguments, thus, it first discusses Japan, then the EU and finally, their joint concepts. A deeper analysis of the EU-Japan Cooperation Action Plan of 2001, the years following 9/11 and the China embargo issue fill the pages of the concluding section.

The second part of the book provides a detailed study of joint activities between the two entities with special regard to the ecosystem, science, energy, development aid and crisis management. The first section sets the scene for environmental issues and references the topic with the Hague Declaration, the Rio Summit and the Kyoto Protocol, listing the 2001 Action Plans as a concrete result.

The second section continues with a dialogue on cooperation in science, technology and energy, a time when Japanese behaviour acquired the label “techno-nationalism” (Samuels, 1994) (p. 143). While following the afore-mentioned timeline, the section mentions concrete joint projects such as CERN or ITER in the area of science and technology and argues that these have a comprehensive agenda at a multilateral level.

The next section deals with development aid and demonstrates the steps of collaboration between Japan and the EU such as the former’s ODA in various parts of the world or fighting global pandemics.

The last and concluding section of the book talks about crisis management and the joint involvement of the two parties. Mykal mentions eight different countries and regions that required assistance such as Cambodia, the Middle East and Kosovo and wraps up her rendition of the global fight with project- rather than region-specific depictions.

The fact that the EU-Japan cooperation has proved to be a fruitful one is without debate. Mykal attributes the successful teamwork and productive development in security issues to the fact that there is an increasing emphasis on globalization and the “necessity to implement cohesive policies to avoid overlaps and inefficiency” (p. 209). Since multilateralism and interconnectedness in today’s international arena coincide with these tendencies, Japan and the EU have their work cut out for them. Moreover, favourable past activities facilitate deeper future understanding that evolve into more effective mutual frameworks. The book also argues that the one point where both parties need to contribute more effort in the coming decades is making the partnership more visible since it lies on foundations strong enough to carry more weight in international issues. Her argument concludes that the EU and Japan have a “quiet, but consistent diplomacy of mutual engagement” (p. 18).

Mykal’s contribution to the academic field is substantial, she provides a thorough cross-section of the EU-Japan relations and examines them from every possible angle using the security framework. Her work serves as an indispensable reference to future scholars.


Abe, A. (1999), Japan and the European Union: Domestic Politics and Transnational Relations. London, New Brunswick: Athlone Press.

Gilson, J. (2000), Japan and the European Union: A Partnership for the Twenty-First Century? Houndmills: Macmillan Press Ltd.

Samuels, R.J. (1994), Rich Nation Strong Army: National Security and Technological Transformation of Japan, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Remacle, E. (2005), ‘The European Security Strategy and its Impact on Europe-Japan Relations’, in T. Ueta and E. Remacle (eds.), Japan and Enlarged Europe: Partners in Global Governance, 35-46, Brussels: P.I.E.-Peter Lang.

Ueta, T. (2001), ‘Japan and the European Security Institutions’, in T. Ueta and E. Remacle (eds.), Japan-EU Cooperation: Ten Years after the Hague Declaration. Studia Diplomatica LIV (1-2): 131-148.

Suggested Citation:

Judit Erika Magyar (2014). Review of The EU-Japan Security Dialogue. Invisible but Comprehensive, by Mykal, Olena, East Asian Integration Studies Vol.7, no.7, Internet file: