RIETI Report May 2003

Japanese Diplomatic Policies in the Post-Saddam Era
<RIETI Featured Fellow> Gerald CURTIS

This month's featured article

Japanese Diplomatic Policies in the Post-Saddam Era
<RIETI Featured Fellow> Gerald CURTIS

Gerald CURTISFaculty Fellow, RIETI

Greetings from RIETI

In Japan, we enjoyed the Golden Week last week, a time with family and friends. As you might know, Japan celebrates constitution Day on May 3. It started in 1948 to commemorate the date the Constitution was put into effect (1947). There are various arguments regarding the current constitution. Some support it, while others call for amendments. On May 15th, the Diet's lower house passed three bills to deal with military emergencies and sent them to the upper house. RIETI Report interviewed faculty fellow Gerald Curtis on what diplomatic policies should Japan pursue in the post-Saddam era.


Gerald Curtis
Professor Curtis has been a faculty fellow at RIETI since April 2003. He is a specialist on Japanese politics and US-East Asian relations, with particular research interests in parties, interest groups, state-society relations. He served as director of the East Asian Institute of Columbia University for a total of 12 years between 1974 and 1990. Author of "Election Campaigning Japanese Style," "The Japanese Way of Politics," "The United States, Japan, and Asia: Challenges for US Policy (editor and contributor)," several other books and numerous journal articles in English and Japanese. Adviser to Newsweek for its Japanese and Korean Language editions, columnist for the Tokyo / Chunichi Shimbun. Winner of the Masayoshi Ohira Prize in 1989 for the best book on Japanese politics. He received his Ph.D., in political science from Columbia University in 1969.


RIETI Report: How do you evaluate Prime Minister Koizumi's policies on the war in Iraq?

Curtis: From the perspective of Japanese national interests, I don't think that Prime Minister Koizumi had much of a choice. The terrorist attack on September 11th changed American attitudes about what constitutes a real "alliance" and I have no doubt that US-Japan relations would have been badly damaged if Japan had not supported US policy on Iraq. So I think Prime Minister Koizumi has to be given credit for recognizing how important the Iraq issue was for US-Japan relations and for unambiguously supporting the US in spite of public opposition to US policy; and no doubt in spite of reservations within the Koizumi government itself about the wisdom of US policy. However, Iraq is in a sense a country very far from Japan. Even though it could expect to be criticized by some Arab countries for its decision to back the US, it did not have to worry about major damage to its national interests resulting from its decision to do so. North Korea is another matter entirely. North Korea is a neighboring country to Japan and its development of nuclear weapons is a direct threat to Japan. This is a totally different situation from what prevailed in Iraq. Japan's interests cannot be satisfied simply by saying it supports the United States. It is important that Japan makes absolutely clear to the United States what policy it thinks the US should adopt in dealing with North Korea. There is no settlement of the North Korean issue possible without cooperation between the US, Japan, and South Korea and close coordination with China. Furthermore, it is more difficult and serious issue for Japan than Iraq was.

RR: How can Japan square the US-Japan relationship and UN diplomacy?

Curtis: In Japan one hears a lot about the supposed choice Japan has to make between the US-Japan Security Treaty relationship and United Nations centered foreign policy, but to phrase the issue in either-or terms is nonsensical. The UN has a potentially large role to play with respect to many issues. The Bush Administration should be giving it far more importance than it is doing. However, is there really any Japanese who believes that the United Nations rather than the US-Japan security alliance can protect Japanese security? And if Japan thinks that the UN should be strengthened, it should come forward with specific proposals to accomplish that end and not simply embrace the illusion that "UN centered" diplomacy can provide for Japan's security. Moreover, the Bush Administration's stance with respect to North Korea is quite the opposite of that toward Iraq in that it apparently wants to bring the North Korean case to the UN Security Council and use the UN to put pressure on North Korea. It is stressing multilateralism with respect to North Korea rather than unilateralism. The North Koreans are saying that the Security Council's adoption of economic sanctions would be tantamount to a declaration of war. One wonders what those who believe in UN centered diplomacy make of this.

RR: If Japan relies too heavily on its relationship with the US, would Japan risk harming its position in Asia?

Curtis: Just as there is no real choice between the US-Japan Security Treaty and the UN, neither is there a choice between US-Japan relations or relations with Asia. Over the mid to long term, perhaps the most critical issue for Japanese foreign policy is how to deal with China. Economic interdependence between Japan and China is bound to grow deeper over the coming years, but at the same time Japan's relationship with the United States is likely to become even more important in terms of maintaining a power balance in the East Asian region. Relations with China and ASEAN are of course extremely important for Japan, but in recent years, in part as a result of Japan's long economic stagnancy, China-ASEAN economic relations have grown ever deeper while Japan's relative importance has declined. If the goal is to strengthen Japan's position in Asia, probably the most important thing to do is take bolder actions to revitalize Japan's domestic economy. Furthermore, quite contrary to the concern that a Japanese emphasis on ties with the US might worsen its position in Asia, for other Asian countries that believe that the US-Japan alliance is of critical importance for the security of Asia as a whole a worsening of US-Japan relations would increase concerns about Japan in the region.

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