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February 27, 2003

Japan's Ambition for Normal Statehood: An Abridged Version

Takashi INOGUCHI (Professor, University of Tokyo)

(Abridged Version of the Paper Presented at the International Conference on East Asia, Latin America and the "New" Pax Americana, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University and East Asia Institute, Korea on February 14-15, 2003)

[Professor Inoguchi's Full Paper is available in the PDF form (130kb)]

Normal Statehood Denied: Embracing Defeat

By normal statehood I mean the conventional Westphalian notion of the state. I define normal statehood in a conventional manner. In other words, its basic authority, ability and hence autonomy to determine its fate is what I mean from now on.

Normal statehood was denied to Japan in 1945-1952. It was common that regime change took place after war defeats. The immediate cause was Japan's unconditional surrender to the Allied Powers led by the United States in World War II. The result was the military occupation by the Allied Powers and the semi-permanent military presence of the United States armed forces on Japan with the United States-Japan Security Treaty since Japan's regaining its independence in 1952. The new Constitution drafted mostly in 1946 abrogated the use of force in the settlement of disputes. The Security Treaty, drafted mostly in 1950, was meant to act as a linchpin to sustain Japan in war and diplomacy.

With these initial institutional and spiritual settings laid out in the seven years of the Occupation, Japan has been less than a normal state for more than half a century.

Normal Statehood Aspired: Reviving Sotto Voce

Three lines of aspiration for normal statehood have been identified: authority structure, use of force, and history. I focus on the kind of questions pertaining to these three aspects. More specifically,

(1) Institutional enhancement of Prime Minister's Office
Although the degree of empowerment of legislators has been modest at best, Prime Minister's Office has been legally empowered substantially. Whether it can be institutionally substantiated or not depends on the will and ability of Prime Minister. For instance, Prime Minister Koizumi has taken "bold" actions giving a big surprise to bureaucrats and beyond occasionally for the last two years.

(2) Constitutional revision of the Preamble and Article Nine
Although revisionists form the majority in public opinion and plurality in both houses of the National Diet, they have not been able to make a breakthrough in the National Diet. First, for Constitutional revision, the two thirds majority is necessary in both houses of the National Diet. Second, prolonged economic stagnation forces the government not to undertake an extra risk and burden.

(3) Correcting historical wrongs moderated
The sentiment that correcting wrongs has been overdone and that apology has been overrepeated has been on the steady rise for the last two decades. It is only for the last five years or so, however, that this sentiment has been materialized in a concrete fashion.

Three Signaling Events toward Normal Statehood

I examine closely the following three signaling events toward normal statehood that have taken place in the beginning of the twenty-first century:

(1) Naval thrust into the Indian Ocean
September 11, 2001 brought bolt to Japan as will. Both public opinion and lawmakers in Japan gave a resounding support to the President when the terrorist attacks were made at New York and Washington. D.C. on September 11. The Japanese government led by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi took swift and effective action and dispatched warships to the Indian Ocean to "show the flag" of Japan in the joint anti-terrorist war in Afghanistan in 2001.

(2) Free trade agreement initiative
Concluding a regional free trade agreement requires a couple of thing which constitute normal statehood: (I) authority to claim domestic sovereignty over variegated domestic interests; (II) diplomatic deftness and dexterity to attract would-be members, come to grips with their variegated assertions and aggregate them harmoniously into a package. It is no wonder that Japan's first bilateral free trade agreement was concluded with Singapore, which does not have agriculture of any meaningful size. That led Japan's agricultural interests not to exercise veto to a free trade agreement, which normally means some compromise on the part of a totally non-competitive agricultural sector.

(3) Engaging Pyonyang
As of December 2002, the only country which has not embarked on diplomatic normalization is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The problem is that the Japan-ROK Basic Treaty of 1965 covers the entire territory including that of North Korea. Japan regards the ROK as the sole legitimate state entity on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea accuses Japan of colonialism, suppression, and exploitation during the colonial period and thereafter since North Korea regards Japan serving the interests of the United States keeping the Korean Peninsula divided and posing military and economic threats. The history issue is not easy to resolve because it is embedded with identity. Japanese identity with Asia has not been historically strong. "Japan and Asia" sits more comfortably than "Japan in Asia" among Japanese. However, with the passage of generation the history issue will be less stressed.

Normal Statehood Re-Considered

(1) Authority Structure
By authority structure I mean the way in which decision is made and in which decision is implemented. In the past half a century Japan's authority structure has been often characterized as decentralized consensus formation. However, the tide of globalization with the emergence of new grass-roots leaders has been influencing Japanese authority structure. Whether Japan remolds authority structure in harmony with normal statehood is something one needs to ponder a while in light of the relative weight of each factor and the alchemy derived from them. Even a casual look at Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi gives ambivalent messages. The summit meeting with Kim Jong Il in 2002 seems to augur well to those seeking Japan becoming a normal state. His difficulty to act decisively on economic reform issues may augur ill.

(2) Use of Force
Use of force as a means of settling international disputes is forbidden in the Constitution. The United States Armed Forces in the Far East has tended to stay away from such possible contingencies however. After the Cold War new contingencies have arisen to arouse awareness of this constraint. One is the United Nations peace keeping operations. Use of force means placing troops in combat situations. Therefore only in post-war peace building and keeping operations has Japan participated in UN PKO. After all, Japan is a self-appointed global civilian power. Japan's anti-militarism has been deep-rooted for the last half a century. It is not an exaggeration to say that without living up to the prevailing public opinion, the government cannot survive. Two schemes of living up to the claim are peace keeping operations and official development assistance.

(3) History
The past aggression and atrocities committed by Japan before 1945 placed Japan in a position to speak low key about its role in the world since 1945. History weighs heavily even after the war. However, it is undeniable that history issues have become less stormy abroad. First, the time factor is important. At home, those who have experienced and remembered the history of Japanese aggression and atrocity have been significantly reduced in number. Yet the strength of anti-militarism seems not to have been reduced very much. Each time the use of force issue came out for discussion, the Japanese government decided not to violate the basic anti-militarism. In the Gulf War of 1991, Japan sent minesweepers to do the job only after the war ceased. For many peace keeping operations since the UNTAC in Cambodia in 1991, Japan has participated in non-military activities only. In East Timor, Japan has sent troops there in the largest number in its history but only after a cease-fire realized. In the anti-terrorist war in Afghanistan Japan sent warships to the Indian Ocean to watch and detect ships and submarines operating there and to fuel gasoline to those aircraft, American and British, on the mission in Afghanistan. Anticipating the vacuum to be created by the United States' entry into an anti-Iraq war in 2003, Japan sent an Aegis-equipped warships to detect and destroy those missiles aimed at warships operating there. Japan's thrust of an Aegis-equipped warship into the Indian Ocean is an instance where Japan has taken the risk of war casualties for the first time in its anti-militarist history since 1945. Therefore it is safe to say that Japan has not forgot about history but accommodated to act a responsible global civilian power committed to the causes of anti-terrorism and peace-building within the constitutional and institutional framework entrenched in Japanese society since 1945.


Having examined Japan's ambition for normal statehood for the preceding pages, let me speculate what all this will add up to. To do this task, it would be helpful to think about the following two contingencies: (1) North Korea going decisively and demonstratively nuclear, and (2) China replacing the United States overwhelmingly as Japan's trade partner.

(1) What will Japan do when North Korea has moved forward to a nuclear-weapons state? Will Japan go nuclear? My answer is probably no unless some dramatically different situations arise. If Japan goes nuclear against North Korea, it is bound to give a strong alarm to China which has historically tended to regard North Korea as a useful buffer state. Once North Korea is to be threatened by Japan, China will start to take a totally hostile look at Japan. Why bother China so much? Because the stable relationship with China at arm's length has been the sine qua non to Japan. Some distance is advisable but any mutually hostile relationship is neither in Japan's nor in China's interest. If Japan's nuclearization takes an anti-Chinese posture, it would be quite different a story. It must be a massive advanced weaponry. But that would be suicidal as in 1937-1945.

(2) What will Japan do when China has become the most important economic partner with Japan? A potentially worrisome development has already been taking place. From 2000 onwards during the process of recovery from the Asian financial crisis of 1997, Korea has been stepping up the economic interactions with China, whether it is trade or foreign direct investment. Already in 2002, Korea's most favorite country was China, then Japan as a close second, finally the United States as the somewhat distant third country. In a similar vein, Japan's export drive to China enabled Japan not to suffer too much from stagnation. However, the rise in the pro-Chinese public opinion does not necessarily reflect in Japan's security arrangement. Given Japan's global economic stake and given the basic incompatibility of basic norms and values between Japan and China, it would be very difficult to speculate that Japan would be tilted to China in a wholesale fashion, diluting the ties and arrangements with the United States.

To sum up, Japan's ambition for normal statehood would not trigger some dramatic systemic changes as long as Japan's aspiration is anchored at the security alliance with the United States on the basis of shared norms and values and as long as Japan is well reminded of the fact that if Japan and China go to war, then at least half of the heaven falls down, as Deng Xiaoping warns.

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