A crisis almost always reveals the reality, and the Persian Gulf crisis revealed the real Japan. In the moment of truth, an economic superpower found itself merely an automatic teller machine-one that needed a kick before dispensing the cash. The notion that economic power inevitably translates into geopolitical influence turned out to be a materialist illusion. At least many Japanese now seem to subscribe to that view.

In Japan the crisis over the gulf was a manifestation of the failure of Japanese leadership. In 1989 Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lost control of the Diet's upper house, the House of Councilors. Thus when the gulf crisis erupted, Japan was governed by its politically weakest leadership of the postwar era, and it had great difficulty in forming a coalition with the opposition-the Democratic Socialist Party and the Komeito-to support its response. The public was polarized. Japan had not witnessed such a divergence of views on an issue of this magnitude for thirty years past. Slow and cumbersome decision-making was the result, which only benefited Japan's powerful bureaucracies and served the status quo. In the end the government proved totally unfit to respond quickly in a crisis.

Japan nevertheless managed to be part of the international coalition effort by making a $13 billion contribution. But it could not make even the most modest contribution of manpower, falling short of Korea's dispatch of 150 medics and the Philippines' 190 doctors and nurses. Certainly many Japanese are pleased that the national consensus finally solidified against sending troops abroad. Many feel that Japan did what it could and that the Japanese themselves, as well as foreigners, should not expect too much of Japan. Moreover the $13 billion, made possible only by a tax increase, was not negligible. It was more than Japan's annual foreign aid program, its Official Development Assistance (ODA), which ranks first in the world.

The Gulf War was a unique phenomenon. The war itself crystallized and magnified issues that Japan should have addressed long ago. For Japan the crisis was, in a way, a day of reckoning. It broke out precisely when the gap was most pronounced between Japan's underdeveloped political capacity and its seemingly uncontrollable economic expansion. The outcome was shocking, rudely awakening Japan to its inability to cope with a crisis affecting its vital interests. The lesson was that the international environment in the 1990s will no longer allow Japan to follow the same one-dimensional economic strategy it has single-mindedly pursued for the past forty years.


In the postwar era Japan's image of itself as a small, strategically naked and economically fragile island nation gradually changed as it became a respected member of the world community. Japan's inclusion in 1975 as a founding member of the Group of Seven (G-7) leading industrialized nations helped transform the Japanese public's perception of its own country. A decade later Japan's self-image as an economic power was supplanted by the image of Japan as an economic superpower, as Japan suddenly found itself the world's largest creditor nation. And now with the end of the Cold War and the advent of a more polycentric world, the perception of Japan as a global power should become even more widespread.

Ironically, as Japan's international power has advanced, the underpinnings of its political and economic systems have been called into question. Japan's rapidly aging population, unique lifelong employment system, homogeneous social fabric, "plutocratic collusion" among leading industries, speculative "bubbles and bursts" in financial markets, and complacency have all been pinpointed as vulnerabilities or signs of decline. But it is still too early to deliver such a verdict. Japan has a proven capacity to adapt to new international environments, as happened with the Meiji Restoration and the post-World War II reconstruction.

Japan's strategic premises are nonetheless basically conditioned by a historical sense of vulnerability and are the legacies of traumatic defeat and a determination to be reborn. These legacies are many, yet the following stand out: adaptation and "catch-up," concentration on economic gains, following the lead of the United States and absence of regional strategy.

Throughout its modern history Japan has felt isolated in world affairs. This heightened sense of Japan as "latecomer" or "odd man out" on the world scene contributed to its familiar foreign policy behavior: inward-looking exceptionalism (ultranationalism in prewar days and "one country pacifism" in the postwar era) coupled with desperate efforts to catch up to those ahead of it (rectification of unequal treaties in the Meiji period and "GNP-ism" after World War II).

Confined by this mindset, Japan has seldom tried to present itself as a rule-maker in the world community. The rules were already there. Japan simply tried to adapt to them and, if possible, excel at playing the game. When faced with difficulty, however, it tended simply to ignore or reject those rules altogether. But the world order is a given, and Japan a reactor par excellence. In the words of one Japanese political scientist, "The world is nothing but a 'framework' or the setting which can change only mysteriously."1

Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda's (1976-78) "equidistance diplomacy" in large part reflected this psychological block against defining Japanese priorities in foreign policy. Japan's apparent obsession with its status in the world also testifies to its lack of will in defining its own self-image and world role. Postwar "economism" or "GNP-ism" was a strategy used to eschew political involvement. Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki's (1980-82) characterization of Japan as the "10 percent nation" (ichiwari kokka)-a nation occupying 10 percent of world GNP-and his call for Japan to make a greater international contribution also revealed how the nation perceives its status and even the world itself in quantitative terms, while conspicuously avoiding a qualitative definition.

Recently Japan's former vice minister for foreign affairs, Takakazu Kuriyama, has argued for a new Japanese diplomatic posture with the phrase "foreign policy of a major power with an unassuming posture." But this thrust for a new foreign policy posture is still expressed by attitudinal concepts rather than strategic ones. Shintaro Ishihara's much publicized book, The Japan That Can Say No, merely worsened the situation for, as the book's title indicated, it was a rejection, not a projection, of a national psyche.

Today Japan's increased weight and stake in the world has in turn increased the world's stake and interest in Japanese strategy and policy. But the gap between Japan's foreign policy projection and the expectations placed on Japan by other countries has widened to a precarious abyss. The call for Japan to bear a full share of the burden to sustain the world system has intensified. For Japan the essential question is now this: For what purpose should Japan assume a larger share of the burden? Japan must now define its objectives and world role more clearly than at any time in the past forty years. It can no longer merely respond to the international environment and measure itself quantitatively. Such a task will severely challenge Japan's long-standing strategic premises and policy foundations. But Japan is now a key pillar of the global order itself, no longer merely an actor within it, and Japanese policy must reflect that change.


The Japanese people almost unanimously supported the nation's postwar mercantilist strategy and enthusiastically compelled it for four decades. Japan's postwar determination, symbolized by the "Peace Constitution," was so overwhelming that nearly all the nation's energy and resources were mobilized exclusively for economic reconstruction and expansion. Military and security issues were constantly placed on the back burner, and certain other noneconomic policy goals, such as international peacekeeping and human rights, were never vigorously pursued.

But this postwar strategy of economic expansion became increasingly untenable by the mid-1980s. First, the scale of the Japanese economy and its overseas penetration caused political repercussions that forced Japan to respond politically as well. The voluntary restrictions on automobile exports to the United States throughout the 1980s was one such example. Second, Japan's creditor status compelled it to endorse many international programs with strategic implications-Latin American debt relief, east European recovery, Middle East peacekeeping-changing the nature of its economic diplomacy. At the same time, louder criticism of Japan's "checkbook diplomacy" was also likely to be heard. Finally, Japan increasingly acquired and developed militarily relevant technology, transforming the nation's strategic significance. Japan's long-standing nonmilitary strategy was based on its status as "have-not" in terms of indigenous military resources. But that premise has been shaken. Japan now clearly belongs to the club of "haves" possessing a key military resource: technology.

Japan's postwar economic miracle required U.S. protection. The U.S.-Japanese alliance provided both national security and an economic market for Japanese products. For many Japanese the lesson became clear: Japan prospered while following the lead of the world's most liberal economic power. A strategy of following was thus born, came to be cherished and eventually developed into a kind of axiom.

That strategy changed somewhat under Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone (1982-87), when Japan began to seek a higher profile and broader role in world politics. Nakasone's commitment to the Western alliance, based on the assumption that global security was "indivisible," reflected Japan's search for a leadership role. His "high yen" strategy helped lay the groundwork for the G-7's 1985 "Plaza accord" and inaugurated Japan's new role as a world banker. At the G-7's Venice summit in 1987 Nakasone changed policy to provide for fiscal expansion and paved the way for Japan's new task as an "absorber" country, a market power. Yet the Japanese leadership's habit of viewing the world through the prism of U.S.-Japanese relations still limited the scope of its foreign policy.

Overdependence on its bilateral relationship with the United States undermined Japan's creative diplomacy by closing off avenues to other foreign policy initiatives. Accustomed to the deep-rooted hierarchical relationships in Japanese society, Japanese leaders found it difficult to execute an effective foreign policy based on equality. The leadership developed a psychology of dependency-a tendency to view America as a big brother-and failed to assert a distinctively Japanese foreign policy, in effect inviting foreign pressure, or gaiatsu. This new word, coined solely to denote this phenomenon, indicates the degree to which foreign pressure has affected Japanese political culture.

Gaiatsu, however, causes problems. Foreign pressure does not help generate healthy policy debates or create a sound political milieu for Japan to promote foreign policy initiatives. It shifts the focus of debate away from what Japan should do in its own best interests and toward what other countries want it to do. For this reason it often arouses nationalistic sentiments and infuses issues with emotion. It also provides a "cover" for certain Japanese to pursue their own policy agendas (e.g., sending Self-Defense Forces abroad) under the guise of policy coordination, particularly with the United States. Gaiatsu politics thus undermines U.S.-Japanese relations, because it tends to perpetuate a patron-protégé relationship and a love-hate cycle between the two nations.

Japan's postwar strategy was also affected by the bankruptcy of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Its failure created profound political and psychological inhibitions for Japan. Whenever Japan tried to assert itself and assume a regional leadership role, Asian leaders recalled its culpability in the Second World War and repeatedly warned of its "new ambition" and aspiration toward becoming a "military giant" once again. Japan was handicapped by the lack of an institutional economic and military framework for cooperation in the Asian-Pacific region, such as NATO and the EC in Europe, which helped West Germany overcome the constraints on its regional policies. The Japanese government's attempt to send Self-Defense Forces abroad during the Gulf War was one such example. It was met with suspicion and opposition from other Asian nations that feared possible consequences of Japanese power projection.

Since regionalism was so tainted, Japan became one of the few countries in the modern world with truly global interests.2 Regionalism was seen as both bad politics and bad economics. It implied political domination by an ambitious hegemon as well as by an economic bloc that would destroy the free-trading system. Unlike its prewar concentration on Asian markets, Japan was encouraged to devote itself to engaging the U.S.-led global economic framework. It thus diversified its export markets but came to develop a special link to the United States. While Japan still heavily concentrated its ODA on Asian neighbors, who received more than 60 percent of all aid, it never developed a comprehensive regional policy.

Renewed interest in a regional strategy has emerged in recent years. Global economic developments have forced Japan to entertain "new thinking" about the Asian-Pacific economic framework. An aggressive bilateral U.S. trade policy has strained the multilateral trading system that Japan has taken for granted and within which Japan has prospered. European Community integration, the U.S.-Canadian Free Trade Agreement and now the prospect of a North American Free Trade Agreement that also includes Mexico have caused Japan to reconsider its previous regional restraint. European integration, for example, can be viewed as a classic "challenge-response" case. EC integration was in part driven by the challenge from the dynamic economies of Japan and its Asian-Pacific neighbors. But European integration has in turn challenged Japan. A unified Germany as the nucleus of the EC, coupled with the specter of eastern Europe as the new frontier of an even more colossal Europe, have only served to sharpen that sense of challenge.

World political developments also lead Japan to take stock of its regional strategy. The sudden recession of the shared perception of a Soviet threat-the glue of the U.S.-Japanese mutual security mechanism-the prospect of U.S. military disengagement and the need to incorporate the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union as responsible regional players add momentum in Japan toward broader Asian-Pacific cooperation. In the multipolar world after the Cold War an effective regional framework could provide each country with a sort of safety net. But questions arise: How viable is Asian-Pacific regionalism, politically and economically? Can Japan assume a leadership role there? And, more generally, what is Japan's role in the already existent system?

Some influential business leaders, such as Yotaro Kobayashi, argue for Japan's "re-Asianization." It is only natural, Kobayashi proposes, that Japan should find its "home" in Asia, in the same way that Mikhail Gorbachev has said Russia should find its in Europe. Kobayashi has suggested that Japan explore the possibility of playing a role as regional "co-chairman" with China.3 Although he stresses the importance of U.S. participation in Asian regionalism, other political and business leaders urge stronger Asian ties regardless of the United States. These voices could fan the embers of anti-Western, and particularly anti-American, feeling among Japanese. Japan's historical modernization process has been pendulous, vacillating first toward the West, then back to the more familiar East. And today Japan's soul-searching for the proper self-image and regional and global roles is still haunted by its past swings.


Japan's international agenda for the 1990s must respond to a variety of new issues and challenges. Japan must establish a new image of itself in the world, one that expresses its cherished values and self-enlightened interests. This need not be a radical process, but rather a conscious effort on the part of the nation to develop itself incrementally. Japan's unorthodox power portfolio ("economic giant" and "military dwarf") should not be viewed as an unstable and transitional phenomenon; its deep-rooted pacifism should not be treated as mere escapism, although its more eccentric elements have sometimes been referred to as "Kamikaze pacifists." On the contrary this very portfolio presents Japan with the opportunity to define its own power and role in the radically changing world ahead. Emergence of a more internationalist and actively engaged Japanese pacifism could play a constructive role in making Japan a global civilian power.

For the first time in its modern history, Japan in the 1990s will be substantially free of security threats from the north, whether explicit or implicit, ideological or military. Although the post-Cold War world will surely see its share of small-scale regional conflicts, and even wars, the Asian-Pacific area may have a better chance to maintain peace than in the turbulent days of the 1940s (the Pacific War), the 1950s (the Korean War) or the 1960s (the Vietnam War).

The widespread perception that the Gulf War actually underscored the supremacy of military power should not alter Japan's strategy of acting as a global civilian power. Japan should still search for various avenues to enhance its political power through economic strength, not military might. Such a strategy could again stimulate the perception of the changing nature of power in the world and the recognition and acceptance of Japan as a new power. Global interdependence and a higher priority for economic statecraft benefit Japan. They better suit its pacifistic strategy and enhance the levers available to the nation through financial and economic resources. Japan should take full advantage of such global developments to pursue a broader set of policy goals aimed at promoting a world order more compatible to Japan's own self-image and interests.

Japan should therefore pursue two sometimes contradictory strategies: active engagement for world peace and military self-restraint. Its one-dimensional economic strategy must be replaced by a more multifaceted, values-oriented policy. It is time for the world's banker to design and contribute to an international order based on something more than mere economic growth. Japan should give higher priority to four values as foreign policy goals: to act as a model for, and lend assistance to, poorer countries in their own efforts for economic and democratic development; international peacekeeping; promotion of human rights; and environmental protection.

In particular a human rights policy has been problematic for Japan. For various reasons Japan has been reluctant to place human rights on its foreign policy agenda. Japan's foreign-policy makers have not usually come under heavy pressure from the nation's grass-roots movements. The dependence of Japan's economy on a conservative and feudalistic Saudi Arabia, as well as Japan's sensitive relationships with China and the Republic of Korea, force it to think twice before speaking out on human rights. Moreover Japan's sense of guilt after World War II, especially toward China and Korea, puts a psychological brake on criticizing human rights violations and exerting diplomatic pressure. A vigorous human rights policy is regarded as the luxury of countries such as the United States and France, who were able to claim a kind of moral superiority because of their victory in the war.

Such constraints will not easily disappear. But Japan has begun exploring ways to set certain political conditions on its economic aid policy. Tokyo has now placed four criteria-level of military expenditure; potential for atomic, biological and chemical weapons; arms trade and democratization-on future aid to developing countries. Although the effectiveness of this new approach remains to be seen, it clearly reflects the stronger yearnings of the Japanese public.

An extremely delicate case concerns Japan's relationship with China, as demonstrated by Japan's tortured diplomacy following the Tiananmen Square incident. Although Japan should be mindful of its strategic relationship with China, it must still effectively convey Japan's aspirations for human rights to Chinese authorities as well as the Chinese people. Otherwise the Sino-Japanese relationship may come to be viewed at home as well as abroad as a collusion between apparatchiks of both ruling parties and the single-minded pursuit of Japanese economic interests. Such an appearance would not only undermine the value of the Sino-Japanese relationship but also hinder any broader attempts by Japan to pursue a more vigorous policy on human rights.

Protection of human rights will also be more crucial to peacekeeping efforts among nations in the 1990s as the world faces more ethnic and nationalistic conflicts. Ensuring that the rights of minorities are respected and internationally monitored is the most effective way to reduce the likelihood of conflict. But Japan also has minority groups, although relatively small. Japan's human rights diplomacy first and foremost should be directed at its own minorities, particularly its 600,000-strong Korean community, in order to enhance their political and economic status.

Japan's expression of values in foreign policy must be matched by more strenuous efforts to make its own political system more democratic, and its economic structure more open and liberal, so that Japan may serve as an example to developing nations and make its institutions and practices more compatible with like-minded democracies.


As part of a new foreign policy Japan also needs to initiate a fuller global partnership with the United States. The U.S.-Japanese "global partnership"-a new look designed at the spring 1990 meeting between President George Bush and Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu-proved to be a non-starter only several months later. Yet the concept should not be abandoned. Rather it must be further defined and developed as Japanese foreign policy matures.

Japan should not believe, however, that this means equal standing with the United States. The United States will be the sole superpower in the 1990s. Its superior military resources and logistics will probably make it the only country in the world capable of being a kind of "lender of last resort" in providing a security blanket in military crises. The relationship between the two countries can best be characterized as mutually supportive. Yet it is not necessary or desirable that Japan try to gain equal footing in sharing leadership. Japan's relationship with the United States, as well as its world role, is better defined as "supportive leadership." Its leadership role should not be primary, but auxiliary, to U.S. global posture and commitment.

The Gulf War may have marked the return of an American unipolar system, but it also demonstrated the need for the United States to exert its leadership as part of a coalition. The Gulf War was but one example of the types of threats the world will confront in the future. Even a confident United States will not always be able to cope with a diversity of threats alone. The United States will be, at least for the foreseeable future, subject to financial limitations. It will also have to pay more attention to a wider range of issues that now qualify as security matters-its economy, the environment, human rights and drugs. These issues will pose problems for the traditional pattern of U.S. hegemonic leadership, because they require collective leadership and policy coordination. Finally, as Washington gradually disengages militarily from Europe and the Asian-Pacific region, it will likely face isolationist sentiments at home or, at least, milder domestic pressures to turn inward.

Japan's supportive leadership, therefore, should not be viewed as simply following the United States, neither should it be regarded as financial underwriting for U.S. military actions. It should instead be seen as providing collective goods indispensable in an age of collective leadership. Japan's major task will be to stimulate U.S. interest in the open global trading system. It must also manage the dollar so that the United States will be able to overcome its twin deficits while maintaining non-inflationary economic growth. Japan has an "absorber" function as well, principally regarding neighboring Asian-Pacific countries, in reducing the U.S. external trade imbalance and lessening the U.S. burden.

The U.S.-Japanese security alliance should continue to be the underpinning of a dynamic bilateral relationship and an anchor of future Asian-Pacific security. Japan's alliance with the United States is the third alliance Japan has forged in its modern history. But unlike the Anglo-Japanese alliance in the early part of the century and the Axis alliance with Germany and Italy prior to World War II, the U.S.-Japanese alliance is not a mere invention of realpolitik. It is a far more pervasive engagement and a symbol of friendship and stability between two societies. It can continue to function as such and help stabilize the Asian-Pacific framework.

At the same time Japan's excessive reliance on its bilateral relationship with the United States should be balanced by strengthening its multilateral (the United Nations, GATT), trilateral (G-7, OECD) and regional diplomacies (APEC). As more constraints are placed on U.S. leadership and as the need for policy coordination grows, both the United States and Japan will need to search for wider options and alternatives to their previous relationship. Japan's contribution to this task is the essence of supportive leadership.


Japan must not delude itself that its identity can be developed in purely regional terms, its economy sustained in an Asian bloc and its political ambitions fulfilled in Asian-Pacific integration alone. Yet Japan must have a regional strategy. Such a strategy must not be confined to Asia, particularly East Asia, but widened to the Asian-Pacific rim, which includes the United States. Its objective must be to keep the region open, peaceful and democratic. Regionalism for this purpose can be called "Pacific globalism."

In the coming years Japan's strategy of Pacific globalism should consist of three pillars:

-to promote regional economic growth and development as well as the liberalization and multilateralization of trade and investment in the region;

-to enhance regional peacekeeping and peace-building mechanisms and measures by stimulating U.S. commitment and engagement; and

-to incorporate the region's rapidly changing socialist countries-the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam and North Korea-as responsible players.

As for regional economic liberalization, Japan can sustain and reinvigorate U.S. global trading interests and posture by infusing Pacific globalism into the aging globalism set in place by the Atlantic Charter. Japan could accomplish this by promoting stronger interest in the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and in the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). In doing so Japan can play a constructive role in deterring European and North American regionalism from becoming exclusivist and create a more favorable milieu for Soviet and Chinese regional integration. Such a policy would also help mitigate inward-looking, nationalistic thrusts in Asian countries and calls for their own restrictive regional grouping. A U.S. presence and contribution is essential to the formation of any Asian-Pacific arrangement, and Japan should thus resist Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir's call for an East Asian Economic Grouping, because of its exclusivity.

While APEC is currently an embryonic organization, it could gradually be transformed into a policy coordinating body. Future annual meetings could be held at the head-of-state level and timed to precede the G-7's annual summits. Japan, with the United States and Canada, could then represent APEC's interests at these summits. When APEC matures it may even be worthwhile exploring the possibility that its chief attend G-7 summits, in a fashion similar to EC representation.

One way Japan could enhance APEC is by liberalizing its own trade and economic systems and maintaining vigorous domestic demand. A part of this effort should be to engage in a multilateral Structural Impediments Initiative with the United States and western Europe, preferably within the framework of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Japanese leadership for more open economic systems must first be rooted in its own market liberalization, SII talks target politically sensitive sectors of the Japanese economy, such as banking, securities, distribution, transportation and construction industries, which have more or less remained untouched by the liberalization processes of the past three decades, SII implementation will help lay the groundwork for harmonization of Japan's economic and social system by gradually breaking up the collusion of vested interests. By setting an example in transforming its own noncompetitive structures, Japan could urge other trading partners to do the same.

Japan could also set in motion a new process of coordination between the micro and macroeconomic policies of nations within the G-7. Moreover it should cooperate with the United States and western Europe to manage a more stable currency relationship among the dollar, yen and European Currency Unit. It will be crucial for all three parties to intensify their efforts to promote future cooperation not only for economic reasons, but for political and strategic reasons as well.

In the realm of security Japan is likely to continue to be constrained from playing a leading role even in the 1990s. U.S. leadership will still be required to stabilize the region, and U.S. bilateral alliances with certain nations, particularly Japan and Australia, will remain necessary to anchor the regional security framework. Japan's role will be as a support. But that role should be pursued in the name of broader regional security, rather than Japan's security alone.

While the United States and a reinvigorated United Nations are indispensable to fostering a better security climate, Asian-Pacific countries themselves must discuss security matters more directly with one another. The problem for Japan's regional security may lie with Japan itself. Japan's reluctance to face up to its past colonization of Korea, invasion of China, domination over Southeast Asia and guilt for war crimes-and its feeble effort to educate its people about this history-generate deep suspicion and mistrust all over Asia. This reluctance also creates complacent and self-indulgent views of Japan's history among Japanese themselves. Japan's new nationalistic thrusts, though still amorphous, may gather momentum and run a dangerous course if not soon checked and redressed. This perception that Japan has not come to terms with its own past puts a fundamental obstacle before its pursuit of an effective regional policy.

Japan must also pursue an effective peace structure for Northeast Asia. Such a structure, however, should not copy the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Asia's security environment and political configuration are too different from Europe's. In Asia, particularly in Northeast Asia, it is more realistic to build multilayer security regimes. Confidence-building measures should be introduced on the Korean Peninsula under the auspices of an Asian "two plus four": North and South Korea along with the United States, the Soviet Union, China and Japan.

It is also advisable that concerned parties-the United States, Canada, the Soviet Union, Japan, China and the Koreas-begin to undertake a reduction of military capabilities in the region. Northern territory areas could eventually be demilitarized and a free economic zone introduced that incorporates Soviet maritime provinces and a free port at Vladivostok. The U.S. naval nuclear presence could be reduced, proportionate to a reduction of the Soviet land and nuclear arsenals and Soviet logistical capabilities. The United States-Japan Security Treaty, however, should be maintained as an anchor of regional stability.

With regard to China, Japan and the United States should encourage China, as a regional power, to participate in Asian-Pacific economic expansion. But both the United States and Japan should beware of emerging political forces in China, such as a "new authoritarian school," that may urge Japan to join in opposing the "human rights imperialism of the United States." Japan also has a deep-rooted cultural and psychological affinity toward China that may take political shape, spurred by mounting frustration over "Japan-bashing" in the United States. But Japan should refrain from trying to establish an exclusive "special relationship" with Beijing.

Finally, Japan's relationship with the Soviet Union (or the Russian republic) may be normalizing. This is due to a possible settlement of the still unresolved Northern Territories issue. If such a settlement finally comes to pass, economic development in Siberia and the Soviet Far East could gain momentum with an infusion of Japanese capital and technology. Yet it is more advisable for Japan to explore ways to multilaterize development of the region.


Japan's own political constraints affect its pursuit of a dynamic foreign policy. It took the gulf crisis to bring many of these shortcomings into stark relief. Tokyo lacked initiative and policy innovation, global institutions through which it could effectively pursue its policies, the acceptance of its leadership by its neighbors, and recognition of the contribution it could make to responsibility-sharing stemming from its unique power portfolio.

Japan must thus examine its own political and decision-making structures to try to overcome these constraints. Japanese societal and behavioral patterns and attitudes clash with the need for sometimes quick and dynamic formulation and implementation of foreign policy. The structural weaknesses of its leadership-highly personalized political allegiances among factions and parties, and the predominance of pork-barrel politics-characterize Japanese political culture and limit the projection of its foreign policy. These shortcomings may also be destabilizing factors in world financial markets. The inability of Japan's leadership to cope with the unrealistically high prices of land and stocks, for instance, has already caused a dangerous bubble-and burst-in Japanese financial markets, putting a grave strain on Japan's macroeconomic policies.

Japan's consumers, particularly its urban dwellers, increasingly find a gap between Japan's economic wealth and the quality of their standard of living, which sharpens their political awareness. But in addressing this gap Japan's bureaucrats and politicians have become a part of the problem rather than problem-solvers. The bureaucracy and its symbiotic "policy tribes" in the ruling LDP have formed "iron triangles" with protected industries to resist fundamental economic and social reforms.

The immobility of Japan's decision-making process is well exemplified by ubiquitous gaiatsu politics, which helps maintain the existing political order by blaming foreigners (often Washington) for uncomfortable accommodations. Future foreign policy success is thus essentially a function of overcoming the immobility of the Japanese system. This immobility is the product of institutional and cultural factors that include a bottom-to-top, consensus-oriented decision-making process, the supremacy of "domesticists" over the internationalists, and the need for domestic political institutions to achieve parity in burden-sharing.

Japan cannot ultimately develop an effective international role without a significant measure of domestic political change. Japan still has only one political party capable of ruling. The opposition does not have the psychology and policy positions required of a governing party. The quasi-coalition among the LDP, Democratic Socialist Party and Komeito in the gulf crisis was a telling example of political immaturity. A viable two or multiparty system is yet to evolve.

Yet the initiative for change must come from politicians, not from bureaucrats. The politicians must press for long-overdue political and electoral reform in order to assure better representation of the "silent majority" of its big-city constituents-a huge bloc of voters with a keener sense of Japan's enlightened self-interests. The politicians must start lively and constructive debates to enhance the development of meaningful policy proposals not dependent on the bureaucracy. They may have a better chance to do so in the coming years, now that the ideological overtones of the security issue-so characteristic of Diet debates in the Cold War era-are fading.

Japan will see a generational change in the leadership of all its major political parties in the next decade. More internationally minded, confident and self-assertive leaders will appear among the top echelons. At the same time new political forces-women, the elderly, consumer and environmental groups as well as local governments-will increasingly gain momentum. Some of these political forces will push Japan toward a more active foreign policy-for example, strong overtures toward the Pacific Soviet Union by certain prefectures on the Sea of Japan, pressures to open agricultural markets from Japanese consumer groups. But others may counter with emphasis on domestic issues involving "quality of life."

Japan may have to wait for this new generation of leaders, political parties and social forces in order to persuade its public that "quality of life" is increasingly linked to the stability and welfare of global security and economic systems-systems to which its voice and commitment contribute. But the national debate already appears to be starting. The painful lessons of the gulf crisis have helped to stimulate public interest and demands for the political reforms necessary for Japan to realize fully its new international role. A world power, after all, is a power with a commitment to others. Japan's path to power-as a global civilian power-must start with the commitment to reform from within and, increasingly, that seems destined to be the will of the public.

1 Kyogoku Jun'ichi, Gendai minishusei to seijigaku, Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1969, p. 170.

2 Robert A. Scalapino, "Perspectives on Modern Japanese Foreign Policy," The Foreign Policy of Modern Japan, University of California Press, 1977, p. 399.

3 Yotaro Kobayashi, "Japan's Need for Re-Asianization," Foresight, April 1991.

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  • Yoichi Funabashi is a diplomatic correspondent and columnist for the Tokyo daily Asahi Shimbun. This article was adapted from the forthcoming Japan's International Agenda, sponsored by the Japan Center for International Exchange.
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