Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Diplomacy to meet the requirements of national interest and alliance
NISHIKAWA Megumi  / Journalist

March 19, 2015
Japan finds itself in an era where it requires a high degree of diplomatic prowess to ensure that its national interest and its alliance relations are coordinated and the right balance is struck between them.

The immediate question confronting us is Ukraine. Russia's incorporation of Crimea as its territory drove the United States to lead the sanctions against Russia. As Russia lent its support to the pro-Russian forces in East Ukraine, the sanctions were gradually stepped up. However, the European Union decided on sanctions somewhat looser than those of the United States, and Japan has taken even lighter, pro forma sanctions.

 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been deepening his relations with President Putin, bearing in mind the need to break the stalemate on the territorial issue with Russia. The pro-forma sanctions are indicative of the diplomatic dilemma of Japan trying to find its bearings between the conflicting demands of "maintaining the relations with Russia" and "acting in concert with allies".

 Though it has become less apparent since the recent toughening of North Korea's stance, the issue of the abduction of Japanese nationals has caused Japan to take a somewhat nuanced approach to North Korea, compared to its allies. In spring last year, when North Korea expressed its readiness to re-investigate the facts on Japanese abductees, albeit with certain conditions, Japan and North Korea were drawn a little closer. South Korea, for its part, expressed its concern that Japan was putting its national interest first and neglecting the overall interest (i.e. the nuclear and missile issues).

Any country can face the dilemma between national interest and alliance, depending on the developments on the international scene. However, the country that comes up in my mind is Germany, because it is similar to Japan in terms of the circumstances under which it has found itself. Defeated in the Second World War, both Japan and Germany were "special countries" whose loyalty to their allies was a matter of keen concern to the international community.

 Germany is in a delicate position with respect to the Ukraine issue. It depends on Russia for 35% of the natural gas it consumes every year, and German businesses invest 20 billion Euros in Russia. Chancellor Merkel is making energetic diplomatic efforts to find areas of convergence in the conflict between the West and Russia. She herself must be conscious that caution is required lest her efforts be regarded as Russo-German collaboration.

Since the Euro crisis erupted, Germany has been accused of "putting Germany's national interest first and neglecting the interest of the alliance".
Without heeding the plea of Southern European countries for a growth strategy, it provided support only in exchange for their commitment of adherence to the rules on fiscal discipline. This was based on German's own bitter experience of hyperinflation, but appeared to others to be a "self-centered obsession with its national interest". Grievance has been building up among them over the fact that Germany's supremacy as the sole economic winner has been sustained by its exports to the EU member countries. They argue, "Germans should consume more and boost their domestic demand."

 Germany is stubborn, to be sure. But, in fairness, those criticisms are somewhat excessive. At the same time, underlying these excessive criticisms is some wariness about "Germany beginning to go it alone" or "Germany beginning to forget its loyalty to its allies". This is something that Japan should not fail to notice. Japan and Germany sought regional hegemony in the Second World War, and became loyal allies of the United States in the postwar years. However, if their actions should give rise to suspicion about their loyalty to their allies, excessive criticisms could be mercilessly heaped upon them.

 In post-Second World War years, Japan linked itself directly with the United States and built its alliance relationship. In contrast, Germany was incorporated into the structure of European integration, and has been linked with the United States not directly but through the medium of Europe. Whereas Japan has had to depend totally on the United States for its security, Germany has had a wider range of political and diplomatic options because of its vantage point in Europe. What demonstrated this clearly was the difference in the Japanese and German responses to the Iraq War in 2003. Germany, together with France, strongly criticized the United States. Japan, for its part, went ahead to "support" the United States. The differences in the sense of distance from the United States and the regional settings in which they are placed were manifested in this contrasting stances toward the United States between the two countries which otherwise share a lot in common.

It would be unrealistic to talk about Japan distancing itself from the United States in the current tough security environment of East Asia. At the same time, the Northern Territory issue with Russia and the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea are too important to be left simmering. The domestic public opinion in Japan calls increasingly for the resolution of these issues. What is needed now is to stretch the limits of the possible to find ways to meet the requirements of cooperating with the United States and of protecting Japan's national interest. This has to be done without playing into the hands of those who voice the alarmist propaganda about "Japan going it alone" or "Japan disregarding the postwar regime".

Megumi Nishikawa is contributing editor of Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト  

2015年 3月 19日










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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Diplomacy to meet the requirements of national interest and alliance