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

Universal Values and the Survival of the Nation
OKUDA Norihiro / Special Advisor to the Minister for Foreign Affairs

April 18, 2023
More than a year has passed since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As a member of the Western camp sharing the so-called universal values, Japan has supported Ukraine from the beginning and participated in the economic sanctions against Russia. It would be best if Russia failed so that its invasion of Ukraine would not result in setting off China to invade Taiwan. For that purpose, it is a matter of course for Japan to cooperate with the Western nations. However, the shifts in international affairs pertaining to this war seem to signal the need to contemplate deeply the relevance of the universal values to Japan’s long-term course for the future, beyond the short-term profit and loss considerations regarding its national interest. There are several lessons to be learned about this from the current situation.

1. Supporters of the universal values are in the minority.
The leading countries of the so-called Global South do not view the war between Russia and Ukraine as an ideological battle between right and wrong. The reluctance of the Gulf oil-producing countries to respond to the request of the Western nations to increase oil production is a case in point, and they are reacting pragmatically. Perhaps, a more critical issue is the growing influence of those countries that do not adopt the universal values on which the Western countries pride themselves, such as freedom, democracy, respect for basic human rights, and the rule of law.

2. The era of pre-established harmony in the international order is coming to an end.
The Western countries have so far expected that promoting globalization through economic neoliberalism based on the pillars of free markets and free trade will not only serve one’s own economic interests but also lead to the global expansion of the so-called universal values, thereby helping build the Western-led international order in pre-established harmony. The approval of China’s WTO participation and the extreme dependence of European countries on Russian gas resources were probably also signs of such expectations. However, no one can depend on such expectations any longer. Each nation will have to secure its means of survival amid the increasingly unstable international order. In such a situation, can we afford to be preoccupied with universal values?

3. Justice comes at a cost.
Ukraine’s desire to join NATO may not have been a direct cause of Russia’s invasion. But the US and other NATO countries have continued their diplomatic activities, believing that it is nothing short of justice to accept Ukraine into the Western camp in the future, even overriding Russian objection. We need to consider here that if it is righteous to choose universal values such as freedom, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, and if it is just to welcome a country that has made such a choice into the Western camp, it may come at the cost of tremendous sacrifice. Now how much should we sacrifice in order to realize justice?

4. It all starts with the will and capacity to fight for survival.
This is something that we feel acutely in the current situation in Ukraine. This may seem to be an obvious truth, but we should pause and think hard about it in Japan, where the painful outcome of the Pacific War has long left the strong influence of the advocacy of unarmed neutrality and absolute pacifism. I am talking about the truth that if the Ukrainian side did not have the will and capacity to fight against this Russian invasion, there would not have been the tragic loss of lives and economic damage of war that we are currently witnessing. Would we say that is fair enough? I would say, “We want to survive in the future, but we also want that future to be worth living for. How can we truly live without the will and capacity to fight for it?”

Now assuming that these are the lessons to be learned, where should we begin to take specific actions to ensure Japan's survival toward a future worth living for?

First, it is necessary to review the position we have taken on universal values. Universal values such as freedom, democracy, basic human rights, and the rule of law are Western ideas brought in mainly through the US after World War II. It was not that difficult for Japan to accept these ideas, as we benefitted from them and enjoyed peace and prosperity. But the optimism we once had that this would inevitably spread throughout humanity is fading now. Are we still to maintain our commitment to these universal values? To what extent should we bear the cost of doing so? After a thorough deliberation of these issues, we should make our own decision regarding universal values.

Secondly, we need to get away from the tendency to believe in pre-established harmony, in which selfish motives for personal gain are guided by the "invisible hand of God" and automatically lead to the benefit of the whole, so there’s nothing to worry about. Similarly, it is also imperative to abandon the idea that everything will work out if we comply with existing systems, traditions, customs, and laws. Even the security partnership between Japan and the US and universal values may not work automatically to our benefit. We must constantly be ready to review our stance.

Thirdly, it is necessary to form as broad a national consensus as possible regarding these issues through thorough thrashing them out without taboos. For that purpose, protecting the freedom of speech and expression will become even more important within our country if we are to survive the coming era of turbulence.

In this way, we Japanese should understand that we have no alternative but to think, prepare, and secure the means for our own survival. To prevent a futile war, Japan must demonstrate to the world that it has sufficient weapons, manpower capacity, and a security system in place to defend itself.

Norio Okuda is a former ambassador to Egypt, Canada, and Saudi Arabia. This is an edited version of an article the author has contributed to the Fall 2022 issue of Arab Quarterly titled “Unnecessary Realization of Universal Values – Japan’s need for a thorough discussion about the state of the nation”)
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

奥田 紀宏 / 外務省参与

2023年 4月 18日

1. 普遍的価値観の支持者は少数派である

2. 予定調和的な国際秩序形成の時代は終焉を迎えている

3. 正義の実現にはコストがかかる

4. 全ては生存の為に戦う意思と能力に始まる






筆者は元駐エジプト、カナダ、サウジアラビア大使。本稿は筆者が季刊アラブ2022年秋号に寄稿した「必然ではない普遍的価値の実現―日本は国の在り方 徹底議論を」の短縮版である。
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Universal Values and the Survival of the Nation