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Dissertation project David Adebahr (abstract)

Between simple bandwagoning and strategic partnership

Japan’s quest towards a more self-assertive security strategy since the beginning of the 21st century

(supervisor: Prof. Dr. Peter Pörtner)

The dissertation project will analyze, to what extend Japan’s security policy has emerged in the post-9/11-world, how policy perceptions and security agendas along with threat perceptions have changed and how those changes are included within a generalized security strategy. Due to the end of the Cold War and the bipolar system and the emergence of a more diverse international system facing various conflicts and rising regional hegemons, Japan’s security policy has changed to address new rising hegemonic influences. While during the Cold War Japan’s foreign policy was merely following a bandwagoning-strategy, allying with the U.S. yet in a more ideological and economical way than on a military stage, the neo-realist approach would have assumed the U.S.-Japan Alliance would have come to an end. Quite the contrary, the U.S.-Japan Alliance remained strong and – in fact – became even stronger within the following twenty years.

Therefore the dissertation project asks why those new threat perceptions have been integrated into Japan’s security strategy and how Japan is positioning itself in global scope with a more self-assertive security strategy. Further, the project examines how these perceptions have shaped the bilateral alliance during the first Obama administration, namely due to the U.S.’ shift to Asia in foreign policy, and how the Japanese security politics have changed under the DPJ.

Theoretical perceptions

Even though the well-recognized theoretical analysis of Daniel Kliman provides a more in depth analysis of Japan’s security policy after September 11th 2001, the neo-realist approach of his work is rather incapable of explaining Japan’s policy of continued allying with the U.S. after 1989. Since his (neo-)realist frame privileges structural constraints over agents' strategies as well as prevailing systemic determinants over any other relationships between state agents, the dissertation’s approach doesn’t follow realist IR theory in such a dramatic way.

Considering this problem, the dissertation project leaves the far too limited neo-realistic frame aside and focusses on a rather costructivist analysis of in-box factors such as regional and structural characteristic of the East-Asian security architecture. Further, instead of the neo-realistic frame of an ‘anarchic’ Hobbesian logic of the international structure, it may be helpful to include different options on how a system – in particular a regional system in East Asia – can be characterized.

In fact, unlike units, such as states, international organizations and regimes are actors within the international system with unlike capacities of influence, structural dependency, military deterrence as well as differing political, social and foreign agendas. Therefore, security policy is to be regarded as a product of decisions by governments and not only determined by systemic factors. Conflicts and rivalry in East Asia can be seen as threat complexes, that embodies conflicting settings of interlocking beliefs, ideas and perceptions on cultural and political identities and relations of enmity and fear and ideological hegemony. Even though a somewhat defined security dilemma exists – having no formal central authority within the international system makes it inevitable for state actors to maximize security capacities through continuous military build-ups, alliances or bandwagoning-strategies. States generate several basic interests of physical security (high politics) and the desire of differentiation from and the recognition by other actors (through interaction on fields, apart from security/high politics). Further, states aim for social and economic development the other, by which they differenciate themselves from each other, and they aim for predictability in relationships to the world, which creates a desire for stable social identities.

However, those in-box characteristics of units, i.e. states, within the international system should not be overrated. For, as constructivist suggest, if ‘soft factors’ such as cultural aspects would determine Japan’s security policy in 21st century, this explanation for instance would conflict with Japan’s entanglement in U.S. strategy interests’ following the events of September 11th 2001. Therefore, if the Japanese society is imbued with pacifist norms and rooted in a culture of antimilitarism, as some scholars following a social-constructivist approach suggest [such as Berger et. al.] – then how can the very same approach explain Japan’s recent shift to a more active security policy? Rather, Japan’s foreign policy has shown that certain systemic factors (such as fear of abandonment by the U.S., Chinas increasing security interests, as well as a potential nuclear threatening North Korea) are shaping Japan’s security policy much more than cultural factors.

Therefore the U.S.-Japan Alliance could be interpreted not only as a result of a given security dilemma in East Asia but also as a deeper connection that results in a complex structure of shared values and a similar view on potential security dangers. On the other hand, regime theorists would argue the U.S.-Japan Alliance is rather an issue-oriented, temporary coalition of two self-interested states who come together for instrumental reason in response to a specific threat. However, the over 50-year lasting U.S.-Japan security cooperation seems to be much more than just a “temporary, issue oriented” coalition. Thus, when analyzing Japan’s security policy within the past 20 years, a multi-level approach that considers systemic determinants combined with a constructivist’ in-box-approach considering ideas and (soft and high) politics seems inevitable.

Current state of research

Considering the political change of 2009 in Japan, the dissertation project also seeks to contextualize the Japan-U.S. Alliance in view of the 2011 announced Pivot to Asia by the Obama administration and its impact on Japan’s defense policy not only in East Asia but possibly on a global basis. While Japan’s security policy is relatively well researched, most studies fail offer a theoretical explanation in combination with a profound empirical analysis of internal political necessities and domestic constraints. The approaches that do offer theoretical levels analysis, such as the works of Daniel Kliman, too often rely on outdated or inadequate approaches such as realism and don’t concern regional regimes of co-operation at all. Since (neo-)realism only accept cooperation if a hegemon may induce other countries to cooperate and contribute to the supply of the good, this theory fails to explain US-Japan cooperation after the end of the Cold War and the importance of diplomacy and institutions for Japan’s foreign policy before and after 1990. Besides, Kliman admits that ‘Japan’s actual response to September 11th 2001 does not conform to hegemonic stability’s expectations’ – which leaves Kliman’s analytical frame too narrow and inadequate for a constructivist approach. [Kliman, Daniel (2006): Japan’s security strategy in the post-9/11 world. Embracing a New Realpolitik. In: Laquer/Spitler (Hg.): The Washington Papers. Westport/London: Preager].

Unfortunately, similar applies for Christopher Hughes’ works on Japan’s re-militarization [e.g. Hughes Christopher (2004): Japan’s Re-emergence as a “Normal” Military Power, Landham: IISS et. Lexington: Routledge] when he examines carefully Japan’s new security approaches in view of potential rising regional threats such as China and North Korea, yet fails to explain Japan’s long era of check-book diplomacy and its foreign policy relying almost exclusively on UN-led missions in the 20th century. This illustrates the need for a new approach when it comes to analyze Japan’s recent security policy.

The concept of gaiatsu (i.e. U.S. pressure, strongly emphasized by Kliman et al.) also doesn’t explain Japan’s increased participation in global security, nor does allying with the U.S. explain Japan’s different threat perception of Middle Eastern states such as Iran, or even justify the recommendations of the Araki Commission in 2004. Now, while some scholars tend to underestimate the impact of domestic policy on the international structure and view foreign policy as too determined by external factors, others such as Peter Katzenstein seem to overstate them. For a broader view on the topic, it might be favorable to follow approaches that examine Japan’s defense strategy in a broader context and without a too limited theoretical scope [such as Samuels, Richard J. (2008): Securing Japan. Tokyo’s Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia, Ithaca: Cornell University Press]. Even though Samuels is providing a profound analysis of Japan’s strategic options as well as of its domestic political conditions, he fails to set his results in a broader theoretical conceptualization. Finally, being published in 2007, Samuels doesn’t cover the U.S.-Japan Alliance during Obama’s first term.

Therefore, the dissertation project seeks to reduce those blind spots and tries to offer an analysis of Japan’s recent security strategy parameters in light of the U.S.-Japan-Alliance as well as considering domestic policy limitations by combining system level approaches with constructivist theory. The dissertation will combine systemic methods of political science with an area study approach along with instruments of Japanese Studies.

Levels of analysis

By using a systemic multi-level approach the dissertation project aims to clarify the principles and perceptions of Japan’s security policy in the 21st century and what agents are shaping this policy to what extent. In particular, how have Japan’s security interests changed since September 11th 2001 – not only within the U.S.-Japan-Alliance but also in shaping Japan’s very own foreign policy. (e.g. Japan’s establishing of an overseas military base in Djibouti, already indicates this shift.)

On a second level, the dissertation takes a closer look to whether there are any structural changes within Japan’s foreign policy since the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) took over the power in 2009 and if those potential changes are either linked to the DPJ’s domestic policy agenda, to gaiatsu or to changed threat perceptions. In showing how the quality of U.S.-Japan relations has been shaped during the past decade, the project will also research whether Japan’s security policy is predominantly influenced by the conditions of the (regional) system or by intentional (party-)political change. Therefore a comprehensive study of party sources along with interviews with policy decision-makers, Members of the Diet and the Japanese Ministry of Defense seems favorable. The qualitative and theory-based analysis of political sources would complement a quantifying study of Japanese foreign policy.

To clarify how the U.S.-Japan Alliance has changed after 2008 and to complement the theoretical and systemic approach the dissertation will focus on both primary sources from the Japanese government, interviews with members of the diet and secondary sources from Japanese and U.S. scholars to demonstrate how the U.S.-Japan alliance has changed since 2008. These sources will complement the theoretical and systemic approach unique to this dissertation project by using empirical and qualitative methods of analysis.