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IA-Forum interview: Professor J A A Stockwin

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IA Forum: The Japan-U.S. alliance is crucial to the security of Japan, while the U.K.similarly relies heavily on cooperation with the United States. What are the similarities between the two relationships?

Prof. J A A Stockwin: The similarities between the two countries and their relationship with the U.S. emanate from the Cold War, and from the strategy of 'containing' Communism. In the post-Cold War world, there is still some similarity in that both Japanese and British Governments overcame widespread doubts to send forces to Iraq.


IA-Forum: And the differences?

Prof. Stockwin: Historically, the biggest difference comes from the fact that Japan was defeated by the US in 1945 and was then occupied by the Americans, while Britain was an ally in WWII and then supported by the US through the framework of NATO etc. A further difference is that for very understandable reasons, most notably constitutional restrictions, Japan pursued a minimal defence strategy during the Cold War, whereas
the UK was prepared to engage in forward defence.

In the post-Cold War world, the security approaches of the two have been to an extent converging, and interestingly in one sense the Iraq war has shown almost a reverse of the two countries' positions, with there being more protests in the UK over the country following George Bush into Iraq than there were in Japan.


IA-Forum: The Center for International and Strategic Studies last year released a report titled "The US-Japan Alliance: Getting Asia Right through 2020." In it is a suggestion that the Japan -U.S. alliance be strengthened, with Japan to be treated like a Britain of East Asia. What are the biggest obstacles to achieving this?

Prof. Stockwin: The first thing to remember is there has been a significant strengthening of the Japan-US alliance over the past decade, in terms of interoperability of systems, and following the U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation Guidelines of the late 1990s, which gave Japan expanded responsibilities under the Mutual Security Treaty. So this has been going on for quite a while.

But there is an obstacle, and I think it is quite a serious one, and that is surely the policies and record of the present US administration. The Iraq expedition has turned into a disaster that has alienated much opinion within the US, and naturally this is alienating opinion in Japan as well. This may well change in two years when the US will have a new President, no doubt with different policies, and who is more able to restore confidence in American foreign policies.

On the Japanese side we have the paradoxical phenomenon of an unusually nationalistic Prime Minister, whose policies are in some ways increasing Japanese subservience to the US. I think it is a paradox, and I wonder how long it can last. A lot of how long it lasts will depend on what happens in the United States.


IA-Forum: The current U.S. administration has come in for a great deal of criticism for unilateralism and its conduct of the "war on terror." How much influence can a Japanese leader have on a U.S. president?

Prof. Stockwin: I suspect that the influence a Japanese Prime Minister can exert over a U.S. President depends on who the two of them are. The present situation seems inauspicious for any such influence, both because Bush is now a lame duck (though thrashing around violently in the mud) and Abe is probably little inclined to seek to change his policies. But with a President and a Prime Minister of a different stamp, various kinds of influence are conceivable. One relevant question though is how far a U.S. President takes Japan seriously by comparison with China.


IA-Forum: A fundamental difference in the security strategies of the U.K and Japan is that the former is an nuclear weapon state while the latter is not. British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently caused some controversy with the announcement of plans to renew Britain's trident nuclear deterrant, while Some Japanese politicians have called for an
open debate about the possibility of Japan acquiring its own nuclear capacity. Can you see Japan moving toward acquiring its own nuclear deterrent? And what are the differences in terms of the debate in the two countries?

Prof. Stockwin: I can imagine Japan doing so, but I think the balance of probabilities is against this, since at the deepest level public opinion would be unlikely to accept it. This could obviously change if something catastrophic happened in relation to North Korea, for example. But I think the North Korean regime is actually quite realistic, in a sense, and that it is not going to actually dispatch any weapons on Japan because I think Kim Jong Il knows that would the end of his regime. So I think with North Korea it is quite theoretical.

China obviously is another issue, though we're talking about the much longer term there. But Japan cannot afford to try and match China.

I realize there is the logic of deterrence. But in either case it hardly seems plausible that a Japanese nuclear weapon would afford it any protection against either country, if those were seen as the potential enemies.

The biggest difference in the debate in the UK is that Britain has had nuclear weapons for over 50 years, whereas for Japan it would be a new departure.


IA-Forum: The European Union is widely considered as having been a linchpin of European stability and security. Can you envisage a similar, Asian, grouping ever coming into being? And if so, what role could Japan play?

Prof. Stockwin: I'd have to say categorically no, because the circumstances of the two regions are so very different. The European Union was formed as a means of preventing the recurrence of Franco-German warfare, which had occurred repeatedly since the nineteenth century. Those wars were about which state should be the dominant power in Europe, so the essential feature of the EU is that no state is dominant. This is
entrenched in the way the system is organized, and provides for a considerable merger of sovereignty, though without getting rid of nation states, as such.

In East Asia, it seems inevitable that China will be the dominant state, and the secret of successful regional arrangements will lie partly in the accommodation of China and partly in the evolution of China itself. It is difficult to imagine either China or Japan merging sovereignty in any really serious fashion. Japan will remain an extremely important player, but will be best served by low key foreign policies.

Another major, ongoing question in relation to East Asian regionalism is how far the United States would want to be part of it.


IA-Forum: What have you found to be some of the more interesting similarities and differences between the political systems in the two countries?

Prof. Stockwin: There are some interesting similarities, but also some important differences. One similarity is that there was quite a bit in common between the Thatcherism of the 1980s and the market-oriented economic policies of the Koizumi governments between 2001 and 2006. More broadly, Japan's formal system of government itself is in many respects modelled on the British system – the 'Westminster model' – with a cabinet government and so on, and is not based on the American model. This is surprising given American involvement in rebuilding the country after the war.

But Japan has departed from the Westminster model in several respects, with one of the clearer ways being the power of the bureaucracy in Japan, which has had a lot more influence than it did in Britain. Another difference has been the single party dominance in Japan, whereas the UK does not find it strange to have a change of party in power from time to time. The parties do not necessarily alternate in power, but they sometimes change places.

Another difference in the UK from Japan is that there is a serious divide between north and south in terms of voting behaviour. Britain's Conservative Party is stronger in the south but is hardly present at all in Scotland. This is very different from Japan, where the divisions electorally are between big cities – Tokyo, Osaka –on the one hand, and the much more conservative countryside. But it is not really regional.

Interestingly, in recent years Japan can perhaps be seen to be moving more in the direction of the Westminster model once again. For example, the power of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has been strengthened while the factions are weaker than they were, though of course important 'Japanese' features of the system still remain.

But the biggest similarity now is that there is widespread disillusionment with politics and politicians. Of course that is not confined to Japan and the UK, but it has become extremely obvious in these two since during the 1990s. I think in Japan it has owed much to politics being very confused in the 1990s, and the impression often was of politicians all playing games and not really doing anything.

And now you see a large proportion of the population say they do not feel aligned to any particular party. That is fairly new, and wasn't really the case in the 1980s.

There have been times when there has been enthusiasm for a particular leader – Koizumi was very popular and got people interested. But that is more in relation to the political leader than the political party, and it was not enthusiasm for the LDP.


Professor J A A Stockwin is Emeritus Fellow of the Nissan Institute at Oxford University and author of the books 'Dictionary of the Modern Politics of Japan' and 'Japan- Divided Politics in a Growth Economy.'

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