GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Death of Japan’s independent foreign policy on the Middle East
Paper Proposal Text :
Japan’s policy toward the Middle East has been formed mainly based on the two principles of economic interest, mainly to secure the oil supply, and Japan’s being an ally of the US. These two principles have often contradicted each other during the recent past, especially after Japan’s shift toward a pro-Arab policy in 1973. Since then, until 1991, or more obviously until 2003, Japan followed a dual policy path; one being policy dependence on the US, and the other being pursuit of its own bilateral diplomatic relations with Middle Eastern countries (the independent policy). In the latter path, Japan pursued its own economic interest, mainly in Iran and Iraq, where the US had less direct access in the 80s.
Japan’s independent policy in Iran and Iraq, however, was set back after the Gulf War in 1991, when Japan found it necessary to follow the US-led military operations. This can be explained by an analysis of the actors, as Shinoda (2006) argues. The policy shift was stimulated by a change in domestic power relations among the actors in Japan, especially due to the Ministry of Defence starting to play a greater role in security decision making after the end of Cold War.
In addition, the role of business actors in decision making should also be focused on. The independent policy toward the Middle East had been encouraged mainly by business circles and the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry (the former MITI), which represents business circles. During the 70s and 80s, MITI initiated diplomatic activities by sending missions to the oil-producing countries, sometimes despite the hesitance of Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
However, a simple analysis of relations among domestic actors such as ministries and business circles cannot explain the reason why private companies and METI became less interested in pursuing the independent policy after 2003. Neither can theory of US hegemony explain why Japanese business circles hesitated to participate in reconstruction projects in Iraq after the Iraq War, even though the reconstruction activities were promoted under the umbrella of the US leadership.
In this paper, I will highlight the complexity of the interest groups within each actor. In other words, the discrepancy between the school of independent policy and that of pro-US policy dependence can be seen not only between the administration and business circles, or among the ministries, but also between the local branches and main decision-making body in the same organisations.
The independent policy based on bilateral relations with the Middle East has been supported principally by the local branches in or those that have established direct networks with the Middle East states. The decline of the independent policy was the result of an absence of the strong presence of local branches in Iran and Iraq. In this sense, economic sanctions in Iraq played a crucial role in mitigating Japan’s independent policy, as Japan lost its connections with Iraq. Moreover, the Gulf war in Iraq and the IJPC problem in Iran forced the school of independent policy to lose its position and power in its main organization, being accused of the losses caused by these incidents. Thus Japan had no other choice but to follow the US-led postwar reconstruction in Iraq, denying the possibilities of establishing its own relationship.
The lack of viewpoint from local branches in policy-making could not be recovered even after the Iraq War. On the contrary, hostage incidents involving Japanese NGOs occurring in 2004 distorted the willingness of private companies to re-establish their local branches in Iraq. Travel to Iraq by non-government civilians was severely condemned by the regime as well as by the media, and thus the mood of self-restriction in launching activities in Iraq has prevailed among all non-government bodies. Being discouraged from creating local ties has therefore diminished Japan’s overseas advance to Iraq, either as an encouraging factor for an independent policy, or in line with the policy of following a diplomacy dependent on the US.
In this paper I will analyse the reason why Japan has lost interest in expanding its economic activities in the Gulf States after 1991, mainly in Iraq and Iran, and how this relates to the transformation of government policy.