Challenge 2001 - Japan's Foreign Policy toward the 21st Century

January 4, 1999

The following proposal was submitted to Foreign Minister Masahiko Koumura by:

Prof. Takashi Inoguchi, University of Tokyo
Prof. Shigeki Hakamada, Aoyama Gakuin University
Prof. Masayuki Yamauchi, University of Tokyo
Prof. Shinichi Kitaoka, University of Tokyo
Prof. Susumu Yamakage, University of Tokyo
Prof. Ryosei Kokubun, Keio University
Prof. Akihiko Tanaka, University of Tokyo

   A new century - the 21st century - is just around the corner. Amid the uncertainties in the aftermath of the Cold War, our task is to design and build by ourselves a new world order suited to this new century

   What are the challenges for Japan's foreign policy toward the 21st century? At the threshold of a new millennium, it is most opportune for taking a fresh look at the Japanese diplomacy from a long-term perspective. The following is our proposal on its general direction.

1. Objectives of Japan's foreign policy

(Objectives of Japan's foreign policy)

   In discussing the challenges for Japan's foreign policy toward the 21st century, let us first begin with setting forth its objectives.

   What are the goals of our foreign policy or what are the national interests to be pursued through diplomacy? In the core of such interests is to ensure security and prosperity of Japan and the Japanese people.

(Engagement as a global player)

   Security and prosperity of Japan cannot be achieved without stability and prosperity of the international community. As discussed in the subsequent sections, globalization will form an ever-more irreversible and massive current in the 21st century, and interdependence across national borders will grow deeper in all areas. The way for Japan to secure its national interests amid this trend is to develop and present ideas and act as a global player in pursuit of stability and prosperity of the international community.

(The vision that should be presented to the world)

   The vision that Japan should present to the international community as a global player is "building a world where people can count on a better future."

   The 20th century, that has seen the two world wars, was not only a "century of development" but also a "century of lessons." We must draw upon these lessons and make the forthcoming century a "century of hope" for the Japanese people and for humankind as a whole. The vision presented by then-Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto at the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1996 - "creation of a better world for future generations" and working toward that goal by making the world "a more stable, prosperous and comfortable place to live"- is still appropriate as we turn toward the 21st century. Now our duty is to choose the path to realize this vision.

   Freedom, democracy and respect for basic human rights are the central principles that have propelled Japan's post-WWII development and are now being widely shared throughout the world in the aftermath of the Cold War. Promoting broader acceptance of these principles is one way of ensuring a better future. Development assistance, including poverty alleviation, and conservation of the global environment will also help these principles permeate the world.

   It should be equally emphasized that various values and cultures based on the historical background of each country and region must coexist. The well-being of humankind in the new century will be attained only through promoting better understanding of and generosity to different values through international and inter-regional dialogues. Having developed its own unique culture while respecting universal values, Japan - both as a leading country in Asia and as a global player - ought to be able to reach out the world by addressing this idea in a steadfast manner.

(Japan as a credible nation)

   As Japan pursues its goals and visions through foreign policy, it is essential that Japan be a credible nation. As cited in the Constitution of Japan, "We desire to occupy an honored place society." It should be kept in our minds that enhanced credibility of our foreign policy will enable us to achieve our national interests and move forward the international community along with our ideas in pursuit of more stable and prosperous world. To be a credible nation, we must fulfill such basic requirements for a nation as maintaining policy coherence and taking responsible actions as a nation. There is a compelling need, as discussed in the following sections, of an overall review of the basic stance of Japan and Japanese foreign policy without being bound by the past.

2. Japan's foreign policy and the international community at the turn of the century

(Japan's foreign policy in the 20th century)

   In searching for a direction of our foreign policy in the 21st century, let us first touch upon the path of Japan's foreign policy in the 20th century.

   Japan emerged as a member of the international community following the Meiji Restoration at a time when power politics was prevailing on a global scale in the latter half of the 19th century. In its struggle for survival, Japan strived to catch up with the Western countries and, at the start of the 20th century, emerged as one of the world's major powers in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War. Japan also expanded its diplomatic spheres, including to the League of Nations. The history proved, however, its subsequent policy mistakes, which prompted the country to pursue further development through rapid expansion into neighboring regions and to turn to armed force to resolve the problems it confronted.

   Japan's reconstruction from the devastation following the Pacific War was based on our deep reflection upon its preceding policies. Japan abandoned the notion of resolving international conflicts by force and decided to pursue world peace and stability through diplomatic efforts with an emphasis on the United Nations. Japan entered into security arrangements with the United States of America as the main pillar of its defense policy, while building its own minimal necessary defense capability. While ensuring its own security and a stable international environment through these measures, Japan placed its first and foremost priority on the pursuit of economic development in the principle of market economy. In the political sphere, Japan has embraced democracy as its fundamental principle.

   It goes without saying that Japan, as a result, has achieved remarkable economic development and become the world's second largest economy. Simultaneously, Japan, with its economic and technological strengths, has played an active role in various areas including development assistance, through which it attained high reputation and gained trust of the international community. Japan's influence at the political stage has been also recognized, for instance, at the United Nations and G8 Summits.

(The international community and Japanese foreign policy at the turn of the century)

   In this way, Japan's post-war foreign policy has provided the foundation for the secure and prosperous lives of the Japanese people. The end of the Cold War has dramatically reduced the risk of war on a global scale. Democracy, basic human rights and other values have been gaining universality. Amid these favorable developments, we are now entering into the 21st century. The core of Japan's foreign policy, including the Japan-US security arrangements, that has brought security and prosperity to the Japanese people, should be maintained over the next century. Yet, in light of the new trends and emerging challenges, Japanese diplomacy must embody a new perspective in order to address them.

3. Three major trends toward the 21st century

   What shape will the international community take in the 21st century?

   The future remains uncertain. Difficult as it may be for anyone to foresee the exact shape of the international community that surrounds Japan in the 21st century, we could recognize major trends in the international community that would govern the general direction of the international relations in the coming century. These trends will be discussed from political, economic, and security aspects.

(1) Political transformation: Diversification of national power, actors, and issues

(Diversification of sources of national power)

   National power, which underpins a nation's foreign policy, derives from various factors, including military strength, economic power, technology and culture. In real international politics, military strength continues to play an important role as the last resort in maintaining and restoring order. Since the end of the Cold War, however, the role played by other types of power has grown in relative importance. With international cooperation weighing more in maintaining order in today's world, persuasiveness matters more to win the support of other countries in forging a favorable international order.

(Diversification of actors in international relations)

   With advances in information technology, people exchange information more freely across national borders via the Internet and other media. Progress in the means of transportation facilitates traveling. Against such backdrops, international networking is taking place at various levels in today's world. Diplomatic authorities are not necessarily the only actors engaged in international relations. An increasing influence of non-governmental actors on the international relations cannot be overseen as shown in NGO's active roles in such areas as antipersonnel landmines and global warming.

(Indivisibility of internal affairs and foreign affairs)

   Distinction between international and domestic affairs is becoming less rigid, exposing internal affairs to the scrutiny of the entire world. In the economic arena, for example, with the unification of markets on a global scale, it is market players, regardless of their nationality, that evaluate a nation's policies. As the number and seriousness of issues that have global impacts like environmental issues increase, domestic policies inevitably become subject to international consideration. Thus, the long-standing principle of non-interference in internal affairs is likely to be challenged more frequently.

(2) Economic transformation: globalization

   The ongoing process of globalization has given a new impetus to worldwide economic development through expansion of trade and investment. Globalization will continue as a major, irreversible current as we foresee further consolidation across borders, inter alia, growing interdependence among nations.

(Chain reaction of crises)

   Rapidly deepening of interdependence in the global economy and the rise of huge private-sector capital has also created a systemic risk that cannot be solved by individual countries. The Asian currency and economic crises, the recent Russian economic crisis and their immediate effects on the global economy have demonstrated the extent of such a risk. A crisis that occurs in one region can no longer be contained within that region; rather, it reaches every part of the system instantaneously.

(Repercussions of globalization)

   The intensification of worldwide competition accompanying rapid globalization brings about losers and dropouts of the competition, not only in developing countries, but also in industrialized nations, which poses as a potential social destabilizer. There is also a growing sentiment against market principles which are seen as ignoring humanity, cultures and traditions and an emerging resistance to the imposition of global standards by the markets. Our task is to secure economic benefits of globalization from counter-productive backlash against this trend.

(3) Security transformation: diversification of threats

   Armed conflicts between nations have posed the biggest threat to the lives and security of people in the international community. The collapse of the Cold War structure has dramatically reduced the possibility of a global-scale war. However, military conflicts on a smaller scale as well as other kinds of threats to the lives and security of people are increasing and endangering even our daily lives.

(Diversification of actors of threats)

   Given the uncertainties in today's international politics, there will continue to be a threat of conflicts between nations. In addition, there is a growing need for international efforts to address unconventional types of conflicts such as ethnic conflicts within nations. There are also new types of threats such as terrorism, backed by non-government entities without any tie with a particular nation, which cannot be adequately addressed under existing frameworks.

(Diversification of means of threats)

   There is now a growing awareness of the need to control various "means" of threats, ranging from weapons of mass destruction to conventional weapons. As shown in the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan and the missile launch by North Korea, the danger of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, biological and chemical weapons) and their delivery means has been rather intensifying since the end of the Cold War. It should be also noted that conventional weapons such as antipersonnel landmines and small arms, that have not been internationally controlled to date, have become a major factor to escalate conflicts and to expand damage, particularly in civil wars.

(Diversification of nature of threats)

   Threats in today's world can no longer be measured simply by their military capability or power to physically blow others. Such threats as environmental destruction, infectious diseases, refugees, illegal immigration and international organized crime have become increasingly serious global problems that threaten people's lives across national borders, and thus require international cooperation.

4. Changes of Japan and its foreign policy

   What direction is Japan heading amid these international currents?

   Amid the diversification of threats, Japan is facing a mounting uncertainty, as in the increasing danger of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

   However, what is more important for Japan is that the direction Japan is to take is now being questioned.

   Japan, with its economic strength, has kept a certain degree of influence in the international community. It is now apparent, however, that its economic growth will reach its limit if Japan takes its existing systems for granted and fails to make reform efforts. Our concern that Japan's relative position in the world will no longer go up is even more real as other individual or groups of countries, riding on a tide of globalization, achieve further development. This is all the more likely in light of the difficulties such as a falling birth rate and aging population that Japan will face as a mature nation.

   Since Japan continues not to rely on military strength as a means of securing its national interests, it is important to bear fully in our minds the relative change to Japan's position against the international match ground, to identify the sources of national power, which underpins its foreign policy, and to take necessary actions.

5. Three challenges for Japan's foreign policy toward the 21st century

   As the international community searches for a new order amid these currents and Japan faces the test of changing it at the dawn of the 21st century, the role of foreign policy for people's living is weighing more.

   What are the challenges for Japan to achieve its diplomatic objectives amid these new currents? This section, in its attempt to give general directions to be followed by Japan, outlines three challenges: enhancing the "total strength of foreign policy", "national power", and reinforcing "diplomatic frameworks."

Challenge 1: Enhancing the total strength of foreign policy

   With internal affairs and foreign relations becoming more closely interlinked, a nation's internal affairs and its domestic systems, that have been regarded as the matters of national sovereignty, are now subject to requests of the international community. To conduct foreign policy under these circumstances, its total strength is required more than ever. The challenge is to enhance people's interest in foreign policy, to consolidate public opinions, and to implement foreign policy with public support. For this purpose, it is necessary to strengthen privately-funded policy research institutes, to promote research at universities and other institutions of higher education, to provide more opportunities for public discussion on foreign policy, and to build a system to fully reflect these recommendations in policy-making process.

   In the United States, for example, the World Affairs Council holds a network of almost 80 organizations which enables citizens to participate in debates on foreign affairs. On this front, Japan's efforts are far from being called sufficient. We need to design frameworks for boosting public debates on and understanding of foreign affairs.

   In this relation, a so-called "track 2" dialogue, a dialogue whose party consists of both intellectuals from the private sector and government officials, should be utilized more frequently.

   Furthermore, partnership between the government and NGOs/NPOs should be built in other areas than development assistance, where such ties have been traditionally strong, while developing the ways to listen to a broader range of people, including labor unions, consumer groups and business circles. In promoting such ties, the question of the accountability of the NGOs/NPOs has to be also addressed.

   On the other hand, the government is required to demonstrate its total strength. Through close inter-agency coordination and consultations, the government must conduct its foreign policy in a body for the interest of Japan as a whole.

Challenge 2: Enhancing national power that supports foreign policy

(Review of national power)

   There is no question about the need of our efforts to achieve steady development of the Japanese economy and doing our best to overcome the current economic difficulties. Given that another leap is hard to expect if our foreign policy dependent on economic strength remains unchanged, we must reconsider where we should find the sources of our national power that would support our diplomacy.


   First comes technology. As a pillar of economic strength, technology is counted as one of main sources of national power. The correctness of Japan's policy, having sought development through its technological advantage, should be recognized once again. To keep expanding the world economy, steady progress of science and technology and sharing of such technology on a global-scale are indispensable. As one of the few countries that can fulfill this mission, Japan must devise a national strategy for the development of science and technology to move forward technological frontiers without a break.


   Japan must cultivate its ability to design systems and rules that could serve as global standards. In the area of development, Japan advocates for a comprehensive approach for the solution of conflicts and poverty, the idea that was agreed upon at the Japan-initiated Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) and has just begun to take root. Japan is also trying to embody the concept of "human security" to the effect that human existence and dignity must be secured from various threats including environmental issues and poverty by strengthened and comprehensive measures. We also need to deliberate on frameworks to address issues associated with globalization, including currency problems, and to strengthen and expand the horizon of our intellectual contributions in various areas such as food and energy, which are expected to become more serious issues in a longer term.

(Renewed recognition of a nation's responsibility)

   Now is the time to ask ourselves once again the fundamental question - what should a nation do to ensure the security of its citizens? There should be an open discussion on the role of a nation in ensuring the security of its citizens, to avoid falling into such extreme arguments as interpreting a dispatch of the Self-Defense Force units to rescue Japanese citizens from areas of conflict as a resurgence of the Japanese militarism. In light of the importance of world peace and stability to the security and prosperity of Japan, we must also discuss what concrete measures we should take in order to further strengthen our contribution to international efforts to resolve conflicts. Through these discussions, it is necessary to remind ourselves the grounds of foreign policy, that is, maintaining policy coherence and taking responsible actions as a nation.

Challenge 3: Reinforcing diplomatic frameworks

   To address numerous new challenges that the international community faces today, we must endeavor to strengthen frameworks of international cooperation. A scope of the efforts should not be limited to improvement of existing frameworks but be expanded to establishment of new frameworks. Considering the major trends in the international community, the following elements are important.

(To build a secure world)

   One of the most critical countermeasures to diversifying threats would be to take a comprehensive approach that encompass all stages of conflicts from prevention to resolution.

   The first step would be to redouble our efforts in control and reduction of all kinds of weapons ranging from weapons of mass destruction and their delivery means to conventional weapons, while taking a comprehensive approach that covers controls both on weapons themselves and transfers of relevant goods and technologies. The measures to counter conflicts must also address all stages of conflicts through preventive diplomacy to cope with poverty and other social problems that lie at the root of conflicts, response to actual conflicts, and post-conflict reconstruction.

   The conventional approach that centered on self-defense and peacekeeping activities is no longer sufficient in coping with ethnic conflicts, which differ in nature from international conflicts in a traditional sense. It is necessary to give serious consideration to building of a new effective framework. The movement toward early establishment of an international criminal court aimed at impartial and appropriate handling of a serious case of violation by an individual against the international code is a positive step in this direction.

   In order to ensure faithful observance of international law and to enhance trust in international legal structures, it is important to strengthen the international judicial system in general.

   Japan must also take the initiative by designing and building appropriate frameworks of international cooperation vis-a-vis various threats. From this perspective, it is necessary to build frameworks at various levels according to purposes, including a dialogue framework of Japan, the US, China and Russia, a framework of these four countries plus the ROK, and North Korea in addition, and a framework of like-minded countries intended to form core agreements to be widely shared in the international community.

(To build a prosperous world)

   What comes next is the challenges of globalization. The Bretton Woods system, established on the basis of the lessons learned from the process of entering into World War II, brought unprecedented prosperity to the post-war world through ensuring stable currency market, liberalization of trade and investment and development assistance. However, the system needs reviewing in terms of the systemic risk and serious social impacts, that globalization, a symbol of the system's success, is ironically causing. To build a system that makes utmost use of the strengths of market economies and addresses new challenges, it is necessary to consider a wide range of issues, including ways to ensure stable currency markets, propriety of controls on short-term private capital, modality of international support for the countries facing crises including IMF conditionality, measures to strengthen such support, and restructuring of international financial institutions.

   Japan should try to better reflect its views in the activities of international financial institutions by increasing contribution to these institutions and other measures. Japan should also consider establishing a regional monetary fund to respond flexibly to currency and financial problems in Asian countries. Another important task would be to play a leading role in developing new international economic rules, for instance, under the World Trade Organization and to promote Japan-made rules to global standards.

   Meanwhile, social problems arising from intensified competition must not be overseen. We need to help emerging economies through technical assistance for modification of the pace and sectorial balance of liberalization in those economies as well as support for webbing a tight safety net for the socially vulnerable.

   Globalization has prompted the process of EU integration and emergence of euro as a major competitor to the dollar, currently a sole international currency, so to speak. Under these circumstances, there is an urgent need that Japan consider how to respond to these situations, including the possibility of making the yen more international.

6. Strengthening means to conduct foreign policy

   In actually responding to these challenges for the 21st century, Japan must strengthen its means to conduct foreign policy and make beneficial arrangements for itself.

(Securing a voice)

   First of all, it is important to secure our voice in international frameworks. It goes without saying that Japan should participate in international decision-making processes that could affect its course. In this connection, the importance of reforming the United Nations Security Council and Japan's attaining a permanent seat in the council is apparent.

   By taking the initiative to build new international frameworks in addition to strengthening our voice in existing international organizations and frameworks, Japan should be able to secure its position as an active player in the international arena.

(Official development assistance)

   The role of ODA as a means of achieving our diplomatic objectives remains critically important. Under the tight fiscal conditions, it is urgent that we formulate ODA policies with strategic minds unrestricted by the conventional thinking so that we can maximize the effectiveness of ODA.

(Human resources)

   It is essential to develop human resources, throughout political, bureaucratic and business circles, capable of expressing their opinions and taking actions in the international arena as well as carrying out research that supports such activities. Human resources development through, for example, reinforcement of private research institutes and promotion of parliamentarian exchanges must be encouraged more than anything. While we cultivate the human resources at home, we should send more Japanese staff to international organizations including the United Nations.

(Strategic public relations policy)

   As the relative weight of persuasiveness as opposed to forcefulness in international politics increases, aggressive public relations strategies must be developed. The growing importance of extracting the target information from a flood of information as well as sending out the proper messages at the proper moment by the proper medium to the proper target. Systematic involvement of media strategists into the policy-making process is also necessary.

   To introduce Japanese culture abroad and to promote understanding of Japan by the general public overseas should lead to stable relations with other nations over the long term. Strategic policy-planning is required in this area as well.

(Organizational strength)

   Finally, it is necessary to strengthen our diplomatic infrastructure and systems while ensuring their efficient and effective use. In comparison with other nations' situations and in terms of our vision of the Japanese diplomacy in the 21st century, much needs to be done. We learned from the Gulf War and the seizure of the Ambassador's Residence in Peru that there is a compelling need to further develop and strengthen a crisis management system. Japan must also strengthen its structure to support diplomatic functions in such areas as collecting and analyzing information broadly and accurately as well as utilizing it fully and swiftly in overall policy planning.

7. Conclusion

   It is not an easy task to steer Japan's foreign policy as the 21st century approaches. We, however, would be able to present the principles that will guide Japan's foreign policy as follows.

   Total strength of a nation will demonstrate itself only when our foreign policy is conducted on a solid domestic foundation. It is necessary for the government to take leadership in presenting ideas and gaining national supports and to develop mechanism of absorbing and summing up public opinions.

   As a member of the Asia-Pacific region, Japan places the very axis of its foreign policy in the relations with this region. Our special interest and responsibility in fostering a stable environment in this region must not be forgotten. Our first priority is to develop relations with Asia-Pacific countries and to promote regional cooperation, while maintaining cooperative relations with the United States - our most important partner with common values - as the cornerstone of our foreign policy. To give credibility and validity to such diplomacy, we must have a foresight and a strategy that take into account the linkage between Asia and the region beyond it, as shown in recent development of Eurasian diplomacy.

   No more than ever has Japan's leadership in diplomacy been so seriously called for. Japan, as a global player, has to take the lead in achieving "a world where people can count on a better future." It is important, therefore, to further deliberate on the challenges in line with this proposal and to lead to concrete policies in the future.

Back to Index