By Lionel Pierre Fatton
What the recent changes to Japanese defense mean in the context of a return to “normalcy.”
So is Japan now finally a normal country? The question has been asked and debated for about two decades, the answer quite naturally depending on the definition given to the concept of “normal country.” A first step to address this question is to approach it in reverse, asking why Japan was seen as “abnormal” in the first place. The answer lies in the contextual reality that surrounded the emergence of the debate on Japan’s “normalcy.”
That debate began with the end of the Cold War, which marked the most important systemic change in international relations since the Second World War. Ichiro Ozawa’s Blueprint for a New Japan, a book that pioneered the debate on Japan’s normalcy, was written shortly after the bitter experience of the 1990-1991 Gulf War. Mainly because of constitutional and other legal impediments, Japan was able to offer only financial support to the multilateral war effort against Saddam Hussein, aid that went almost completely unacknowledged by the international community despite the huge amount of money it entailed.
Ozawa’s book drew lessons from this experience and consequently called for the re-appropriation of Japanese politics by politicians at the expense of the slow and inefficient bureaucracy and for a more active role for Japan in international affairs, including through deeper participation of the Self-Defense Forces to U.N. peacekeeping operations.
Japan thus started being labeled “abnormal” because its legislation that framed the use of armed forces prevented the country from adjusting its foreign policy to a rapidly changing international environment and from playing an active role in the redefinition of the international order underway in the wake of the Cold War.
In other words, Japan was abnormal because of the discrepancy between the foreign policy tools at its disposal and the nature of the international system the country was dealing with. If a foreign policy almost exclusively based on economic power was judged adequate to cope with the relatively stable and slowly evolving East Asian environment during Cold War era, the early 1990s showed Japan that this policy could rapidly become outdated in the new, more flexible international environment. To return to normalcy, Tokyo had to find its place and redefine its role in the new international order, which implied a reorientation of its foreign policy and thus a diversification of the instruments for implementing this policy.
Read the full 2 page story at The Diplomat