chapter  19
22 Pages

Prime Ministerial Leadership in Japanese Foreign Policy

T he role of leadership is one of the perennial questions thatpolitical scientists have discussed back and forth in coundess treatises. At the one extreme are scholars who argue that leaders do not count for much in foreign policy. A classical case is that of J. David Singer who, in a seminal article, argued that the international system so shapes and constrains policy that individual policy-makers can have little impact (Singer 1961: 77-92) At the other extreme are scholars and analysts who find that the importance of foreign policy decision-makers exceeds that ofany other factors in determining foreign polic~ (Shapiro and Bonham 1973: 147-174) For those who hold that the policy-maker matters, it is also an open question whether it is the role that is of decisive importance or whether it is the political leader's personality that has the greatest bearing on foreign policy. Those who emphasize the role argue that the leader is but a representative who reflects the views and beliefs of the constituency he represents. Famous is the dictum that 'where an individual sits in the process determines... the stand that he takes. (Halperin 1974: 17) Those who find it impossible to disregard the impact that personality has on the foreign policy enacted by the decision-maker argue that it matters whether it is one politician rather than another who is in charge. In an

empirical study of succession in democracies, as well as in socialist countries, Valerie Bunce demonstrated that the election of a new leader means that the policy implemented by the government is affected and she concluded, 'Who rules does indeed make a difference: (1981: 256)

The problems characterizing analyses ofleadership are also to be found in descriptions ofJapanese foreign policy. On the one hand are those who claim that Japanese foreign policy has been characterized by a singular lack ofleadership. In his memoirs, for instance, Henry Kissinger characterized the style of Japanese leaders representing their country internationally as 'understated' and 'anonymous' (1979: 324) and Gerald Curtis once described Japan's foreign policy as 'essentially defensive and reactive and characterized by pragmatic responses to international developments as they unfold'. (1979: 22)

On the other hand, the view that leaders have had an impact on the formulation and execution ofJapanese foreign policy also has vocal proponents. After studying the negotiation process that resulted in Sino-Japanese normalization in 1972, Haruhiro Fukui concluded that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister participated actively in this process on the Japanese side, while all other cabinet members were almost completely shut out of the decision process. According to Fukui, it was abundandy clear that it was the Prime Minister who had played 'the first fiddle' in this case. (1977: 100)

The most common vie~ however, is reflected in the claim that, while some leaders have demonstrated leadership, most have failed to do so. Frank McNeil, a long-time observer of Japanese politics, remarked in a recent analysis: 'The conventional wisdom among Euro-American observers, and among many Japanese as well has been that Prime Ministers lack leader-ship. That judgement reflects insistence on defining leadership in Western terms - as a charismatic or, as in the case of Truman, a take-charge type. In those terms only Yoshida, Kishi, and Yasuhiro Nakasone fit the bill. (1993: 37) McNeil's view is similar to a conclusion that Watanabe Akio drew in 1977 from his comparative study of US and Japanese foreign policy decision-making. According to Watanabe, most Japanese premiers failed to exert leadership in foreign polic~ Only Yoshida Shigeru, who governed as Prime Minister during eight years after the Second World War (1946-47, 1948-54), and Hatoyama Ichiro, Prime Minister between 1954 and 1956, could be said to have exerted leadership, according to Watanabe: Yoshida

earned his reputation for leadership during the negotiations for the peace treaty that was concluded in 1951, while Hatoyama showed that he was a leader during the negotiations with the Soviet Union that resulted in the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1956. (1989: 83)


As hinted at by McNeil in the passage quoted above, the answer to the question of whether Japanese Prime Ministers have demonstrated leadership in foreign policy hinges on how leadership is defined. One problem for any study of leadership interpreted is that the concept itself is elusive. (Blondel 1980:9) As pointed out by Lewis J. Edinger, one of the foremost scholars of leadership, a troublesome problem for anyone searching for generally acceptable working definitions of political leadership is that studies associate it variously with such concepts as power, influence, command, authority, and control in confusing, if not contradictory terms. (Edinger 1990: 510) Chong-do Hah and Frederick C. Bartol noted in a review article of studies of political leadership that such studies have almost exclusively been concerned with 'leaders', and thus, with the drive of certain individuals to assume leading political roles. (Hah & Bartol 1983: 100)

Basically, there are two approaches to the definition ofleadership to be found in the literature. One is the positional approach: leaders are defined by the position they occup~ A leader is a President, Prime Minister, chairman of political part)', etc. The other type of definition is behavioural: leaders are defined by the actual and effective part they play. It seems reasonable to state that it is not the position as such that constitutes leadership, but the behaviour associated with the position. 'Indeed', Jean Blondel has noted, 'a moment's reflection shows that titles and positions are means ofacquiring leadership, or sources ofleadership: they are not leadership itself: (1987: 11) A leader is someone who influences a group whether or not he or she happens to be formally at the head ofthat group. This is captured in Robert C. Tucker's description of leadership 'as a kind of activity that leaders seek to perform in their capacity as leaders.' (Tucker 1981: 13) One definition of political leadership explicidy linking position and behaviour has been presented by Edinger, according to whom it can be defined as 'a position or - in the language of the cognitive approach to role analysis - the

location of an actor or actors in a group, characterized by the ability of the incumbent to guide the collective behavior of this group in the direction of a desired authoritative distribution of values in a political community.' (1972: 217) According to this definition, the core of the concept is not the position but the behaviour associated with it.