chapter  6
37 Pages

Japanese diplomacy after the Cold War


For Japan, the end of the Cold War was sort of a “double defeat.” First, its bubble economy burst and it found itself in a long recession. Second, it badly mishandled its response to the Gulf Crisis and War. However, it successfully managed the Cambodian peace process and peacekeeping operations there. Moreover, it was able to redefine the Japan-U.S. alliance having overcome the Okinawa incident of 1995 and the crisis in the Taiwan Strait in 1996. The 1997 Asia financial crisis also struck, but Japan contributed a great deal of funds to help the region overcome it. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Japan greatly expanded its international security role by dispatching the SDF to the Indian Ocean and Iraq. At the same time, Japan has had to deal with a dangerous neighbor, North Korea, seeking to develop nuclear weapons and advanced missile technology and is facing the challenge of a rising China. The decade after the end of the Cold War saw on the one hand the ending

of the bipolar system of the Cold War period that historian John Gaddis paradoxically called the “Long Peace,” and on the other the coming of a period of rapid change filledwith crises and challenges. This international fluidity has not changed even after the start of the twenty-first century, nor is its direction clear. When evaluating current events, there are of course no declassified official documents on which to base one’s judgment. Moreover, the facts behind events are not even known with certainty. Similarly, when writing about current affairs, there is the problem of simply compiling a chronology of events, seeking to avoid misinterpretations by steering clear of analysis. But a danger also exists in making premature evaluations, rushing to interpret events whose outcomes are still uncertain. Aware of both challenges, this chapter discusses Japanese diplomacy and the international changes following the end of the Cold War, offering where possible tentative interpretations. The decade after the Cold War was also the last decade of the century. For

Japan, it was not a particularly good time. Indeed, it has been called the “Lost Decade” due to the inability of Japan to get out of the quagmire of the recession in which its economy, which Japan had in the 1980s boasted to be the strongest in the world, found itself after the bursting of the bubble. The political morass matched that of the economy. The year the Cold War

ended, 1989, corresponded to the year in which the Showa Emperor died,

ushering in the Heisei Era. It was also the year in which the foundations of LDP’s long hold on the reins of government began to weaken, leading to the eventual end of the 1955 system. The Takeshita Noboru cabinet, which took office in November 1987 and had looked like it would be a stable administration following the long Nakasone cabinet, fell due to the Recruit stocks-for-favor scandal. The Uno Sosuke cabinet also fell quickly after that, this time due to a personal scandal of the prime minister concerning a former lover. Following these scandal-related political upheavals, the Kaifu Toshiki cabinet was formed in August 1989 and political reformers within the LDP would push their agenda until the LDP itself broke apart in June 1993. Calling for further reforms, Ozawa Ichiro left the LDP and established

another party. His and other political groupings, including the Socialist Party, cooperated in having Hosokawa Morihiro installed as the first non-LDP prime minister in thirty-eight years. With this, the 1955 system ended, as did the LDP’s predominance. The voters had strong hopes that political reform was going to occur, but in the end, a new sustainable political system or structure to replace the LDP and Socialist Party did not emerge. Instead, the 1990s saw nothing more than confusion and political realignments surrounding rebuilding an LDP-led system or one centered on other parties. After the Cold War, Japan faced international criticism for its inability to

respond appropriately to the Gulf crisis and war. This does not necessarily mean that Japanese diplomacy after the Cold War was also a “Lost Decade.” While it is true that the poorly performing economy cast a large shadow on the decade, it is necessary to examine the successes and failures of Japanese diplomacy more objectively during this time.