Monday, April 7, 2014

Is Abe the Person shaping Japan’s Foreign Policy?

Japan has featured highly in the news in 2013-14 especially in its dispute with China over some uninhabited Islands. Japan’s prime minister is spearheading big changes in Japan’s domestic and foreign policy. This paper seeks to argue that Abe’s personal beliefs are being reflected in Japan’s foreign policy.


In the study of international relations, scholars have outlined many ways of looking at issues to better understand them, and Kenneth Waltz’s Levels of analysis are taught to all scholars in their first semester of International Relations (IR) study.

Waltz outlines three levels of analysis of foreign policy: The Systemic level which looks at the role of the international system as a whole; the national level which examines the role of the state and the individual level which focuses of the idiosyncratic nature of individual leaders in determining a  nation’s foreign policy.

Gerner in Neack et all (1995) explains Individual-level theories as those that  focus on decision makers ‘in order to understand how an individual's belief system, the way an individual perceives, interprets, and processes information about an international situation, and idiosyncratic personal attributes explain foreign policy choices.’ (p24)

For Jerel Rosati (Neack et al, 1995) Individual level foreign policy can be spoken of as a cognitive approach, an a approach rooted in Psychology and which posits that ‘individuals tend to be much more closed-minded due to their beliefs and the way they process information thus, they tend to resist adapting to changes in the environment. A cognitive perspective emphasizes the importance of examining the individuals involved in the policymaking process, for they are likely to view their environment differently.

Rosati then quotes Quincy Wright, who in his magnum opus, The Study of International Relations, proposed that psychology belongs at the "core" of International Relations as a discipline: "International relations cannot, therefore, be confined to intergovernmental relations and conclusions based on the assumption that they [i.e., psychological studies] fail to provide an adequate foundation for prediction and control. The minds of individuals who constitute the world's population, the influences that affect them, and the influences they exert, both domestic and foreign, must be taken into account by examining their minds" (1955, 433) .

History both classic and contemporary is awash of tales of leaders whose individual beliefs affected the way their nations or kingdoms dealt with other nations and for a more scientific of such leaders, Stephen Dyson in his 2006 study found, for example that how the erstwhile British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s ‘personality and leadership style did indeed shape both the process and outcome of British foreign policy toward Iraq.’

Douglas Foyle in his 1997 study in which he examined the personal beliefs of former American President Dwight Eisenhower and his Secretary of State John Dulles regarding public opinion might have affected the way they framed they conducted their foreign policy in reaction to the  September 1954 Chinese offshore islands crisis.

Holsti and Rosenau investigated the changes in foreign policy beliefs and perceptions of U.S. opinion leaders. They found that the elite foreign policy consensus (that saw communism as the single most important threat to U.S. interests) that existed during the cold war era was shattered during the Vietnam War. (Rosati, 1995)
Another example of personality studies was by Margaret Hermann. She researched on the personal characteristics of world leaders to determine the circumstances under which these will represent a significant influence on foreign policy decision making.

In a series of articles (e.g., 1978,1980,1984) as Rosati (1995) writes, Hermann examined leaders' operational codes or views of the world, political styles, interest and training in foreign affairs, conceptual complexity (sensitivity to the environment), and political socialization, as well as their constituencies and the functions they perform in relation to those constituencies.

All of these, Hermann concluded, need to be taken into account in order to assess leaders' impact on foreign policy.

Rosati traces the study of foreign policy linked to psychology back to the 1930s and particularly to the theories of Cognitive Consistency which included cognitive dissonance, congruity, and balance theories.

Writes Rosati: ‘The assumption behind cognitive consistency is that individuals make sense of the world by relying on key beliefs and strive to maintain consistency between their beliefs. Under Cognitive Consistency, Individuals maintain coherent belief systems and attempt to avoid acquiring information that is inconsistent or incompatible with their beliefs especially their most central beliefs. In other words, "individuals do not merely subscribe to random collections of beliefs but rather they maintain coherent systems of beliefs which are internally consistent" (Bem 1970, 13).’

And as Jervis concluded, "It is often impossible to explain crucial decisions and policies without reference to the decision makers' beliefs about the world and their images of others" (1976,28).

As much as personal traits are indispensable in the study of how leaders arrive at their foreign policy decisions, like many studies done in the past have shown, it is not possible to attribute only personal traits as the cause of the decisions.

Factors such as the role of domestic politics, external factors, public opinion, the complexity and gravity of decision to be made, the time available to make the decision all have to be factored in, after all government is not an a single block but an ensemble, thus for example studies on the American leaders’ policy decision during the Vietnam war have been criticised for being too simplistic. (Neack, 1995: Passim)

This paper will take an at-a-glance look at Japan’s prime minister and attempt to argue that his personal nationalistic views are being reflected in Japan’s recent foreign policy drives as exemplified in the issues of the East China Sea Islands dispute, his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine.

In view of the past studies that studies leaders traits, its simply impossible to know what those leaders are made of as its difficult to access them, their memoirs or close allies, as such in making postulations about Abe’s being it should be noted that the only material available for this paper was English and third party material which is obviously not enough to make a concrete claim on. Add in the fact that this paper uses no complex software that the other studies used to analyse leaders. However for scholarly argument, assumptions will be made on the little material that could be found.

Abe the person describes Abe as one born in a political family on both sides. “His maternal grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was a key military leader during World War II, serving as part of General Hideki Tojo's circle of advisers. Kishi was an American prisoner of war for three years but was released in 1948 and later favoured a strongly pro-American foreign policy even as he attempted to rebuild the Japanese military. He was Japan's prime minister from 1957 to 1960.”

Many already see Abe as a replica of his grandfather as Japanese Diet (legislature) member Katsuei Hirasawa told Bryan Walsh of Time: “Abe's beliefs and values are similar to Kishi's,” “He's inherited his grandfather's political DNA.”

His father's father, Kan Abe, served in Japan's House of Representatives, and his father, Shintaro Abe, was the country's minister of foreign affairs in the early 80s.  Even if he didn’t want, politics was likely to be part of him and foreign policy decisions stemming from his very house.

Abe’s first job in the government was in the foreign ministry and after joining government he never looked back or left government. He rose quickly and soon was named prime minister.

Abe as a nationalist

Japanese Communist Party Executive Committee Chair Shii Kazuo used the question periods in the House of Representatives Plenary Session (October 3, 2006) and Budget Committee meeting (October 6,2006),to question Abeover wide ranging policy issues[1] and his questions reveal a lot about Abe’s philosophy.

Shii is his grilling of Abe revealed that the Japanese governmentin the 1993 statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono Yohei, officiallyadmitted that “[T]he then Japanese military was, directly or indirectly,involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations andthe transfer of comfort women,” and that “[T]hey lived in misery atcomfort stations under a coercive atmosphere.”

Shii said the statement expressed “sincere apology and remorse” to the victims and resolved to prevent therecurrence of similar crimes through history education and on otheroccasions. He however said that Abe questioned the statement in 1997. Shii reported that Abe said the “Kono statement” has lost any justification and wentas far as to call for it to be amended.

This is one remote indication of what Abe thinks about Japanese history.

Shii also reported that in his policy speech Abe stated that he would “study individual, specific cases” to make it possible for Japan to exercisethe right of collective self-defence under the present Constitution.”

Japan currently has a constitution that does not allow it to start a war nor have a military that has potential to start a war. The pacifist Constitution was handed down to Japan following Japan’s World War aggression. The Highlight of the constitution is Article 9 in Chapter 2 which contains the forbidding phrase.

It reads: “Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized[2].”

Abe’s remarks as reported by Shii as far back as 2006 are now a reality as Abe has actually said overtly that Japan will review its constitution by 2020[3]. But in August 2013, Abe made a remark that reeks a lot of what he, as a person,wants; he said changing the constitution is part of his ‘historic mission.[4]

Abe is pushing for what he calls an “active pacifism” on Japan’s security front, where the nation “plays an active role in world peace and stability.” Abe has been quoted[5] saying he will push for a revision of the Japanese Constitution to be enacted and in force before the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics comes around. “By 2020, I think Japan will have completely restored its status and been making great contributions to peace and stability in the region and the world,” he said.

As much as sentiment in Japan is rising with people increasingly becoming more against the Article 9[6], but Abe’s remarks of it being a historical quest lead one to argue that even if opinion polls were in the other direction, he would not stop to push his agenda.

The newly-released position of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, a party Abe leads, for 2014 has reportedly[7] removed the “pledge never to wage war again”, which is vastly different from their stand just a year earlier. The updated draft of the party position added a new phrase, “… bolster veneration (for the war dead).”

The original draft contained a statement saying, “… (the party is) determined to uphold a pledge never to wage war again and the principles of a peaceful country.” Again, it points to the determination of either Abe or someone with more power than him pushing him to the right.

Shii, in his questioning, quoted from Abe’s book in which Abe argues for a Japan that has a full military. This was in addition to him expressing disgust at Japan having to stand as ‘onlookers when other foreign forces in Iraq are attacked?’

Another thing that came out of Shii’s questioning was the fact that Abe has supported the forcing of Japanese schools by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, into hoisting “Hinomaru” (Japanese flag) and singing“Kimigayo” (Japanese National Anthem).

Abe was also secretary general of the parliamentary group called ‘Diet Members League for Commemoration of the 50thAnniversary of the War's End”  and Shii quoted a founding statement of the group which said that it is the responsibility of those who work for national government to make clear their “fair understanding ofhistory." It also stated that Japan’s past war was a war for “Japan’ssurvival and self-defence, and for peace in Asia.”

As a secretary general, Abe obviously was influential and possibly a leader in drafting the founding statement and the fact that it was made 20 years ago shows how Abe views Japan’s history and explains his recent arguments on how the past should be viewed.

On December 31st Abe spent the New Year’s Eve watching a movie Eien no zero about a Kamikaze pilot, after the screening of the movie Abe told reporters he was ‘moved.[8]’ It might sound far-fetched but Kamikaze pilots are at the heart of the Japanese wartime history and his adoration of the movie speaks of his views of war time Japan.

Abe has successfully created a Restoration of Sovereignty Day[9], an annual event to mark the end of the American occupation, and the motives seem to be obviously nationalistic as the Japanese get to be reminded of the nation they once were…and probably support Abe’s plans to militarize again?

On January 14, 2014, Abe’s minister of education announced that the Senkanku/ Diaoyu Islands will be included in teachers’ manuals as Japan’s[10].

This is just fulfilment of a lifelong mission, Abe is on record to have helped sponsor an education bill initially entitled Love for One's Country[11] when he was not even prime minister. He, even in his early career, became deeply involved in the incendiary issue of how Japanese school textbooks talk about recent history, favouring a more benign, sanitised view of imperial Japan's past actions.

Hakubun Shimomura, the minister, revealed the information at a news conference, saying it is extremely important for children, “who are the future of Japan,” to know their country’s sovereign territory.

 The Senkakus, while controlled by Tokyo, is being disputed by China – calling them the Diaoyu Islands – and to a lesser extent, Taiwan, who refer to it as Diaoyutai. The Takeshima isles are controlled and administered by South Korea, which calls them the Dokdo Islands. South Korea also maintains a small police force in the islands.

This decision is more about foreign policy than it is about domestic education policy. By including it in the school manuals, Abe’s government is effectively saying that the islands are non-negotiably part of Japan.
Before Abe, the high school manuals made no mention of the Senkakus and this decision speaks a lot about Abe’s push as a believer in a Japan that he believes in.

Abe came to power with a 60 percent approval rating and has steered the economy to good positive figures in decades all of which some analysts have said, gives him berth to pursue his nationalistic agenda, a view echoed by Tisdall (2013) who writes: “Abe's initial success in boosting Japan's economic fortunes after decades in the doldrums, and the enormous damage caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, has proven a necessary precondition for advancing his autonomous global agenda.”

To prove that Japan’s current foreign policy agenda’s is uniquely Abe’s, it is good to look at the recent opinion polls in Japan.

Despite opinion in japan getting increasing inclining towards getting  full military by doing away with Article 9 and taking an assertive role in international politics, the majority of the polls still find that most people still want Japan to remain in its pacifist status quo[12].

The Wall Street Journal reported that support for a bigger military is driven in part by the dispute with China, as well as by a critical role the SDF played following the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster.[13] This only supports the long held argument that domestic politics influence, when Abe came to power he stayed away from visiting the Yasukuni Shrine and actually spoke of mending fences with neighbours.

At a gathering organized by actor Masahiko Tsugawa in Tokyo, Abe opposed the idea of building a new shrine away from Yasukuni to flee the war criminals that automatically get worshipped by anyone going to visit it. He said that bereaved families would not visit a new site, as Yasukuni is where the spirits of the war dead are. When Japanese soldiers went to battle during World War II, the slogan used was “Let’s meet at Yasukuni” after death. However, Abe did not make any comment about the proposed solution of “separating” the war criminals from the other war dead at the existing shrine[14].

In 2006 he published what became a patriotic bestseller, Towards a Beautiful Country, which was viewed as his personal testament. Abe argued that "class-A" war criminals charged by the Tokyo tribunal after the 1945 capitulation were not criminals under domestic law[15].

This shows how Abe believes in the war dead and their value and arguably the relevance of war?
Therefore, after steering the economy from troubled waters and winning a substantial approval, not even an income tax raise made much dent in his ratings; he then started to experiment with his long held agenda.

Despite little opposition at home, Abe cannot justify militarising Japan and it seems like his recent actions of rekindling territorial disputes and speaking of war time controversial topics is mean to anger its neighbours.
The trick worked, China stages a press conference at least every week to warn Japan, threaten crushing it and the Chinese media respond to each of Abe’s moves with all the publicity they can get.

For example, The Japanese consulate in Shanghai urged Japanese people in China to exercise caution, releasing an e-mailed statement noting a “strong anti-Japanese” tone in Chinese media reports. China's Vice Premier Liu Yandong cancelled a meeting with the Japan-China friendship parliamentarians’ union, Kyodo News reported, citing the Japanese embassy in China[16]. There were even riots earlier that saw Chinese people, apparently rallied by the media, attack Japanese businesses with vandalism.

As Tisdall writes: “China's threats over the Senkakus, its leadership's continued snubbing of Abe and Beijing's longstanding tendency to whip up anti-Japanese, nationalist sentiment to distract attention from domestic problems had served Abe well, in terms of propelling him into power and keeping him there, analysts and officials said.”

All this is fertile ground for Abe, who can now justify military spending increments and commission a full military by convincing the Japanese masses of the threat China poses, it’s all a game for Japan.

And Abe is not stopping at the disputed Islands, he is al out to poke at China, visiting almost all 10 ASEAN (Association of South-Asian Nations) member countries and trying to lure them away from Beijing a move Tisdall (2013) believes is an attempt by Abe to exploit the China Problem, were the rising of China is taken as a threat to its neighbours most of whom have territorial disputes with it.

 When a super-storm hit The Philippines in 2013, China initially offered $100,000 and Japan sent almost 1,200 troops to join relief efforts in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines along with three warships, 10 planes and six helicopters, in the single largest aid deployment by the country's military[17], effectively challenging China to a show of soft power.

The battle continues in Africa, after President of China, Xi Ping along other high ranking visited Africa; Japan’s Abe has also been visiting the continent making a rare visit there for a Japanese prime minister.

Abe wrote in his traditional New Year message that was posted on his website at the end of 2013 that: “Now is the time for Japan to take a big step forward toward a new nation-building effort,” and looking at his run, so far, a new nation he envision is that of a Japan with a military, fighting alongside allies like United States of America, not negotiating with neighbours over disputed territory and ready to defend them with war.

In summary, despite the ratings that Abe had, that would allow him to consolidate the pacifist nation and wave off the right wing sentiment, Abe went ahead, apparently unpressured to launch a foreign policy quest that can be explained more in terms of his personal views.

This can be calculated from his links to the earlier nationalists in his family tree and to his beliefs that Japan should not be reeling under the yoke of the constitution which yokes down Japan.

The moves are personal because polls from Japan show that the nation still wants to keep its pacifist constitution and the changes are coming only with Abe, who happens to have held nationalist beliefs from all along.

Asahi Shimbun (2013) Asahi poll: 54% against making constitutional revisions easier (Web article) retrieved 07/01/14 from URL:

Deborah J. Gerner, The Evolution of the Study of Foreign Policy in Foreign policy analysis: continuity and change in its second generation / Laura Neack, Jeanne A.K. Hey, Patrick J. HaneyPrentice Hall, 1995

CCTV, (2014) Abe is Moved by Kamikaze Film (News article): retrieved 05/01/14 from URL:

Ida Torres (2014) New LDP party position removes ‘no war pledge’  (web article) retrieved on 06/01/14 from URL:

Jerel A. Rosati (1994) A Cognitive Approach tothe Study of Foreign Policy in Foreign policy analysis: continuity and change in its second generation / Laura Neack, Jeanne A.K. Hey, Patrick J. Haney Prentice Hall, 1995
JCP Chair Shii questions prime minister’s policy (web article)retrieved 12/01/14 from URL:

John Hofilena (2014) PM Abe publicly declares need to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution

 John Hofilena (2014) Japanese government to include disputed isles in official teachers’ manuals (News article) retrieved 12/01/14 from URL:

Martin Fackler (2007) Prime Minister said Japan would not apologize (web article) retrieved on 02/01/14 from URL:
Public Opinion and Foreign Policy: Elite Beliefs as a Mediating Variable: Douglas C. FoyleSource: International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Mar., 1997), pp. 141-169Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The International Studies AssociationStable URL:
Stephen Benedict Dyson (2006) Personality and Foreign Policy: TonyBlair’s Iraq Decisions Appearedin: Foreign Policy Analysis (2006) 2, 289–306
Simon Tisdall (2013) Shinzo Abe: is Japan's PM a dangerous militarist or modernising reformer?(Web article) retrieved on 05/01/14 from URL:

The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation (2009) ‘Asahi Shimbun April 2009 Public Opinion Poll on the Constitution’ (accessed: 07/01/14) URL:  

Wall Street Journal (2013) As Tensions Rise, Pacifist Japan Marches into a Military Revival (Web article) retrieved on 07/01/14 from URL:

[1] JCP Chair Shii questions prime minister’s policy (2006) (News article):     - retrieved 12/01/14.
[3] RT (2014) (News article) ‘Japan to rethink pacifist constitution by 2020 amid rising tensions’ (accessed: 09/01/14)
[4] Torres, I (2013) (News article) ‘PM Abe says it’s his ‘historic mission’ to change Japan’s Constitution’ (accessed 11/01/14)
[5] Ida Torres (2014) (web article) retrieved on 06/01/14 from URL:

[6]The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation (2009) ‘Asahi Shimbun April 2009 Public Opinion Poll on the Constitution’ (accessed: 07/01/14)
[7] Ida Torres (2014) (web article) retrieved on 06/01/14 from URL:
[8] CCTV, (2014)Abe is Moved by Kamikaze Film (News article) : retrieved 05/01/14 from URL:
[9] Simon Tisdall (2013)
[10]Japanese government to include disputed isles in official teachers’ manuals (News article) retrieved 12/01/14 from URL:
[11] Simon Tisdall (2013) (Web article) retrieved on 05/01/14 from URL:
[12] Asahi Shimbun (2013) Asahi poll: 54% against making constitutional revisions easier (Web article) retrieved 07/01/14 from URL:
[13] Wall Street Journal (2013) As Tensions Rise, Pacifist Japan Marches Into a Military Revival  (Web article) retrieved on 07/01/14 from URL:
[14] John Hofilena (2014) (Web article) retrieved on 07/01/14 from URL:

[15] Simon Tisdall (2013) (Web article) retrieved on 05/01/14 from URL:

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