Despite its current problems Japan still wields huge economic power. But the country should reject an appeal to use that clout to rebuild the international order. It ain't broke...by David Howell / January 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
Books on Japan’s overwhelming economic power and influence-and how it should be deployed for the sake of a better world-read a bit oddly at the moment. Japan is everywhere described as “the sick man of Asia.” There is worried speculation as to whether its battered financial sector will recover or whether the whole system is about to implode, dragging the rest of Asia-and possibly, the global economy-down in the process. Yet this is probably a passing nightmare. A shrunken or stagnant Japan will still represent a huge slice of the world’s wealth; the concerns of Ron Dore and other experts about Japan’s international role will remain valid.
Dore’s central wish for Japan-which he understands better than almost any Englishman-is that it should develop “a UN-centred foreign policy.” He does not mean that it should cut its ties with the US, but that it should reorder them. Japan traditionally judges its external affairs by their effect on its alliance with the US. Dore wants this habit replaced not by anti-American bravado-let alone by an attempt to lead some kind of Asian bloc-but by a policy of confident co-operation between Japan and the US in order to build a better and stronger UN.
These are noble ambitions. To justify them, Dore first has to make the more general case for a strengthened UN organisation as the most effective path to a peaceful and stable world. So this is really two books in one, encompassing Dore’s beliefs about an evolving UN-centred world order and his assessment of Japan’s role within it.
Dore cannot be faulted for his analysis of Japanese feelings, in all their complexity. But he is adrift on the wider issue of how the world now works. Dore is an old-school internationalist. He believes that the answer to narrow nationalism is a higher layer of government to attract the loyalties of the world’s citizens. But counterpoising the “realist” (nationalist) and “idealist” (internationalist) views in this way takes no account of the different pattern of co-operation between states which is now emerging.
Nation states are not clinging woodenly to their old habits; nor are they being dissolved by the pressures of globalism from above and localism from below. They are changing their shape: from the familiar pyramid bureaucracy to a widely dispersed network of agencies, executives, semi- and non-state bodies. They are also changing their international connections, from state-to-state alliances or…