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 rivalries to a vast disaggregated set of transnational connections-across borders and at many levels, governmental as well as non-governmental.
As Anne-Marie Slaughter argues in Foreign Affairs (November/December 1997), the nation state remains but evolves. Its agents meet their counterparts in a variety of task-forces to grapple in a practical way with the global issues which cannot be resolved at nation state level-from crisis control and crime to the environment; from the administration of justice to the regulation of competition and utilities.
This is what really happened in the Gulf, and again in Yugoslavia (as Dore concedes). Practical co-operation between nations, led by the US, delivered-in the end-the peace enforcement which proved beyond the reach and capacity of the UN.
The beauty of this process is that it remains accountable. It maintains the thread of legitimacy from the people upwards through the national legislatures to the transnational committees. It is no accident that the Commonwealth-founded on a strong respect for national sovereignty-is an increasingly popular and effective transgovernmental institution. Its wide network of both official and unofficial groupings addresses global issues in a manner which gives the member nations additional strength and status: this answers modern needs exactly.
Internationalists of the Dore school think that all nationalism must be sad and bad. He alights on Japan-which is looking for a new identity after decades of self-doubt and penitence-as the ideal candidate to take a lead in throwing out nation statehood and becoming a sub-branch of the movement for world government. But this neglects the need for the nation state, a need which is growing-not shrinking-in a world where values and loyalties become blurred and people grow confused and frightened.
Let the last word go to someone who might well be considered biased towards world government: Boutros Boutros-Ghali, a much underrated statesman, disgrace-fully treated by the blinkered US administration and unceremoniously pushed out of his post as UN secretary-general. In his annual report to the UN in 1993 he wrote: “The globalisation now taking place requires a profoundly renewed concept of the state. Between the isolated individual and the world there must be an intermediate element… This element is the state and its national sovereignty. They respond to the need of all human beings for identification. In a world both impersonal and fragmented, such a need is greater than it ever has been in history.”
The guiding thought for countries such as Japan, which have had bad experiences with nationalism, should be: “Pursue international aims through national means.” Perhaps there is a Japanese word for this. Ron Dore would know.