Kazuhiko Togo, one of Japan’s leading strategic thinkers about foreign policy, wrote an article in the June issue of Far Eastern Economic Review calling for a moratorium on visits to Yasukuni Shrine. This article was then translated and reprinted in Ronza (August).
Togo argues that such a moratorium is essential for the national interest, especially in terms of repairing the critical Sino-Japanese relationship. The Yasukuni controversy highlights divisions within Japan about issues of war responsibility and the judgments at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.
Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits have alienated China and Korea, and nobody is convinced by his claim that he was paying his respects to the war dead to promote peace and harmony. This is because Yasukuni is a talismanic symbol of unrepentant militarism, especially given the vindicating and validating version of history presented at the shrine’s museum, the Yushukan.
Togo argues that Koizumi’s successor should demonstrate humility and take the first step toward rapprochement by declaring a moratorium on Yasukuni visits. This would create breathing space to promote dialogue in Japan about war responsibility and its shared history with Asia in the hope of reaching a consensus and moving forward on unresolved issues. China could also use this opportunity to reflect on its history education. Togo proposes transforming Yasukuni into a suitable venue for mourning the war dead rather than a place to learn about the worldview that led Japan into World War II. Rather than creating a neutral, secular alternative, Togo calls for “de-historicizing” the shrine complex, involving reconsideration of the enshrinement of “Class-A” war criminals, including his grandfather, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo. He also calls for establishing a museum for prewar history. This is an interesting “road map” out of the current impasse and is generating considerable debate.
In this tour d’horizon under review, Togo ably recapitulates Japan’s post-WWII foreign policy. This is must-reading for those interested in Japan’s policymaking involving the United States, China, Korea, Russia, the Middle East, Europe, Official Development Assistance and multilateral institutions. The narrative is spiced with side bars in which the author shares fascinating personal insights and experiences.
Togo is critical of his country’s “passive pacifism” and makes a case for Japan adopting a more “realist” foreign policy. His 34-year career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gives him a unique vantage to frame and critique vital policy issues. One of the many strengths of this compendium is his insider’s perspective on the policymaking process. We are taken behind the scenes of diplomacy and can better understand how certain outcomes emerged and others did not.
Japan’s worldview is changing. In the post-9/11 world, Koizumi strengthened security cooperation with the U.S. and broke many long-standing taboos by dispatching troops to Iraq, providing logistic support for U.S. troops in the Indian Ocean and agreeing to a missile defense system. These are the type of developments that Toho advocates, representing the fruits of the quest for a pro-active foreign policy.
Togo is keenly aware of the burdens of history and the constraints that these place on Japan’s posture. As a result, he believes that the foundation for a more assertive Japanese foreign policy must rest on historical reconciliation. He agrees that, “Japan has not yet found the discourse of reconciliation and harmonization,” but he seems optimistic about a rapprochement.
In calling for a more equal relationship with the U.S. and the building of a real partnership, Togo confides his concerns about the absence of true reciprocity and the Bush administration’s unilateralism. In his view, Japan has a significant stake in promoting multilateralism.
Since the first Persian Gulf War, Japan has struggled to become a “normal” nation, meaning one that assumes the burdens typically shouldered by members of the U.N. Security Council, including peacekeeping operations. Normal also means jettisoning the pacifism that Togo sees as preventing Japan from asserting and protecting its national interest. Japan, in contrast to Britain, has been punching below its weight due to constitutional restraints on its military.
He cautions, however, that “any significant revision of Article 9 would require not only the strong support of the Japanese people, but also the understanding of the international community, particularly for the neighboring countries.”
Toward the end of this thoughtful book, Togo states, “The effective implementation of foreign policy requires a correct sense of history.” He speaks of “windows of opportunity” opening and closing and thus the need for resolute actions at the proper time.
As he contemplates digging out of the hole Koizumi dug at Yasukuni by resuming summitry with Bejing, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should bear in mind Togo’s advice: “The responsibility that each individual is given at certain moments in history must not be taken lightly.”