Ten years after the Cold War ended, we are moving toward the 21st century. In the past decade, the international community has been trying to catch up with fast changes and to establish a viable theory for creating a new order. However, drastic changes in the world have made it impossible for human wisdom to catch up with reality.

In the Cold War era that lasted half a century, theory stayed ahead of reality. The East-West confrontation of the Cold War era started when the Soviet Union sought world hegemony on the basis of communist ideology. U.S. diplomatic expert George Kennan proposed that Western nations pursue a coordinated policy of containing the Soviet Union to win the Cold War. In the past decade, experts have been trying in vain to formulate a theory, comparable to Kennan’s in viability, for creating a post-Cold War order. U.S. political scientist Samuel Huntington’s theory of cultural conflict attracted wide attention, but most experts agreed that it contained many logical faults and was far from viable.

There are signs that diplomatic relations and the international order being developed depend on nations sharing the same value systems, especially with the United States. Diplomatic relations are controlled not only by value systems, but by a combination of value systems and national interest.

By intervening in the Kosovo conflict last spring, Western nations paid greatest attention to human-rights abuses in the region. Russia and China opposed the Western position. After the conflict ended, however, Russia supported a U.N. Security Council resolution that permitted the deployment of NATO-led peacekeeping forces in Kosovo. China abstained. Russia thought it was in its national interest to join NATO in the peacekeeping activities and to avoid a suspension of Western financial aid to the country. China pondered its national interest, especially its economic interest and relations with Russia.

Most countries attach greatest importance to their economic interests. In making policy judgments, countries consider policy effects on economic development and the limits of public patience in addition to value systems.

Western countries condemned the Russian military intervention in Chechnya, especially the human-rights abuses. Russia and China objected to Western nations intervening in domestic affairs on the basis of Western values. Both Russia and China, however, were careful to avoid a total rupture with the West, recognizing that aid from Western countries and international organizations, and trade with the West, were essential to their national development.

There are a few problems with the development of diplomatic policies and the creation of an international order that are based on value systems and national interests.

First, value systems are not clearly defined. Even if they are equated with democracy, human rights or market economies, the definitions of those terms differ from country to country and from time to time. Another question concerns the universality of the U.S. value systems.

Second, one aspect of national interest involves national sovereignty, independence, culture, territory, people’s lives and properties, all of which are more or less constant. Another aspect concerns economic benefits, conflict resolution, domestic issues and political stability, all of which are changeable. The concept and priority of national interest is a policy issue, and it is far from easy to obtain a national consensus on it.

Third, the conduct of nations could be influenced by international relations based on common value systems and national interests, rather than by traditional alliances. The raison d’etre of alliances could be called into question.

Policy is a means to pursue the national interest. Diplomacy pursues the national interest in foreign relations. If international relations are influenced by value systems and national interest, their clear definition is essential to diplomacy.

In Japan, however, there is no consensus on value systems and national interest, and this makes it impossible to establish a framework for diplomacy.

When the Group of Eight foreign ministers met late last year, Western nations refused to hold bilateral talks with Russia to protest the Russian military intervention in Chechnya. Only Japan held talks with Russia.

At that time, officials of the Japanese government and the Liberal Democratic Party debated ways of announcing the Japanese position on the Chechnya issue. Some officials argued that Japan should support Western nations and condemn human-rights abuses in the region; others contended that Japan should consider its national interest and attach greater importance to solving its territorial dispute with Russia over the Northern Territories. Japan eventually adopted the latter opinion, which was advanced by LDP lawmakers.

Japan lacks an established basis to judge value systems and national interest in the policymaking process. This has sometimes caused confusion in policymaking.

The international community is likely to undergo even more drastic changes as it approaches the 21st century. We must consider Japan’s future while keeping in mind theories for establishing the international community’s basic framework. It is essential that we have a clear recognition of value systems and national interest to establish the nation’s security and diplomatic policies.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.