The government’s decision to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission — and resume commercial whaling for the first time in more than 30 years — represents an extremely rare example of postwar Japan pulling out of a major international organization. The government says it made the decision because it judged it impossible for the nation to resume commercial whaling if it remained an IWC member any longer — after its latest plan to do so was voted down by the commission in September. With domestic consumption of whale meat now a fraction of its peak, however, it is doubtful whether whaling will be a commercially sustainable business. People involved in the decision need to carefully assess what the nation will gain — and at what cost — from this decision.

Following an IWC moratorium in 1982, Japan halted commercial whaling in 1988 and has since engaged in a research whaling program under the IWC auspices in the Antarctic and in the Northwest Pacific on grounds of collecting scientific data for resuming commercial whaling. Anti-whaling countries and campaigners accused Japan of engaging in commercial whaling in disguise, and, acting on a case brought by Australia, the International Court of Justice ordered Japan to stop the program in 2014, saying it was not scientific. The government then revised the program to resume scientific whaling.

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