Monday, August 31, 2009

Impact of Japan's Populist Shift

I have lived and worked in Japan. Two of our children were born in Japan. I have traveled professionally and for pleasure throughout Asia and most recently have completed international business doctoral studies at Fudan University in China. I have walked Invasion Beach on Iwo Jima and climbed to the top of Mt Sarabachi as well as Mount Fuji. I have visited the home of a successful Japanese businessman that had his ancestors’ Samurai Sword hanging on the wall. This man did not speak English because that was the language of the enemy. Yet he demanded that his children learn English, because Japan was the greatest nation on earth, but was beaten by the United States so they were a worthy opponent. The most fascinating Japanese person I have met was Saburo Sakai, the naval aviator and ace. Sushi was a staple in our diet at home since the 1970’s, long before it became a popular food item in other parts of the world. I have had long conversations with sushi chefs in little hamlets outside of Hiroshima (one of which still was tested weekly for radiation levels as a nuclear bomb survivor). For almost a year I visited a construction site of a building being built for a U.S. enterprise by a Japanese firm, interviewing the principle engineers and his staff, and published several academic papers on my findings. All that being said, I am the first to say I am not a Japanese expert. From aimai (ambiguity) and amakudari (the nation’s descent from heaven) to haragei (literally, "belly art"; implicit, unspoken communication) and Wah (harmony), Japan defies easy explanation. Perhaps my sister who is fluent in Japanese and studied at Wasada University in Tokyo could be considered more of an expert, but alas this is my blog, so I will endeavor to offer my imperfect thoughts.

Japan, by the end of 2010 will no longer be the world’s second largest economy. That position will be usurped by China. Nearly a third of Japan’s population will be pensioners with government guaranteed benefits (although not at the same level as the EU and the U.S.), but with unemployment at its highest post WWII rates and the global economy trying to find its way out of recession, tax income will be lower to support those pensioners. Interestingly, like choices made in many other countries recently, the people of Japan have made a populist choice in their 2009 elections.

Most political pundits suggest no immediate changes in U.S. relations with Japan following the election of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and Yukio Hatoyama as Prime Minister.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that has ruled post-war Japan with little regard for other political influences is now in the loyal opposition seat. No matter what the potential policy changes, the DPJ will be flexing its muscles and the LDP will struggle in adjusting its processes to influence from the minority.

The DPJ has an aggressive domestic agenda that will keep it preoccupied in the short-term and if anything, will support U.S. National Interests by giving the U.S. some adjustment time as it continues to mend some of its own international bridges. Hatoyama’s populist agenda (clothed in a kamishimo of conservatism and a haori of traditionalism) will not look at all like the new populist agendas in Latin America (but should play well in Brazil, Japan’s biggest partner south of the Rio Grande). The U.S. should expect a shift and even a closer alignment with the Obama administration’s populist perspectives.

The first public outing that includes both the U.S. and Japan will be the G-20 Summit in the U.S. in September. The U.S. can expect a little push-back from Japan on U.S. global economic solutions that include expanded American-style free trade, but also some minor celebration of common ground and coalition building between both countries on a host of topics from medical system modernization, climate and environmental issues, and policies regarding common enemies.

On the issues of common enemies, over time the U.S. can expect friction from the DPJ on the housing and support of nearly 50,000 American troops on Japanese soil. The move of U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam, started under the LDP will accelerate and be completed before the 2014 deadline. The brunt of the cost ($6 billion of the $10 billion price tag) presently being born by Japan will be a topic of discussion and there will probably be an adjustment made to appease the DPJ. Hatoyama in his recent New York Times article suggests a shift in focus to closer alignment with China and South Korea, and other East Asian countries, but that a cornerstone of the Japanese security alignment will be its relationship with the U.S. In recent years, the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) has expanded its roles, while still maintaining the breadth and depth of its capabilities and operations as outlined in the Japanese Constitution. The world can expect the JSDF to continue to expand its multinational security operations as it expands the interpretation of its constitutional roles. Koizumi’s and Abae’s promises to amend Article 9 allowing Japan’s military to venture abroad will be set on the shelf for the time being. No actual revision of the constitution releasing the Japanese military from its strict self-defense roles is anywhere on the horizon.

Japanese relations with Russia, India, and Australia will also see a shift in focus. Hatoyama has vowed to find a solution to the long-standing feud over territorial disputes with Russia. Of course Russia is the present owner of what Japan wants back, so I see little movement there. Japanese and Indian interests continue to find common ground as India looks East and Japan expands its role in Asia. India’s concern of China establishing “too friendly” of ties with Pakistan and Bangladesh may accelerate Indian-Japanese relations. Free trade interests and raw materials fuel closer ties between Japan and Australia... although the accelerated expansions of the Yakuza and the 'Boryokudan' (the violent ones) into Australia have not helped matters.

Japan and the DPJ will be looking for more respect and a leading role in the international arena. Initially they will attempt to make good on their domestic election promises, but their international interests are closely connected to many of the domestic issues challenging Japan. U.S. national interests will not be severely tried with this change in the Japanese political landscape.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

U.S National Interest: Further Synthesis

The U.S. National Interest is complex and constantly in a state of transformation. Clues to this complexity are found in the American common identity. The concept of common identity is made up of shared values on the metaphysical level, norms as a manifestation of the general view of reality on the second level, and expressive symbols as a manifestation of specific theories, goals, and expectations. Each of these identity building blocks plays a key role in the subjective definition and perception of national interests, and as interpreters of events that impact the national interest. Shared values in the American common identity are the product of three metaphysical schools of thought, the noumenalists, naturalists and bridge builders. Through a selective investigation of some of the theories and theorists from these schools, we found that the actual shared values of the American metaphysic combine elements of all these theories, and that the overriding principle is to make the journey prove the end. The direct end no longer needs to be noumenalist or naturalist. Progress and anticipation of the future become the purpose of life. The ideal end may still be in contention, but as Unamuno explains, it is this conflict which unifies action—life! American norms reflect this important synthesis. Through investigation of the Federalist Papers, a clearer picture of these norms, and their impact on the common identity, forms. Distrust in man, but a generally optimistic attitude about his potential shines through. Although the nation has changed in many ways, America still manifests these characteristics in the Madisonian Model and in our “low stateness” and “low classness.” I then interject a caution concerning the fragility and balance of he common identity as a reminder of the importance of countervailing forces to progress and survival of our nation. Finally, through investigation of the Constitution, the importance, especially in America, of expressive symbols is highlighted. Through these three building blocks, the American common identity is defined to encompass progress in the maintenance and expansion of the open society, the requirement to continually grow economically to support a stable and increasingly liberal democracy, and the view of America as “the first new nation,” with all the blessings and responsibilities this implies. Even though there may be a variety of nations with the Nation, this only further highlights the binding element of the duality of soul inherent at every level of America and where all hold these truths inviolable.

With the common identity established, a general outline of the American national interest is built. By using Joseph Frankel’s national interest classification model and a concise case study of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, a clearer picture of U.S. national interests is presented and the linkages with the American common identity shine through. On the aspirational level, American national interests are first, to preserve and protect the Madisonian Model; second to preserve and protect the right to progress (in domestic political liberalization), domestic and foreign market economics, and democratization abroad to maintain our “great nation” status and position as leader of the “free world;” and lastly, to preserve and protect the right to self-actualization. On the operational level, stability becomes the key factor in the context of security, economic interests and political solidarity. Finally, by projecting this common identity synthesis toward the future, the potential for further synthesis and progress is bright. Friction between aspirational and operational interests in Latin America is increasing. The American will to apply aspirations to operational issues is highlighted in the push for substantive democracy for democracy’s sake, not as a means to another end (as it started out to be). As long as America can maintain some form of progress and synthesis and the people’s commitment remains strong, America will continue its great synthesis and national interest will maintain a predictable and stable course. The greatest danger to this process lies in the potential deterioration of the noumenalist counterweight to naturalism. With an overpowering naturalistic (and therefore, potentially valueless) society, the pivotal synthesis of the American experiment will cease and decay will eventually triumph.

A request came my way to clarify Joseph Frankel’s National Interest categories. Here are the characteristics of Aspirational and Operational Interests (Joseph Frankel, National Interest, 1970, pp. 32-33):

Aspirational Characteristics:
1. They are normally long-term interests
2. They are generally rooted in history and /or ideology
3. They command more attention from opposition free of the restraints of, and the preoccupation with, the tasks of governing then from the actual government. Within political parties they are concerned with ideological purity.
4. Even when they do not directly influence actual policy, they can provide purpose or direction, or at the least, a sense of hope
5. They need not be fully articulated and coordinated and they can be contradictory
6. They do not require a ‘feasibility study’ and are rarely if ever costed
7. They are determined by the political will rather than by capabilities—ideology is a strong determinant. The influence of power is ambivalent: while an ambition may be due to the people’s awareness of the power of their state, it can be likewise due to their awareness of their powerlessness and their escape into daydreams

Operational Characteristics:
1. They are usually short-term interests, capable of achievement within the foreseeable future
2. They often, but not exclusively, stem from consideration of expediency of necessity
3. They are the predominant concern of the government and /or party in power
4. They are used in a descriptive rather than normative form
5. Owing to the practical problems of implementation, contradictions among them are less easily tolerated than among aspirations
6. They are generally translated into policies which are based upon the assessment of their prospects of success and which can be at least approximately costed
7. The crucial variable in tier determination is found in capabilities rather than in political will. Hence the hypothesis can be advanced that classification of states by power is here more relevant than by ideology. It is likely that all small states, whatever their ideology, merely react to overwhelming international stimuli; with them policy is distinct from positive purpose
8. They can be systematically arranged into maximum and minimum programs, the former approximating aspirational interests. Such arrangement, however, depends upon systematic planning of foreign policy and rarely, if ever, actually takes place; only Soviet foreign policy in some aspects can be regarded as a reasonable example.