2013 Event

“Means and Objectives of Foreign Policy”Japan’s case story―since the end of WWII, the trajectory from a pacifist nation to a normal nation


Speech by Ambassador Kazuo Kodama at the City College of New York 26 February, 2013


Professor Braveboy-Wagner,
Distinguished Students of CCNY,
Good evening,


It is an honour and privilege for me to be given this opportunity to speak to you as the Ambassador of Japan to the United Nations. I have carefully chosen my lecture topic, mindful of you who are students of international politics and law. Today I intend to discuss means and objectives of foreign policy focusing on the post war diplomatic history of Japan.

Because I have been in the foreign service for the last 36 years―since 1976 (the year when few if any of you were born) ―I consider myself a very serious student of international politics and law by profession and therefore am delighted and honoured to discuss Japan’s case storysince the end of WWII and its trajectory from a pacifist nation to a normal nation.

But before I dive into this topic, let me start with a quote by Dr. Henry Kissinger, which I believe is directly relevant to tonight’s topic. He said, “Foreign policy must define means as well as objectives, and if the means employed grow beyond the tolerance of the international framework, or of a relationship considered essential for national security, a choice must be made.” He insists that choice cannot be fudged. He went on to say, “the best outcome in the American (or I would argue the same can be said in the U.N.) debate would be to combine the two approaches: for the “idealists” to recognize that principles need to be implemented over time and hence must be occasionally adjusted to circumstance; and for the “realists” to accept that values have their own reality and must be built into operational policies.” What does he have in mind when he makes this crucial point of diplomacy? When we apply this “principle” to the U.S. relationship with China for example, his position becomes very clear. He argues that “sovereignty is considered paramount” and any attempt “from the outside” to challenge China’s communist party dictatorship “is likely to involve vast unintended consequences.” He also maintains that the cause of peace is also a moral pursuit. Taking these two considerations together, it seems Dr. Kissinger is a proponent of the realist view that the stability and the cause of peace in the world are more important than anything else. Does this not mean that the US foreign policy objective of promoting freedom and democracy must be compromised in the case of China? And certainly, this is exactly what China itself maintains when  asked to support much tougher U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea, especially in the wake of a third nuclear test conducted by DPRK on 11 February 2013. Is it wrong for the U.N. Security Council to impose tougher sanctions against North Korea because it may contribute to the destabilisation of North Korea as well as the Korean Peninsula?     

Whether you agree with Dr. Kissinger or not, the real world is always confronted with such difficult choices. It is true that China’s socio-economic development for the last twenty years has been truly remarkable and was achieved without a liberal democracy. Yet, after 63 years since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, it must be admitted that China is confronted with such challenges as the corruption of government, environmental degradation and the gap between rich and poor. These issues are being identified as the most serious challenges confronting the new leadership under the newly-elected General  Secretary, Mr. Xi Jinping who is certain to become the next President next month.

Now, I for one argue that the very stability of China is at stake and its future will critically depend on how the Chinese government under communist rule improves the quality of governance to address these issues. Can they deliver on promises without altering their political structure? A big question will be what if an “Arab Spring” type movement transpires in China.             


(The Defeat of Japan in the Pacific War and the Post-War Transformation of Japan)

Now, let me turn to Japan’s case story―since the end of WWII, the trajectory from a pacifist nation to a “normal” nation.  

In 1941 Japan started a war against the U.S. and was defeated in 1945. It must be admitted that Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, and through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. Although the defeat and surrender of Japan was perceived as a cataclysmic disaster and humiliation, Japan ventured out into what has become known as the second “Kaikoku,” meaning the opening of Japan to the rest of the world.

Looking back to the beginning of the post-war transformation, there are several major elements which have firmly molded post-war Japan to date.
First, the most significant change from pre-war Japan to post-war Japan is the proclamation in the Constitution that sovereign power resides with the people of Japan and that the Emperor of Japan is the symbol of the State and the unity of the people (Article 1 of the Constitution).

Second are the firm guarantees by the Constitution of  fundamental human rights and equality under the law.

Third, Japan has made a very conscious decision in the area of its own security in the post-World War II era to never again use force as a means of its foreign policy to achieve whatever diplomatic objectives it has.  Article 9 of the Constitution strictly restricts the government’s scope of action, prohibiting the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. In security terms, this means the fundamental defence concept of Japan under Article 9 is to maintain an exclusively defensive posture and not become a military power that presents a threat to other nations. There is no doubt that an overwhelming majority of the Japanese people back then wholeheartedly embraced the words and spirit of Article 9, where, as I said before, Japan will never again use force as a means of its foreign policy to achieve whatever diplomatic objectives it has. To date, no other sovereign nation in the world has maintained such a principled position in its national security policy.  

Yet, we were also painfully mindful of the stark geopolitical reality that a pacifist Constitution alone could not guarantee the security of Japan. Hence in 1951 when Japan regained independence, Japan concluded the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty to rely on the Japan-U.S. security arrangements and accepted the deployment of U.S. forces in Japan including in the Okinawa islands, the southern-most area of Japan, in order to preserve the independence and peace of Japan.

Looking back from the vista of 2013, 67 years after the last war for Japan, this twin combination of pacifist constitution and Japan-U.S. security treaty served my country very well in ensuring its security as well as laying solid foundations for its emergence as the world’s number two economic power since the mid-1960s.


(“Economic Giant but Political Dwarf”)

In the late 1970s, however, the international community started to look at Japan with a critical eye because in their view, Japan had been able to enjoy all the advantages of evolving into a global economic giant while playing a miniscule political role and shouldering little of the burden in international affairs. While I do not accept the view that Japan did shoulder only a small amount of the burden in international affairs, it was a rather widely held view in the western world. I remember that when I was studying at Oxford University in the late 1970s, one of the examination papers posed the following question on Japan: “Discuss the following statement: Japan is an economic giant but a political dwarf.”

The point I am making now is that up to the early 1990s, it was undeniably true that in Japan, the maintenance of peace was given the top most priority as Japan’s foreign policy objective. Indeed, the post-war pacifist education has been so successful that most Japanese people would not perceive the previous statement as a problem. In other words, the Japanese people seemed to be content with the peace provided inside the “cocoon” by the U.S.-Japan security alliance, under which Japan’s political role in the international arena up to the end of the Cold War had been to follow the lead of the U.S., rather than to lead.

While Japan continued to grow economically in the 1980s, the Japanese people were not yet ready to embrace Japan, discharging its political responsibilities commensurate with its economic clout. Indeed, the Japanese parliament and the majority of Japanese citizens were very reluctant to accept a bigger and new role for Japan’s Self-Defence Forces, whose primary role was conceived to be strictly limited to the defence of Japan.

This cautious attitude was first put to a severe test when the Gulf War broke out in 1989. At that time, Japan could not dispatch the SDF to join the U.S.-led multinational forces to liberate Kuwait even though the U.N. Security Council sanctioned this U.S.-led military action. Our position was such that it was unconstitutional for Japan to send its SDF to a foreign country to “settle an international dispute,” although Japan denounced the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and immediately imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. But Japan could have chosen to send civilian personnel, if not SDF personnel, in support of the efforts of the U.S. and other participating nations, because to do so was not unconstitutional.       

In the end, the Japanese government could not muster enough support in parliament even for the idea of sending civilian personnel overseas. Instead, Japan bore the brunt of financing the costs of the Gulf War efforts. Japan’s financial role was ultimately greater than that of any nation outside the Gulf countries, totalling $13 billion, including $9 billion directly to finance the cost of the multinational force operations in the Gulf War led by the U.S. forces. To do this, the Japanese people even accepted an emergency tax levy that averaged $100 per person.

After the successful liberation of Kuwait, the Kuwaiti government printed a thank you message in major U.S. newspapers including the Washington Post and The New York Times expressing its people’s gratitude to the nations that helped with the liberation of Kuwait. To our astonishment and dismay, nowhere was Japan listed. We asked ourselves, does our financial contribution warrant no gratitude from the Kuwaiti government and its people? The Gulf War made it painfully clear to Japan that it could continue its “one-nation pacifism” only at great cost to its world standing.

We took this incident as a lesson that in the post-Cold War era, the international community expects Japan to do more beyond financial contributions to maintain peace and stability. The important point of departure for the Japanese was  the understanding that to restore peace and stability sometimes requires the use of force. The Gulf War marked a defining moment for Japan that caused it to shed its no-longer tenable posture of “one-nation pacifism” to a little bit more “normal” a nation.


(From one-nation pacifism to a nation capable of and willing to contribute   to the U.N. Peacekeeping Operations in the world)

After the liberation of Kuwait, Japan’s move towards a normal nation was swift. For the first time in history since WWII, the Japanese Maritime SDF dispatched minesweepers to the Gulf to restore safe navigation there, from April to October 1991. Then the following year, the Japanese parliament enacted the international peace cooperation law which has allowed the dispatch of Japanese contingents and personnel to 13 PKO missions to date. Starting from Cambodia, the SDF have participated in PKO activities in Angola, Mozambique, El-Salvador, the Golan Heights, East Timor, Haiti and South Sudan.

In order to show clearly why Japan can take part in the PKO under the strictly pacifist Constitution of Japan, let me say a few words about the PKO. U.N. Peacekeeping Operations started in 1948, when the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, known as UNTSO, was created. UNTSO exemplifies the traditional type of peacekeeping operation, conducting observation and monitoring ceasefires.

With the end of the Cold War, the strategic context changed dramatically. Quantitatively speaking, there occurred a rapid increase in the number of PKOs. In qualitative terms, PKOs have become complex, multidimensional undertakings. Today, PKOs are involved in almost all phases from conflict prevention to peace-building. They are called upon not only to monitor ceasefires but also to facilitate the political process, protect civilians, assist in the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants, support the organization of elections, protect human rights, and assist in restoring the rule of law.

Now, this PKO can be dispatched only when the famous three principles are met, namely, the existence of a truce or a ceasefire agreement between the parties to a conflict, the principle of impartiality and neutrality for the concerned parties to a conflict and the minimum use of force to protect peacekeepers in a conflict. When the Japanese parliament enacted the international peace cooperation law, the law imposed stricter conditions to be met for Japan’s SDF to take part in the U.N. PKO only when all the following five conditions are being satisfied. Namely, they are the above  three principles plus two additional ones, namely, the agreement of all parties to a conflict to accept the PKO and the fifth principle is such that Japan’s PKO is obliged to suspend its operation or withdraw from its operation when a situation arises where any one of those three principles are no longer met. While I do not describe these self-imposed additional conditions as the legacy of “one nation pacifism,” my personal hope is a day will come soon when those additional conditions will no longer be required.    

Under these five conditions, Japan endeavors to provide as much assistance as possible to that end. The participation of the JSDF in the U.N. Mission in South Sudan is a case in point. South Sudan became independent in July 2011. In order to provide support for peace consolidation and to foster longer-term nation-building and economic development of the country, a new U.N. PKO mission, the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan, or UNMISS, was launched. Japan was one of the first countries to respond to the call of the U.N. to participate in UNMISS. In December 2011, the Japanese government decided to dispatch nearly 330 JSDF engineer troops and they are actively engaged in their duties to help South Sudan, a mission essential for maintaining the peace and stability of the entire African continent.

(On the transformation of the U.N. in response to the challenges of the day)

Thus far, I have explained to you how the transformation of Japan’s foreign policy concerning the issue of participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations transpired.
Having served the U.N., representing Japan for the last two years and five months, I am leaving New York for good relinquishing my post as Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan to the U.N. tomorrow morning. I feel a bit philosophical about my duty here at the U.N. Before I conclude, let me say a few words about the United Nations which is relevant to what I spoke about today.     

In preparation for this lecture, I recently read the contributing article by Professor Thomas G. Weiss of the City University of New York on the United Nations which appeared in the spring 2011 edition of the Harvard International Review. The following is my response to his critique of the U.N. where he said, “the U.N. remains the last and most formidable bastion of … state sovereignty even as technological advances, globalization, and trans-boundary problems proliferate.” While I am inclined to agree with his characterisation of the U.N. up to a point, I beg to differ from his assessment of the nature of the U.N., based on my own experiences from 2010 to 2013.

Let me tell you why.

The first point is that you should understand the U.N. was entrusted to work steadfastly to promote both nationalism through decolonization and democracy on a truly global scale. The U.N. has been most instrumental in shaping the process of decolonization, notably in the 1960s, leading to the creation of scores of independent nation states in Africa and helping them all to join the U.N. At the same time, in that process of decolonization and later, within the process of the dissolution of the Cold War system in the 1990s, democracy, as a political system based on the mandate to govern a nation given by its people through one-man-one-vote representation, has been almost universally adopted and put to the test by many newly independent states. Over the last 67 years, since the inception of the U.N., the number of Member States has increased from 51 to 193. The number of Member States that have adopted the system of democracy in the form of parliamentary democracy or presidential democracy has now exceeded the number that constitutes an absolute majority at the U.N.

The second point is that under the above mentioned currents in the world, the U.N. has transformed itself from being silent on the issue of democracy to being proactive in supporting Member States going through a democratic transition. Let me take the example of Libya. On 17 March 2011, the U.N. Security Council adopted resolution 1973, a truly landmark resolution on Libya. The resolution authorized Member States to take “all necessary measures to protect civilians.” It called to establish a ban on all flights in the Libyan air space. This was a test for the U.N. in its ability to take collective action to prevent atrocities against civilians. We know now that because of the successful adoption of this resolution, both Russia and China have resolutely opposed the adoption of the Security Council  resolution on Syria. But why then did Russia and China abstain rather than veto the adoption of the Libya resolution? There must be something in the case of Libya which prohibited both Russia and China to cast a veto. I do believe there was a near consensus view in the Security Council so the spectre of former conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur should not be repeated. 

The third point is regarding Syria, where the U.N. Security Council has thus far been incapable of taking any necessary and meaningful action to avert the seemingly non-stop deterioration of the situation there. A legitimate question to be asked is why?. The key to answering this question revolves around the veto power exercised by both Russia and China. In this respect, I was disappointed that Professor Weiss did not mention at all in his article the need for Security Council reform or the need to restrain the use of the veto by the five permanent members of the Security Council.

My final point is that the interpretation of the U.N. Charter’s key article has been evolving. According to the Charter, Article 2, Paragraph 7,

“Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the U.N. to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.” The general interpretation of this paragraph in 1945 was such that the political system of Member States is a matter which is essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of the given State. Yet twenty years after the end of the Cold War, the world was jolted by the events collectively called the “Arab Spring.” As we saw in the case of Libya, no Member States invoked Article 2, paragraph 7 to oppose the adoption of the Security Council resolution to make a humanitarian intervention to protect civilians. Even in the case of Syria, the Security Council’s Presidential Statement adopted on 31 August 2011 stated that the “only solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process, with an aim of effectively addressing the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the population which will allow the full exercise of fundamental freedoms for its entire population including that of expression and peaceful assembly” (S/PRST/2011/16).

And on 16 February 2012, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution which “fully supports the League of Arab States’ 22 January 2012 decision to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations or ethnicities or belief, including through commencing a serious political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition under the League of Arab States’ auspices.” Now what is clear from these statements by the Security Council and the General Assembly is that the U.N. of 2011 and 2012 is qualitatively different from the U.N. of 1945. The U.N. is silent no more on the issue of the democratic transition of its Member States. It has stepped out of the confines of the self-imposed restrictions on its jurisdiction over the issues pertaining to democracy and a political system and declared its support for a peaceful and democratic transition of power. By witnessing these events, I do not accept a view that the U.N. is immobilized because the U.N. is a bastion of state sovereignty.

It may be a case where Professor Weiss considers a bottle half empty while I view it half full.


Japan’s accession to the U.N. was approved in December 1953. At the U.N. General Assembly, then-Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu stated: “We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society striving for the preservation of peace, and the banishment of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance, for all time from the earth.”

More than a half-century has already passed since then, but we Japanese still have at heart the kind of passion for multilateral diplomacy that Mr. Shigemitsu expressed in his speech. Indeed, the very fact that Japan has been the most frequently elected non-permanent member of the Security Council is a clear testament to the trust shown by Member States of the U.N. 

If Dr. Kissinger argues that the best outcome in the U.N. debate is possible when we combine the two approaches, namely the idealists and the realists, I am happy to subscribe to his point.

Today, I have tried my best to portray a historical trajectory of Japan’s transformation of its most fundamental foreign and security policies and the transformation of the U.N. itself becoming more proactive in restricting the scope of the applicability of the Charter’s principle of non-intervention in domestic affairs.


If my lecture served your interest in international politics and the U.N., I am more than happy to have been here tonight.

I thank you for your attention.