III. Japan’s focus on multilateral security cooperation

From a decentering and recentering imperative: Japan’s approach to Asian security multilateralism


One of the notable developments in Japan's foreign and security policy since the end of the Cold War has been its growing initiative for the promotion of regional multilateralism1 in Asia. In the post-Cold War era, the region has witnessed the development of a variety of regional institutions, including the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the ASEAN Plus Three (APT), the East Asian Summit (EAS), and the ASEAN Defense Minister Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus), and Japan has been actively involved in the evolution of these institutions. Japan made a significant contribution to the formation of the ARF in 1994, the first region-wide security institution involving all of the regional major powers in the Asia-Pacific (Midford, 2000; Ashizawa, 2003; Yuzawa, 2005, 2007). From the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, Japan also placed great impetus on the promotion of "East Asian’’ multilateralism in the form of the APT and the EAS by playing a central role in the management of the 1997-8 Asian financial crisis and presenting an East Asian Community (EAC) concept (Terada, 2003, 2010; Hwee, 2006; Rozman, 2007; Sohn, 2010; Zhang, 2014). Regardless of the different degrees to which each institution prioritizes security, Japan has taken initiatives to promote multilateral security cooperation in each of them.

Why has Japan attempted to promote regional security multilateralism for over two decades despite its open acknowledgement of the vital centrality of the US-Japan alliance in its overall foreign and security policy? Why has Japan’s pursuit for regional security multilateralism sometimes swayed between an inclusive "Asia-Pacific” (with the US) and an exclusive "East Asian” format (without the US)? While the examination of the existing literature tends to place their focus on Japan’s engagements with one specific institution for a limited time period,2 the above questions would require a more extensive and historical analysis of the nature of Japan's involvement in regional security multilateralism.

This article hence seeks to add new insights to the literature by investigating Japan's major initiatives for Asian security multilateralism, from the beginning of the 1990s onwards, through its own distinctive analytical model. Employing the decentering/recentering framework presented by this book (see the introduction and Chapter 2) and major theoretical assumptions drawing from neoclassical

S.l The model of the decentering recentering multilateral imperative

Figure S.l The model of the decentering recentering multilateral imperative

realism, this article develops the model of the "decentering/recentering multilateral imperative”. It unpacks the process by which Japanese policymakers have come to recognize regional security multilateralism as an appropriate tool for advancing their perceived policy interests, arising from international pressures and opportunities (see Figure 8.1). The “decentering” multilateral imperative is generally defined as the policy idea of promoting security multilateralism as a means of diversifying security ties and hence reducing the relative reliance on a central security partner. Contrary to this, the "recentering” multilateral imperative is equated with the idea of promoting security multilateralism for restoring or strengthening the relative reliance on the central security partner. In this model, the decentering/recentering imperative is treated as a key mediating variable (MV) that establishes a causal link, with another MV, between international pressures/ opportunities (as the independent variable: IV) and initiatives for security multilateralism (as the dependent variable: DV). The choice between the two differing imperatives (decentering or recentering) is primarily determined by the nature of perceived policy interests (First MV).

The validity of this analytical model rests on two main folds. First, the nature of Japan's involvement in regional security multilateralism cannot be discerned by looking at the simple independent/dependent variable dichotomy. Japan's foreign and security initiatives are often provoked by external shocks (Cooney, 2007), but this does not mean that they directly precede Japan's move towards multilateralism. Indeed, as recent work on neoclassical realism argues, policy choices that states make are not direct products of systemic circumstances, but rather they are outcomes of the screening process by which "the state perceives them and responds to them within the institutional constraints of its unique domestic circumstances” (Ripsman et al., 2016, p. 31). Hence, the adequate accounts of foreign policy behavior require the incorporation of unit-level mediating variables that can influence policy selection processes. As this article examines foreign policy choices in a particular issue area, it creates mediating variables in an ad hoc maimer, illuminating the process by which Japanese officials develop certain policy interests through their assessment of international circumstances (First MV) and by which the idea of promoting Asian security multilateralism emerges in their polity thinking as an appropriate policy instrument for pursuing those interests (Second MV).

Secondly, multilateralism often represents the strategy of smaller states to constrain larger states to retain a certain level of diplomatic leeway (decentering) or to handcuff them to enlist their strategic support (Paul, 2005; Doran, 2010). This is also the case for Japan, historically seeing multilateralism as a useful policy tool for coping with the risk of either "abandonment” by the United States or "entrapment” in US policy (Green, 2001). This means that decentering or recentering use of security multilateralism is a general policy option for Japanese policymakers, and it becomes a likely policy choice especially when there is a shift in their perceived value of the US-Japan alliance.

The analysis of this chapter is divided into three phases and seeks to identify a causal sequence leading to Japan's regional initiative in each: (1) Japan's leading role in the formation of the ARF (1991-1994), (2) Japan's initiatives for the establishment of the APT and the EAS (1997-2005), (3) Japan's renewed focus on the EAS with US membership (2010-onwards). It is argued that Japan's initial tilt towards regional security multilateralism in the Asia-Pacific, manifested by its active contribution to the formation of the ARF, was largely provoked by a "decentering” multilateral imperative arising from structural changes with the end of the Cold War; namely promoting security multilateralism as a tool for playing a more independent political and security role in region and of developing a new security measure appropriate for a changing strategic environment. The decentering imperative was at a high in the late 1990s due largely to its enhanced relations with Asian neighbours during the 1997-8 Asian financial crisis and the perceived risk of US abandonment by a Sino-US rapprochement, leading to Japan's genuine enthusiasm for more exclusive "East Asian” multilateralism in the form of the APT and the EAS—regional institutions without US membership. However, since the late 2000s, this decentering imperative has increasingly given way to a "recentering" multilateral imperative given the perceived challenges from China to the territorial and normative status-quo in the region and US renewed commitment to Asia. Indeed, as Japan’s overall strategic thinking has become increasingly preoccupied with inventing measures to counter the rapid ascendance of China’s power and influence, Japan has moved back its focus on inclusive "Asia-Pacific” security multilateralism, in particular the EAS with US membership, as a means of facilitating greater Japan-US collaborations in the rule-making initiative based on their shared values.

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