IUJ Paper: Desire for Stronger Political Leadership in Foreign Policy
Tomohito Shinoda (Associate Professor of International University of Japan)
Who should be in charge of diplomacy? Before the 20th Century, mostly in Europe, diplomacy was almost exclusively handled by a relatively small group of career diplomats, and diplomatic negotiations were conducted secretly. In the early 20th Century, American President Woodrow Wilson advocated "open diplomacy." This American initiative resulted in the wide-spread notion of "democratic diplomacy" among advanced nations. Diplomatic authorities of a democratic nation are accountable to the parliament, and ultimately to the people, about diplomatic negotiations.
The democratic aspect of diplomacy inevitably increased the influence of public opinion on foreign affairs. One of the most eminent American diplomats, George Kennan, lamented that the involvement of Congress and public opinion often led the nation in the wrong direction. He further argued that diplomacy should be handled by the foreign policy experts.
In the case of Japan, foreign relations have been handled by officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) who have tried to avoid "dual diplomacy." The problem is that diplomats who handled diplomacy often lacks accountability. In a recent case, General Director Hitoshi Tanaka of MOFA's Asia Pacific Bureau refused to share the information on his contacts during his testimony in the Diet. He was heavily criticized by the media for the lack of transparency and accountability.
However, recently the power balance between the MOFA and political leaders has changed. Under the Koizumi Administration, for example, the prime minister and the Cabinet Secretariat initiated and led a couple of major foreign and national security policies such as the Anti-Terrorism and the Contingency legislation. How could this happen?
A gradual shift in policy making began in the 1980s when the prime minister and his political partner exercised their leadership in foreign affairs. The root of the shift can be traced to the Yasuhiro Nakasone Administration. Prime Minister Nakasone advocated a president-like leadership, and tried to strengthen his supporting organization at the Cabinet Secretariat. Under his initiative, the Office of External Affairs was established in the Secretariat. During Nakasone's tenure, many trade friction issues came about especially with the United States. Trade issues are not only foreign affairs, but also economic and domestic political issues. Policy coordination with economic ministries, such as the Ministries of International Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery, was needed to solve trade issues. The new office started coordinating the conflicting interests of the government ministries. Later under the Takeshita Administration, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Ichiro Ozawa became the chief negotiator and made several crucial decisions in economic issues with the United States. Ozawa provided political leadership to coordinate the conflicts of interests of different ministries, and established a central role of the Cabinet Secretariat in foreign policy-making.
The Central role of the Cabinet Secretariat was institutionally reinforced by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's administrative reform to reinforce the Cabinet's function. In June 1999, the Cabinet Law was revised to give a clear definition of the role of the prime minister and the Cabinet Secretariat in initiating policies. The law clarified the prime minister's authority to propose important, basic policies at cabinet meetings. Also, the revised Cabinet Law reinforced the Cabinet Secretariat by defining the Cabinet Secretariat's role is "to present policy direction for the government as a whole, and coordinate policy strategically and proactively" and instructs other ministries to recognize that "the Cabinet Secretariat is the highest and final organ for policy coordination under the Cabinet." This definition allows the prime minister and the cabinet to initiate and proceed with policy processes independent of the relevant ministry.
Taking advantage of this new institutional arrangement, Prime Minister Koizumi and his Cabinet Secretariat have strengthened their role in foreign affairs and national security policies, demonstrated by such initiatives as in the Anti-Terrorism and the Contingency legislation. Although it is not certain whether the prime ministers after Koizumi will be able and willing to take advantage of the new arrangements in the area of foreign policy, it is very desirable for Japanese political leaders who are sensible to accountability, especially the prime minister and his Cabinet Secretariat, to play a central role in foreign affairs.