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Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) National Security Policy

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) opposed the war in Iraq and used its majority in the Upper House to slow the passage of legislation authorizing anti-terror refueling support in the Indian Ocean. Campaign literature in 2009 outlined the need to obtain a UN mandate for all security-related deployments overseas. Party leaders routinely castigated U.S. policies and called for a more equal security alliance. With an ideological range that runs from left to right and little cohesion between the party's assembly of former ruling LDP members and refugees from several small defunct parties, the DPJ had done little to lay out a clear framework for foreign policy decision-making.

In advance of the August 2009 Lower House elections, the party mostly deferred to its leader, Ichiro Ozawa, to set the parameters for the debate, but he had been much more focused on the elections than on what comes next. Ultimately, the contours of DPJ security policy depended most on the ability of the leadership to maintain a sense of unity and cohesion among members at the two ends of the political spectrum. Whatever happened, the new government would continue to maintain a strong alliance relationship with the United States.

The DPJ, founded in 1998, is an amalgam of lawmakers who have migrated from other parties over since the late 1990s, supplemented by a relatively young cadre of members who entered national politics for the first time on the party's own ticket. The leadership, starting with the three top executives, Chief Representative Ichiro Ozawa, Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama, and President Naoto Kan, was drawn almost entirely from the first category. Those three, along with fellow transplants Seiji Maehara, Katsuya Okada, and Yoshihiko Noda, formed the axis for six of the eight main groups that comprised the DPJ in 2009. All but Noda had served as party leader at one time, and all six were cited frequently by the media as the most likely successors to Ozawa in the future. Most of their followers traced their lineage to the LDP, the Liberal Party, Sakigake, or the New Frontier Party. Remnants of the now-defunct Socialist Party (SP) and Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) comprised the remaining two groups, and helped extend the ideological parameters of the party from far-left to far-right.

Policy differences among the groups clustered around the ideological center of the DPJ can indeed be vague and difficult to articulate. Generally speaking, the Hatoyama, Maehara, Noda, and former DSP groups tended mostly toward the conservative side of the spectrum, particularly on security policy, meaning they were supportive of the U.S.-Japan security alliance, took a firm position with regard to China and the DPRK, and were comfortable with the idea of lifting some of the constitutional constraints that prevented Japan from playing a more active role overseas. The Kan, Okada, and former SP groups generally took a more dovish stance, placing greater emphasis on relations with Asian neighbors and looking for ways to take on a more substantive international role outside of the Alliance and within the existing constraints. While many in the latter category were still supportive of the alliance at some level, they tended to favor a more equal partnership and can often be quite critical of U.S. foreign policy. Ozawa's group was probably the most diverse ideologically, followed by Okada's, and was therefore more difficult to categorize.

Some academics have argued that while the DPJ membership itself had become more conservative over the years, in keeping with the general decline of the left in Japanese politics, the party had actually moved further to the left ideologically as a means of distinguishing itself from the LDP. A primary focus of the DPJ's attacks on the LDP over security policy was Japan's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Internal DPJ debates over the constitutionality of the mission in the absence of a UN mandate and the best role for Japan to play in assisting Afghanistan threatened at times to split the party along ideological lines.

Ozawa was criticized heavily by both wings of his party in 2007 for suggesting that it might be more appropriate to send ground forces than to provide maritime refueling support, and quickly drew back to his original position that the SDF cannot be legally deployed overseas without UN mandate. Maehara sided with Ozawa in opposing SDF deployments to Iraq, but opposed him strenuously on the OEF deployment. The party remained divided over whether the current OEF refueling mission, which was extended for another year on 17 December 2008, violated the constitution or not, but critics of the official line maintained discipline to avoid airing the party's dirty laundry before an election.

The DPJ Manifesto, revised for the 2007 Upper House election, provided a quick snapshot of what might be expected from a future DPJ administration, although deep divisions remain over even some of the party's most fundamental policies. The Manifesto listed "Seven Proposals," the last of which is "to build proactive foreign relations." The term proactive, according to DPJ contacts, is intended to signify a shift away from the "reactive" policies of the LDP, bred of an over-dependence on the United States. DPJ International Bureau head Tetsundo Iwakuni has said that "the United States takes for granted that Japan will always say 'yes' when asked for something." Specific goals listed under the heading "Foreign Affairs and Defense" include the immediate withdrawal of the SDF from Iraq (overtaken by events), increased public engagement in U.S. force realignment, proactive diplomacy toward the DPRK, and a more Asia-centered foreign policy. Not clearly outlined in the Manifesto, but mentioned often, is a plan to dispatch 100 lawmakers and some unspecified number of political appointees to the various ministries to exert control over the bureaucrats, a proposal with potentially serious repercussions for policy formulation and implementation.

In the broadest context, the DPJ promised in its Manifesto "to re-examine the role of the U.S. military in the security of the Asia-Pacific region and the significance of U.S. military bases in Japan ... from the perspective of taxpayers and in consideration of the principle of civilian control and the need to reduce the burden on specific regions and communities." At the same time, the party pledges "to make the greatest possible effort to develop relations of mutual trust...and to strengthen the bonds of solidarity with Asian countries within the framework of the international community." Existing plans for U.S. force realignment are criticized for the "massive costs" imposed on Japan based solely on agreements between the two governments, without regard to the understanding of the affected communities. "Unresolved problems" include total costs of the realignment and the use of subsidies to obtain buy-in at the local level.

The Manifesto also blasted Japan for supporting the war in Iraq based on "arbitrary and inaccurate information," and called for a full accounting before Japan considered how to assist in Iraqi reconstruction "within the framework of international cooperation." The document noted the importance of retaining sanctions on the DPRK and described resolution of the abductions issue "essential."

Okada, DPJ leader during the party's lop-sided loss in the "postal privatization" election of 2005, worked hard to repair his image as a leader by staying above the fray of internal party politics. Young and telegenic by comparison to Ozawa, he is seen as a bridge-builder within the party, and the only potential leader who can fill Ozawa's role of keeping the peace between the ideological wings of the party. The relatively dovish Okada has faulted the LDP for relying on "a very small number of Japan experts" in managing relations, and in 2008 traveled to the United States to lay the groundwork for broader exchanges with the incoming U.S. administration. Returning from his trip, Okada proposed playing a "mediating role" in negotiating with the Taliban, in lieu of dispatching the SDF.

The generally conservative Hatoyama has criticized the LDP for being "overly dependent on the United States," asserting that a DPJ administration "will strike the right balance" in relations with the United States and with Asian neighbors, "but with slightly more emphasis on the latter." He has claimed that there is little difference between the LDP and DPJ on foreign policy. Like the LDP, he has said, "the DPJ positions the U.S.-Japan alliance as the axis of its foreign policy." What the DPJ wanted to do is "to build equal relations with the United States in which Japan can say what it wants to say as a friend." He cited Germany and its disagreement with the United States over the war in Iraq as an example. While Hatoyama believes it is important to focus on UN-based civilian cooperation, and has pledged publicly "to place UN decisions ahead of U.S. decisions," he has said that he regards a totally UN-centered approach as "too much."

Maehara, regarded as one of the more hawkish lawmakers in the DPJ, has said that he viewed the bilateral alliance as a "public asset" for Japan and the region and as the "underlying framework" of DPJ security policy. That didn't mean he was entirely supportive of existing U.S. policies. He had defined the first order of business for a new DPJ government as reviewing the OEF refueling mission and elements of U.S. force realignment -- halting the former, in favor of some other form of contribution to Afghanistan, and looking for alternatives that would be more "acceptable to the people of Okinawa" for the latter. At the same time, Maehara has called openly for increasing Japan's defense capabilities to protect national interests and safeguard the sea lanes, amending the Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, and taking a harsher stance against China and the DPRK. He has also promoted the view that Japan needs to make its own efforts to improve relations with China and the DPRK outside of the alliance, while still preserving capabilities for deterrence.

The former Socialist Party (or Yokomichi) group was small, with around 18 members in 2008, but it retained its influence within the party by enjoying a mutually supportive relationship with Ozawa. Its leader, Takahiro Yokomichi, agreed with Ozawa in 2004 that a "UN Stand-by Force," a separate unit from the Self Defense Forces, should be established for peace-keeping operations (PKO) under UN authority. The concept would allow Japan's active participation in PKO but would not require revision of Article 9 of the Constitution. According to Nikkei's Oba, Yokomichi wanted to use the agreement to counter pro-Constitutional revision groups, including those of Hatoyama, Maehara and Noda. For Ozawa's part, he sought to strengthen his relationship with the former Socialists in order to gain election cooperation from their labor union supporters.

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Page last modified: 01-08-2012 20:14:21 ZULU