Rapid Changes in Diplomacy (外交激変), by Shunji Yanai (柳井俊二)

interviewed by Makoto Iokibe, Motoshige Ito and Katsuyuki Yakushiji

Asahi Shimbun-sha, 2007, 278 pages
ISBN-13: 978-4022502650 , 1700 yen

Review by Fumiko Halloran

As a senior official in the Japanese government Mr. Shunji Yanai is a rare breed. He is candid, does not mince his words, is bold and sometimes controversial, and somehow gets away with things that would most likely cost someone else his career. Despite his traits, he rose thought the ranks of the Foreign Ministry (1961–2002) as the Director General of the Treaty Bureau (1978–1981), Consul General in San Francisco (1987–1990), Director General of the Comprehensive Foreign Policy Bureau (1993–1995), Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs (1995–1997), and Ambassador to the United States between 1999 and 2002. Retiring in 2002, Mr. Yanai then took up a post as a professor of law at Chuo University in Tokyo (2002–2007) and is currently a Professor at Waseda University in Tokyo.

Born in 1937 in Tokyo into a diplomatic family, Yanai spent his childhood in pre-war Germany, Switzerland, and Colombia, where his family was held with other Japanese as prisoners of war after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. In exchange for Americans held in Japan, the Yanai family sailed from Colombia through the Panama Canal to New Orleans. They travelled on trains in the U.S. to New Jersey where they boarded a Swedish ship. To avoid the war zone in the Pacific, the ship sailed across the Atlantic to South Africa and docked in Maputo in Mozambique, then a Portuguese colony, where American Ambassador Joseph Grew and other Americans had arrived for an exchange. The Yanai family and other Japanese sailed across the Indian Ocean to Singapore and finally to Yokohama.

The trip took four months, which made a deep impression on the five year old boy. Comparing the wealth and advanced technology embedded in the daily life of the United States even in wartime to the food rationing and charcoal driven cars in Japan, Yanai says that, as a boy, he knew Japan would lose the war, although his father told him not to utter such comments. Yanai’s father, once director general of the same Treaty Bureau his son would also head, quit the ministry after the war to practice law, and was a defence lawyer for foreign minister Mamoru Shigemitsu at the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. Young Yanai decided to become a diplomat after he returned to Tokyo from Karuizawa, where he spent the war years. He had witnessed the devastating ruins of Tokyo inflicted by American bombing and thought Japan had to be skilled in diplomacy, not repeating the mistakes that led to the war.

During his long career, he was to find himself at the centre of many key diplomatic moments including the negotiations with the American government on the return of Okinawa, the first Gulf War and its repercussions on Tokyo, the domestic political turmoil generated by Japan’s participation in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (PKO), the reorganization of the ministry to establish a foreign policy bureau that cut across regional turf, Japan’s failure to attain a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, and Prime Minister Koizumi’s controversial style of diplomacy.

Yanai reveals that since 1958, when UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold established a UN observation post in Lebanon after civil war broke out, the foreign ministry had been considering the possibility of dispatching the Self Defence Forces (SDF) to troubled spots; but the debate was an academic one considering the constitutional constraints of the war renouncing Article Nine combined with a strong anti-war sentiment in Japan. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990, Yanai had just been appointed director general of the Treaty Bureau and was in charge of drafting a new law, the UN Peace Mission Cooperation Law  (国連平和協力法案). Within two months, the new law was presented to the Diet, and generated heated opposition. In the end, the law was allowed to die without a vote in the House of Representatives.

An alternative agreement, later to be voted on, supported by the governing Liberal Democratic Party, the Komeito (party) and the Democratic Socialist Party, kept alive the idea of assisting the UN by establishing a separate organization to join UN Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) for humanitarian aid and rescue missions. However, later on the idea of a separate organization was abandoned and the use of SDF was re-evaluated which led to another attempt at legislation. Finally, with the passing of the PKO Cooperation Law (PKO 協力法), the SDF was able to assist in potentially dangerous arenas for the first time in its history and consequently a convoy of mine sweepers was dispatched to the Persian Gulf.

In 1992 the Japanese government dispatched 600 SDF and 75 police officers to Cambodia as the war torn nation went through a peace process and general elections. In 1993, one police officer was killed in an ambush and four wounded. Another Japanese, a civilian observer with the UN staff, was shot to death. Nevertheless, the Japanese government kept its nerve and did not withdraw the SDF or the police.

Yanai says among those opposing the first attempt at PKO legislation, the Cabinet Judicial Bureau was most adamant in opposing the bill. They insisted on a strict interpretation of Article Nine in the Constitution. Although realizing this law would not be approved, Yanai nevertheless vigorously defended it in the National Diet, believing that the next go at drafting a PKO law would be based on the precedent of the one that had failed.

Ten years later, after the 9/11 attacks, the Diet speedily passed the Special Legislation on Counter Terrorism Law (テロ対策特別措置法) based on the original UN Peace Mission Cooperation Law. The counter terrorism law allowed the Maritime Self Defence Force to help refuel vessels in the Indian Ocean to support the international coalition war in Afghanistan. In 2003, another law, the Iraq Mission Law (イラク特別措置法), was passed in the Diet, allowing the Ground Self Defence Forces (GSDF) to be engaged in non-combatant operations in Iraq. As a result more than 5,000 GSDF personnel participated in a successful reconstruction mission in Iraq with an additional 500 GSDF support staff and 3,200 Air Self Defence Forces providing backup. This was the first time since WWII that Japanese forces had served in an active combat zone.

Yanai cites the Gulf War in 1990 as a pivotal turning point in Japanese public opinion, which shifted away from a rejection of anything to do with military force to a more active support for an increasing global Japanese presence, including the dispatch of the SDF to troubled areas. He says that during the Cold War, the environment for diplomacy was predictable because of the Article Nine constraints, although tension was high between the United States and the Soviet Union. Therefore Japan did not have to face up to international crises until the Cold War ended. After the Gulf War began, the Japanese public confused when pressed to take action. Despite raising $13 billion for war expenditures, international opinion towards Japan was less than favourable which the public saw as a form of “Japan bashing.” The ultimate insult was that despite Tokyo’s massive monetary contribution Kuwait did not even bother to thank  Japan, something the public found humiliating. That experience changed public opinion about PKO, Yanai thinks.

Yanai has a phenomenal memory for details of legal interpretation and political negotiations that affected U.S.-Japan security arrangements, Japan’s gradual involvement in international conflicts, and the debate within the foreign ministry that was sometimes divisive, particularly on the role of the SDF. Yanai admits that there was perhaps a generational gap among foreign ministry officials about the understanding of Article Nine of the Constitution. While the wartime generation adamantly opposed the use of the SDF for any conflict, Yanai’s own thinking was that the spirit of Article Nine was to prohibit the use of military force as a means of invading other countries. Therefore, Japan’s participation in the UN decisions on collective security was not against the spirit of Article Nine. Since UN-led peacekeeping operation would most certainly use the military forces of member countries, Japan should likewise use the SDF for UN PKO.

This book is an excellent primary source for those who study the history of Japan’s diplomacy in the post-war period. It forms part of a series of interviews with Japanese who shaped Japan’s postwar direction; the first interview in the series was with Ichiro Ozawa, the second with former PM Kiichi Miyazawa, and Yanai is the third. All the interviews were originally published in the monthly magazine “Ronza.” The interviewers were: Makoto Iokibe, president of National Defense University; Motoshige Ito, professor of economics at Tokyo University; Katsuyuki Yakushiji, managing editor of Ronza and visiting professor at Kyoto University.


This book’s full Japanese title is 外交激変 元外務省事務次官柳井俊二  –  90年代の証言

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