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The United States’ lack of real regard for the Japanese conduct of the abduction issue, or perhaps Japan’s hyper-sensitivity on the issue, is causing fractures in the US-Japan alliance.

The US has been linked to the abduction issue since it exploded into the Japanese public consciousness in 1997. The issue supposedly caught Clinton off-guard in an April 1997 summit; as Clinton asked the Japanese to provide food aid to the North Koreans, Prime Minister Hashimoto stated the new Japanese concern regarding North Korea’s abductions. The 1998 ‘Taepodong Shock’ showed the Clinton administration, and the rest of the world, that diplomacy with North Korea had to concentrate on North Korea’s destabilising missile and nuclear projects.

President Clinton argued in May 1999 that the best way to deal with the kidnapping issue was to settle the nuclear and missile issues and end the threat of war on the Korean peninsula. He asserted that once these issues were resolved, “it is more likely that other matters will also be resolved.” Unlike 1997, however, the Clinton administration recognized the credibility of the kidnapping issue. President Clinton and other administration officials acknowledged that Japan considered the issue important and that the United States would support Japan’s attempts to negotiate with North Korea on it. Clinton asserted again in May 1999 that: “If you believe that there are Japanese people who were abducted and taken to North Korea, I think you should keep working on it and looking until you find them alive or you know where they’re buried. And I will support that very, very strongly.”

Niksch, L. A. (2002). North Korea and Terrorism: The Yokota Megumi Factor. Korean Journal of Defense Analysis , 14 (1), 7-23: pp. 12-13

The position expressed by Clinton has stuck to this day. As a staff member of the US Embassy in London once told me in early 2007, Japan is America’s chief ally in the Asia-Pacific and the US supports its position on the abduction issue, however the issue is Japan’s not America’s, the US has its own interests to pursue. It’s a diplomatic stance, but in practice the US has sought to minimise the effect of Japanese stubbornness on the abduction issue.

Following the 1999 Perry Initiative, which “outlined a US strategy to negotiate a series of agreements with North Korea to reduce its missile and nuclear programs and eventually eliminate them” (Niksch, 2002, p. 13), the US attempted to secure a Japanese financial agreement to compensation (compared to money transferred during the South Korea-Japan normalisation of relations) without allowing them a negotiating role, presumably because of fears of derailment.

North Korea, at this point, presumably saw a diplomatic opening and entered into direct negotiations with the Japanese. North Korea has never been shy of playing powers off one another and with a possible agreement arising out of the Perry Initiative, North Korea possibly saw a chance to boost their ‘compensation’. However, this was not to be: “Kim Yong-sun’s offer created a situation in which Japan’s role in the Perry Initiative became dependent on direct Japan–North Korean negotiations in which Japan was determined to give priority to the kidnapping issue.” (Niksch, 2002, p. 16)

As the Japanese found their opening to directly negotiate on the abduction issue, the North Korean’s attempted to convince the US to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, an action that the Clinton administration seemed to seriously consider. As part of the diplomacy, the North Koreans would have to ‘address issues of past support of terrorism’ which, despite the abduction issue not being the reason for North Korea’s inclusion on the list, would have to include consultations with Japan regarding North Korea’s support for the Japanese Red Army. (Niksch, 2002, p. 17)

All the while, the Japanese campaigned to have the US include the abductions in North Korea’s listing, and threatened to undermine US attempts to separate the rational efforts to resolve the missile and nuclear issues from the emotive abduction issue.

Prime Minister Mori reportedly secured President Clinton’s agreement at the G-8 meeting on Okinawa in July 2000 for US diplomats to raise the kidnapping issue with North Korea. Japanese diplomats urged the Clinton administration to raise the issue directly with the visiting North Korean envoy, who arrived in Washington in October 2000. The Japanese renewed pressure for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to place the issue on her agenda with North Korean officials when she visited Pyongyang in late October. The Japanese apparently used strong words with US officials, indicating that the Japan-US alliance would be damaged if the Clinton administration refused to raise the kidnapping issue. The Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun reported on October 8, 2000, that “Japan views that if the United States removes the DPRK from the [terrorism] list without paying attention to the abduction issue, it would mean the United States is taking Japan lightly.”

Niksch, 2002, p. 20

Albright did bring up the issue in her visit and in doing so helped solidify Japanese expectations that the US would support its position in the future. This perception was undoubtedly strengthened under the Bush administration. In February 2001, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Hubbard met with the Kazokukai and pledged continuing US support for their cause. This meeting sidestepped the Japanese Mori government, whom the Kazokukai felt had betrayed by after a 500,000 tonnes rice aid deal despite Mori Yoshiro’s personal promise that progress towards normalisation would not occur without progress on the abduction issue. Nakayama Masaaki, leader of Nitcho giren (Dietmen’s League for the Promotion of Japan-North Korea Friendship) and of a parliamentary group on the abduction issue, was furious at the Kazokukai’s independent move. (Johnson, E. (June 2004). The North Korea Abduction Issue and Its Effect on Japanese Domestic Politics. Japan Policy Research Institute) However, it was the start of a strong relationship between the Bush administration and the actors in the abduction issue, benefiting strongly from the close interpersonal relationship between Bush and Koizumi Jun’ichiro.

Japan’s involvement in post-war Iraq was inherently tied to both the strength of this personal relationship and Japan’s concerns over North Korea. ‘In February 2004, [Koizumi] declared that it was of overwhelming importance for Japan to show that it was a “trustworthy ally,” because (as he put it) if ever Japan were to come under attack it would be the US, not the UN or any other country, that would come to its aid’. (McCormack, G. (November 8 2004). Koizumi’s Japan in Bush’s World: After 9/11. Japan Focus) If any state was about to attack North Korea, it was North Korea. One Cabinet Office survey showed that 80% felt war with North Korea was likely. Japan was clearly frightened of abandonment by the US over North Korea. (Yakushiji, K. (April 5 2003). Japanese Foreign Policy in Light of the Iraq War. Japan Focus) However, Koizumi’s gamble appeared to pay off: “Bush declared his own “unconditional” support for the Japanese position on the families of the North Korean abductees. […] It was, as a senior [LDP] official admitted, a deal: Japanese forces to Iraq in exchange for US support for Japan’s position on North Korean issues. (McCormack, 2004)

For the US, the abduction issue offered yet more ammunition to pressure North Korea on its human rights issue. In 2006, Abe Shinzo helped tighten the US interest in the abduction issue (beneficially coinciding with a major documentary into the human drama of the issue: Abduction – The Megumi Yokota Story). (Hughes, C. W. (2006). The Political Economy of Japanese Sanctions towards North Korea: Domestic Coalitions and International Systemic Pressures. Pacific Affairs , 79 (3), 455-481: p. 473) In March, Ambassador Schieffer visited Niigata to be given a tour of Yokota Megumi’s final walk home. In a press conference after the tour, he stated ‘the United States would always raise the abduction issue whenever it talked to North Korea about anything’, and ‘that there can be no comprehensive resolution with North Korea without a solution to the abduction issue’. In April , Yokota Sakie (mother of Yokota Megumi and representative of the Kazokukai) and Shimada Yoichi (representative of the Sukuukai) travelled to the US to testify to Congress ahead of the North Korean Human Rights Act. Yokota also met with President Bush who called it ‘one of the most moving meetings’ of his presidency, an impression that has lasted.

Following North Korea’s July Taepodong-2 test, Abe’s rise to office, and the October nuclear test, the US appeared prepared to reaffirm its priorities: missiles and nukes first, everything else later. However, the US were still willing to allow Japan to pressure North Korea on the issue, as Japan was adopting an increasingly hardline under Abe. The human rights issue was a legitimate concern for the world and any pressure was good pressure. With this in mind, the EU submitted a draft resolution on North Korea’s human rights record to the UN General Assembly, co-sponsored by Japan and the US, the latter of whom had received some pressure to work to push the bill through by the Kazokukai in the form of a personal visit to Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. Yet with the release of the 13 February 2007 Joint Statement, which offered a great deal of optimism in the Six-Party Talks, the US sought to pressure Abe to be more specific about just what progress entailed.

Japan’s stubbornness on the abduction issue threatens the worth of its role in the Six-Party Talks. After the negotiations on the release of funds from the Banco Delta Asia finally came to fruition, the US clearly didn’t want to squander this new found energy. Japan’s refusal to allow for bargaining room in the SPT has meant that it is inflexible. To their minds, the North Koreans have been rewarded enough for their bad behaviour. However, now “under the terms of the six-party deal on North Korea’s nuclear programs, the U.S. is committed to beginning the process of delisting the country [from the list of state sponsors of terrorism] as Pyongyang moves ahead with its denuclearization obligations“.

What does this mean? It means that Japan is facing the possibility of being abandoned and essentially betrayed by the US due to a disconnect in their national interests. It means that when push comes to shove, the US cannot be trusted to support Japan. While Bush deals with the question of his legacy, he seems willing to burn his bridges with those that he had seemed so supportive of before. A storm is brewing, and how much damage will occur is anybody’s guess. It may be the clearest test of the popular and political importance of the abduction issue in Japan we can ever see.

Politics is not dispassionate, it never will be. Emotion seeps through, however, how can we tell one emotion from another? You cannot necessarily ask the population, as a generalised group, how it feels… polls like that would suffer from a requirement that the subjects be conscious of their feelings.

The biggest difficulty for me, as conversations today have proven, is demonstrating that there is a fear or insecurity separate or linked to political anger. I have four cases in mind: 9/11, the internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor, the abduction issue, North Korea in Japan, and China in Japan.

9/11

The tragedy that was 9/11 was, to my mind, the catalyst for heightened anger and fear in American politics (global politics even). The anger is perhaps the most visible element: the intervention into Afghanistan and the outcries of defiance following the attacks. Anger is a normal and healthy response.

Paisley Alert

However, it was also accompanied by an underlying sense of fear which could be tweaked and activated by way of the media. Consider the countless news reports of ‘terrorists’ being arrested in the US and UK. Each report was unlikely to be given a follow-up, despite the fact that a large number of these arrests resulted in no charges. The talk of a possible dirty bomb threat was possibly one of the worst instances of fearmongering post-9/11, particularly when you consider the complete lack of evidence behind the reports.

With these two elements at play, it is difficult to determine which is at work in certain events. Is legislation such as the PATRIOT Act guided by fear of repeat attacks, anger against what has already happened, or (more likely) a mix of both?

Japanese-American Internment

I think that one area where fear is more clearly at play, relative to anger, is in the internment of Japanese-Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor. They were clearly victims of a fear of fifth-columnism that targeted an entire national/ethnic group. American citizens were deprived of their liberties, showing how fear might overturn the everyday foundations of civil and political soceity to create a state of exception.

The fear was exacerbated by the xenophobic tendencies of the majority at that time. This fear operated societally and governmentally (leading to Executive Order 9066, the instigating order). There was a clear polarisation of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in both domestic and international contexts. While, anger clearly played a role in the military campaigns against the Japanese, it was in the domestic context that fear played its part.

Abduction Issue

Now to the issue I most concern myself with, the political fallout over North Korea’s abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 80s. It is my belief that there is only one major emotion at play here: rage. Despite the title of the blog, I do not believe that the abduction issue has incited fear in Japanese society or politics. I don’t think many people believe that North Korea is still abducting Japanese, nor do many wonder if it could happen to them…

North Korea

… however, I do believe that the threat image of North Korea, more generally, generates fear in Japan. This was the topic of the conversation that generated this post. My friend believes that there is very little fear about North Korea in Japan, and even then, the level of fear received its biggest boost in October 2006 following the nuclear test. I don’t yet know whether I agree or disagree.

In one sense, I disagree because it seems to me that something about the population’s attitude to North Korea is being preyed upon by the Japanese leadership. Here is another problem for researchers: one will find it difficult to find fear in any other sense than retroactive inference. In one paper I read during my research, “Fear No More: Emotion and World Politics” by Emma Hutchison and Roland Bleiker (forthcoming in Review of International Relations), the authors critique the social scientific method as being unsuitable for studying fear, praising, instead, an arts and humanities approach. Certainly, the different standards of inference and logic between the two disciplines makes the choice considerable.

However, at the same time as I disagree, I also do not. When I state that there is a politics of fear in Japan regarding North Korea, I am not presupposing a great deal of fear. Instead I am suggesting that there is a background level of insecurity which is being tapped by the leadership in order to promote certain policies and push certain ideological beliefs. That does no require a large amount of fear, just enough to allow it to be tweaked.

It is also in this case that we might see a possible difference between anger and fear in politics. It might be the case that anger is short-lived (encouraging strong and immediate reactions to events, such as through the imposition of sanctions) whereas fear is continuing (the Taepodong shock in 1998, for instance, exposed the real threat posed by North Korean missiles, one which certainly still exists).

China

Having denied the significance of fear regarding North Korea, my friend then suggested that it was China that generated the most, primarily because it posed a powerful threat. Again, I just cannot be sure at this stage whether I agree or disagree. For me, the crucial issue is that fear of China is not, at this stage, self-justifying. It seems as the elements of the government have chosen to concentrate on the fear generated by the North Korean threat in order to prepare for an eventual confrontation with China. It is the North Korean missile threat that has made Japan more determined to pursue the Theatre Missile Defence system, for instance, and it was North Korea’s intelligence activities in Japanese waters that led to decreased restraints on the use of force by the Japanese Coast Guard. Both are applicable to China, and thus tackling the North Korean threat goes some way towards confronting China.

Conclusion

As it stands all that I am left with is questions. Clearly I need to work on my definitions of fear, and attempt to unpick the links with other emotions. At the same time, I need to work around the limitations posed by the study of said emotions. Finally, I need to conduct some primary research to gauge the threat perceptions and anxieties of the average Japanese citizen. All of this will take time and effort, and I hope this forum will provide an outlet for my energy.

The subtitle of this blog is: “North Korea, Japan and the Politics of Fear’ but what is the politics of fear?

Fear penetrates society. I may seem dramatic and unnecessarily general to say so, but fear is a, if not the, major moderator of social life. It keeps people in check. It moderates your driving, it conditions your social interactions, and it keeps you alive. Fear, in tandem with an appreciation of risk, is a social force unlike any other. Thus it is unsurprising that we find it thriving in politics.

Political fear fosters subservience. It is polarising, removing the middle ground from debate. Like a stampede of wildebeest, it brings a population’s thoughts into line. The palpable fear (or should that be anger?) of terrorism post-9/11 has created a climate in which, at least initially, populations were willing to cut back their civil liberties in order to make it more difficult for a handful of terrorists to infiltrate and operate within a country. No one would dare risk being a terrorist sympathiser.

Fear, to paraphrase, is the opiate of the masses. Those that can manipulate, or even generate, political fear stand to benefit enormously. A successful attempt to manipulate fear can generate wide-ranging political support that can allow a break from the traditional rules of political action (conceptually similar to Ole Waever’s securitisation theory). The identification of a convincing threat is all that is needed.

The benefits of political fear, to policymakers, can be seen in the rallying effect of war. During wartime, criticism of the broad political project of the war itself (although not necessarily its conduct) becomes taboo. The needs of the state supersede those of the citizenry and opposition is placed within a discourse of internal threat or fifth columnism . War elucidates the ‘other’ in sharp contrast to the ‘self’.

The war rally effect has long been recognised, just look at the Russo-Japanese War, initiated, in part at least, in order to placate and consolidate an uppity populace. Of course, when things go wrong the equation changes, cynicism and resistance take over. See, for instance, the Russian revolution and the anti-war protests of the 1960s/70s.

Cynicism, one might argue, is becoming more prevalent in our own age. We are strained with fear fatigue: the constant fluctuations of the terror alert systems once piqued our emotions, but now, having gone on for 6 years with no sign of reaching lower thresholds, we are comfortably numb.

The modern political party is tailored to the manipulation of fear: PR spin-doctoring makes the best (worst?) use of that most potent instrument of fear, the media, who propagate and editorialise their messages, openly or by stealth, by means designed to grab the attention of the average guy on the street. The days of a discreetly wheelchair-bound Roosevelt communicating by radio are long gone, ever since Nixon got sweaty while debating with Kennedy, the power of the media to make or break a politician has been clear. Today’s politician must have the image-consciousness of a supermodel, a far cry from the days of Churchill (“Madam, you are ugly. In the morning, I shall be sober.”)

Why is this worrying? Fear gives democracy the trappings of autocracy. However, unlike autocracy, the government of a fear-ridden democracy have far less control than the leadership of an autocratic state. A wannabe democratic-despot has to expend a lot of political energy and rhetoric in order to have their way. They must prey on our insecurities and manipulate our psychologies.

This, I argue, is what is under way in Japan. Issues regarding its relations with North Korea are surrounded by an atmosphere of fear (atmosfear?) that conditions political action. With the abduction issue in particular, no-one can seem be against efforts to return the Japanese citizens taken to North Korea (even if the remainder are probably dead), no less that no-one can seem to be for the rights of terrorists. Debate is weakened, and without debate, democracy is weakened allowing ideologies in. Under Abe Shinzo, who was pulling strings behind the issue from 2002, the issue was tacked onto an agenda of new conservatism, the ideology of the LDP’s Young (and not so young) Turks. His fever pitch approach was an abuse of the abduction issue and one of many examples of the (ab)use of fear in the issue that I will endeavour to explore within this forum.