Skip navigation

Tag Archives: theory

The Fortean Times has been a guilty pleasure of mine for some time, although during my Masters I stopped reading magazines and concentrated on my security reading. As a result, since I finished my course I’ve been playing catch up.

While reading about the links between conspiracy theories and Fortean thinking (FT223), or rather the epistemological considerations of appreciating conspiracy theories, I came across the following passage that made me stop and think:

Conspiracy thinking is mythological (or ‘magical’) thinking. Martin S Day has observed that “scientifically, [a myth] cannot be proved” and neither can it be “properly reconciled with phenomenological facts”, elaborating on Hans Georg Gadamer’s judgement that “the only good definition of myth is that myth neither requires nor includes any possible verification outside of itself”.

This struck a minor chord with my own research.

I have always considered the Japanese response to the abduction issue, in its 2004-6 form (at the height of the Yokota Megumi story), to be somewhat irrational, emotionally governed, and to some extent dogmatic.

During the course of my research, I came to see the Yokota Megumi story as a national narrative. Every nation has such stories to some extent. I daresay that the Madeline McCann story in my own country, plus the Soham murders among others, are such a narrative. They appear to bind the nation together in condemnation of a state or group, taking over the headlines: bad news coming good. Indeed, 9/11 ultimately falls into this category.

However, with the Yokota story, we are unlikely to find her alive, or find her real remains (if indeed the tests performed on the ashes provided by North Korea are correct). The story is unlikely to be resolved.

I am beginning to believe that the abduction issue might be penetrating Japanese national mythology, much like how the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is now an inherent part of the Japanese nation, or how constant victimisation figures in Korean and Chinese self-image.

This current mode of thought suggests to me that an effective way of studying the abduction issue would be to examine it as a narrative. This is something that I wish to do but cannot at this moment as a result of a lack of language skills and opportunity. However, it is a thought that I will ruminate on.


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.


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).


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.


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.

Today I had a seminar for research training about inter-liberal peace, the statistically confirmed notion that liberal democracies do not go to war with one another. The seminar was essentially a chance to look at the different research designs that could be used to investigate a single topic. However, I found myself stuck on just a few points that kept me thinking from the reading to the finish: the real questions we should ask about liberal peace is not ‘how’, but rather ‘why’. Why has the discipline of International Relations latched onto liberal peace?
It was Michael Doyle’s ‘Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs’ of 1983 in Philosophy and Public Affairs that really broke the news of inter-liberal peace. He demonstrated that no two liberal democracies had been to war with each other. While we may fault his definitions, which he took from the Correlates of War Project, nonetheless what he demonstrated is clear: in relations between liberal democracies, there is a propensity for peace. Doyle’s findings have been tested time and again to a point where no-one seems interested in democratic peace theory anymore. That said, it is still fondly referred to as the closest thing our discipline has to a law.

It is at this point that my thoughts begin to emerge: why is it that we were so fascinated by the phenomenon of liberal peace? To my mind, it is a question of legitimacy.

The bulk of International Relations is concerned with political science. We certainly do deal a lot with history, but IR is really about the search for patterns and generalisations. This is more so the case in the US than anywhere else, but US predominance in the state system is matched by US dominance of the academic world, so it is relevant.

The primary emphasis in US-based IR is empiricism, still largely led by Realist thinking. Empiricism is the study of an ontologically positivist world, a world that is. The means by which liberal peace was discovered comes directly from empirical, statistical research (although the number of cases limits what we can derive from the studies). It is my belief that liberal peace in important to IR in that it legitimates empirical research, positivism, and even the label ‘political science’.

‘Science’ brings with it many connotations, and one of those is the search for general laws. In the natural sciences, particularly physics, a search for a unified theory dominated progression through the 20th Century and into the current day. I would argue that political science is no different, the positivist dominance in the US of the study of IR is no doubt looking for grand, nomothetic theories. The power politics model and rational actor theory are part of this search.

So liberal peace offers the positivists’ ways legitimacy.

We can see a different claim to legitimacy in the tying of this theory with Kant. Read John Macmillan’s critiques of liberal peace in order to see why this linkage is not entirely accurate. Kant is a major philosopher for IR, by linking liberal peace to Kant’s perpetual peace, Doyle seemingly increased the legitimacy of his claims. It is a voice of authority, rather than a worthwhile output, but the question is still legitimacy.

So, what is democratic peace theory? It is the myth that political scientists can tell themselves to allow them to continue tired world-view. It is the story that they can tell to continue to call what they do ‘science’. It is neither definitive nor conclusive, it is something that could be confirmed or disconfirmed with time… but in the meantime it feeds into neo-conservative belief and fuels thinking behind regime changes such as in Iraq. For IR, it is the greatest story ever told.

Rant over. Will get back to Japanese politics next time.