Open diplomacy

Within a week of the formation of the first Bolshevik government, Leon Trotsky, the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, went to the foreign ministry and forced the staff to open safes containing secret treaties that the Tsarist government had made with the Allied powers over the course of World War I, treaties that for the most part concerned how the Allies would divide up the territorial spoils of war.

“Abolition of secret diplomacy,” wrote Trotsky, “is the first essential of an honorable, popular, and really democratic foreign policy.”

Lest anyone think this opposition to secret diplomacy was simply a reflection of the new government’s opposition to the “propertied minority,” the first of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points was a call for “open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.” (Although, it should be noted, the Fourteen Points were to a certain extent a response to the Bolsheviks.)

On Tuesday the Hatoyama government’s expert panel reviewing secret agreements made between the US and Japanese governments from the 1960s onward released its report, confirming the existence of the ongoing agreement that permitted the introduction of US nuclear weapons into Japan for the duration of the cold war despite the three non-nuclear principles that would seem to prohibit precisely that. The panel revealed more than 300 documents, although it seems that some were missing. Naturally the panel drew criticism from recent LDP prime ministers, who had continued to deny the existence of the documents despite their existence having been confirmed by declassified US documents. On the other end of the political spectrum, Fukushima Mizuho, consumer affairs minister and head of the Social Democratic Party, praised the report as “ground-breaking.”

My point in linking the Bolshevik government’s release of secret treaties to the DPJ’s release of secret treaties is not to suggest that the DPJ is somehow dangerously radical or akin to the Bolsheviks. After all, by releasing the documents the Bolsheviks damaged the ongoing war effort and triggered Wilson’s efforts to recast the war as something other than a war among empires for territory. To a certain extent, the Hatoyama government is merely rectifying the Japanese side of the historical record, seeing as how the US stopped deploying nuclear weapons overseas at the end of the cold war and confirmed as much nearly a decade ago.

My point rather is that concerns about secret diplomacy are not unprecedented, and that they are naturally linked to broader concerns about how a country is governed. In this sense the Hatoyama government is doing more than historical recordkeeping, but rather it is showing that open government does not stop at water’s end. Not content with revealing the many ways in which bureaucrats — under the watch of LDP governments — have wasted taxpayer money, the DPJ wants to show how the LDP conducted foreign relations out of the sight of Japanese voters. It is perhaps easy for the DPJ government to criticize decisions made during the cold war, but then the Hatoyama government would not be the first to question cynical decisions made by governments during the cold war. (Anyone else remember when Condoleeza Rice criticized FDR for abandoning Eastern Europe at Yalta?)

The DPJ has in fact been consistent in its opposition to secret diplomacy conducted by LDP-led governments, right up to the present day. When the DPJ opposed the extension of the Indian Ocean refueling mission after taking control of the upper house in 2007, central to its argument was that the government had not been forthright with information about what exactly the ships were doing there. Who was the fuel going to, and what were those ships doing after being refueled?

More importantly, the same concerns drive the Hatoyama government’s approach to the Futenma issue. Lost in the endless amounts of copy written about the dispute is that the Hatoyama government has been animated as much by the process by which the 2006 agreement was reached as by its content. The manifesto upon which the DPJ was elected, after all, promised only a review of the realignment roadmap. It made no promises about what the DPJ would push for instead. As the government has repeatedly stated, it is proceeding from a “zero base” as it conducts its review of the roadmap and possible alternatives. While the negotiation process and the roadmap that resulted were far from secret, the DPJ wanted to review whether LDP governments actually considered all options, skepticism that is not unwarranted given the long history of secret diplomacy with the US.

The Hatoyama government deserves some blame for not being clearer about why it wanted a review in the first place, which enabled some to paint the government as anti-American. But those who see the Futenma dispute in the worst possible light have misinterpreted the Hatoyama government’s position. I think that the Hatoyama government is approaching Futenma less as a foreign policy issue than as a domestic policy issue, because a bilateral agreement as complicated the realignment plan involves too many actors within Japan to be simply a bilateral matter for governments in Tokyo and Washington. Indeed, if the 2006 agreement has a flaw it is that the Koizumi government acted without the full approval of Okinawan constituents, which explains at least in part why subsequent LDP governments did little but drag their feet on implementing the agreement.

The Hatoyama government is acting in good faith in trying to find an agreement that will satisfy all parties, not just the US government. Not surprisingly it has found that “double-edged” diplomacy is tricky, if not impossible — little wonder that governments opt to keep their foreign affairs secret. As the May deadline for its review approaches, hints that the government is leaning towards a plan to build a Futenma replacement facility in Okinawa on land instead of offshore has prompted opposition from local governments and the prefectural assembly, from DPJ secretary-general Ozawa Ichiro, and from the US itself. The whole process could end in failure, with no one happy with the final outcome, least of all the Hatoyama government.

But whether or not the Hatoyama government succeeds, it is important to recognize that it is acting on the basis of an old idea, that a democratic foreign policy must necessarily be conducted in the sight of the people in whose name it is being conducted. In its pursuit of this aim, the Hatoyama government has also implicitly suggested that an alliance conducted behind closed doors is inappropriate for a more democratic Japan, that the alliance will not endure if it continues to rest upon secret agreements and understandings.

4 thoughts on “Open diplomacy

  1. In as much as it is becoming clear that Hatoyama government likely will not succeed in making anyone happy, but will in fact succeed in making everyone angry, what will be the equivalent of the Solomon’s Judgement. Is the “Baby” here U. S. — Japan alliance? The sword is being unsheathed as we speak.


  2. Robert

    Tobias…thank you for your indepth points (of which I eagerly await)but I must respectfully disagree on the Futenma issue. I am getting the feeling that the DPJ government lied and told the Japanese people what they wanted to hear to win the election. Now that the DPJ is in power, they have reneged or postponed one promise after another. Futenma will just be another disappointment since the DPJ leadership, even today, cannot speak in unison about its disposition. The only thing that the DPJ has for it is that the LDP (as you wrote) seems to have quietly disappeared. akikana…Ginowan city (which Futenma is in) has a model, which has been on display for many years now, on how they will revamp the land once the Marine Corp has left and the land has been returned. Generally speaking, it is very rare for the JSDF to take over any property that had been under U.S. use. Ginowan's population will rapidly expand once the base has been removed.


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