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[Lecture report] “Overcoming security isolationism: Japan’s promotion of East Asia security multilateralism since 1991”

On January 14, 2019, the Center for Positive/Empirical Analysis of Political Economy of the Top Global University Project at Waseda University held a lecture by Professor Paul Midford of Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

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Professor Midford delivered a lecture on multilateralism in regional security in East Asia and the role that Japan has played both during and after the Cold War.  Specifically, his lecture asks why Japan pursued regional security isolationism during the Cold War, and why it then suddenly ended this isolationism on the cusp of the Cold War’s end, embracing regional security multilateralism. Professor Midford focuses on the July 1991 Nakayama proposal and the resulting legacy of more than a quarter century since of Japanese leadership in promoting regional security multilateralism.

Japan’s initial sudden burst of leadership, in the form of the proposal by Foreign Minister Nakayama Tarō and several additional proposals by Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi played a crucial role in introducing regional security multilateralism in East Asia through the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the first regional multilateral security forum. Japan’s consistent leadership thereafter also played a crucial role by building on the ARF to create other multilateral security institutions in East Asia, including the Northeast Asian Cooperation (NEA 3) from 2003, The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) in 2004, the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus Dialogue Partners (ADMM Plus) in 2010, and the East Asian Maritime Forum in 2012.

In his lecture, Professor Midford identifies several challenges that Japan’s pivot from security isolationism toward security engagement and leadership in promoting regional security multilateralism was designed to address. First, in terms of overcoming Japan’s postwar reputational problem the reassurance imperative is the most important factor explaining both Japan’s security isolationism during the Cold War and its subsequent active promotion of regional security multilateralism. This presentation also identifies two other motivations for promoting regional security multilateralism: to mitigate its alliance security dilemma of entrapment versus abandonment vis a vis the US, and to build new security utilities not provided by the US-Japan alliance in non-traditional security areas, including counter-piracy, counter-terrorism, countering illicit trafficking in drugs, human smuggling, etc., and humanitarian and disaster relief operations (HaDR).

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