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Reviewed by:
  • Limits to Power: Asymmetric Dependence and Japanese Foreign Aid Policy
  • David Arase (bio)
Limits to Power: Asymmetric Dependence and Japanese Foreign Aid Policy. By Akitoshi Miyashita. Lexington Books, New York, 2003. xiii, 227 pages. $65.00.

This book is a neatly organized, albeit narrowly focused, analysis of how the country allocation of Japanese bilateral aid spending has responded to high-profile [End Page 550] U.S. pressure in the 1990s. The intention is to examine the broader questions of whether Japan is a passive, reactive nation-state actor in the international system and, more specifically, whether Japan has a foreign policy independent of the United States. To test these propositions, the author chooses five cases in which the United States demanded reversals of Japanese bilateral aid spending policy. These are critical cases because Japanese compliance would constitute unambiguous evidence of U.S. power and continued U.S. hegemonic dominance. Three of these cases (China after the 1989 Tiananmen tragedy, Iran in the latter half of the 1990s, and Vietnam in the early 1990s) examine what happened when the United States wanted Japan to stop aid spending. The remaining two cases isolate instances in which the United States wanted Japan to start new aid spending (Russia during the transition from the Gorbachev to Yeltsin eras, and North Korea after the 1994 Agreed Framework worked out by the United States).

The empirical result is that in all five cases, Japan basically reversed the direction of its spending policy in response to U.S. pressure. To explain these Japanese policy reversals, the author notes that Japan is much more dependent on the United States than is the United States on Japan (a condition of "asymmetric dependence"). He accurately points out that Japan is more dependent on the U.S. market and U.S. military protection than are other U.S. allies such as France or Germany, and so is more vulnerable to U.S. pressure. Thus, the policy reversals are explained in the traditional terms of rational unitary state behavior: in each case Japan weighed the risk and potential cost to Japan of provoking U.S. retaliation for noncompliance against the expected benefit of continuing to spend its aid budget as it saw fit. In each case, Japan chose to comply. The bottom line is that in the 1990s Japan's foreign aid allocation was consistently compliant with strongly stated U.S. requests, even when these requests conflicted with Japan's own policy preferences.

This result may not come as a surprise to many. Even casual observers have heard Japanese foreign policy in the 1990s called "checkbook diplomacy," a term that suggests that U.S. requests for Japanese support invariably ended up with Japan writing checks to help pay for U.S. initiatives. This derisive characterization took hold with the first U.S. invasion of Iraq in 1991, when Japan's preinvasion reluctance to back the United States was transformed into a thumping display of checkbook diplomacy after the January 1991 invasion materialized (to the tune of some $13 billion authorized by the Japanese Diet in March 1991). This pattern continues today with Japan's pledge of $1.5 billion to help rebuild Iraq after the second U.S. invasion. More significant, however, in today's case Japan has bowed to U.S. pressure to deploy Japanese Ground Self Defense Force troops to Iraq, despite popular opposition and a traditional postwar legal interpretation of the constitution that rules out overseas collective security operations stemming [End Page 551] from alliance obligations and forbids Self Defense Force roles in active combat zones. In light of this well-established pattern, the findings of this study may be unsurprising, but this should not obscure the fact that Miyashita has displayed skill in choosing and neatly organizing his case studies.

The interpretation of the empirical findings is given a questionable spin, however. He states, "My case studies clearly support the view that attributes Japanese reactivity to its will" (p. 193). This is an awkward formulation, but in essence, he suggests that Japan can be modeled as a rational, unitary state actor (led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in these cases). Japan's choice to comply...


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