Cultural Norm and National Security

It is just a happenstance, I think, that I read a piece in the New York Times written by Max M Kampelman who headed the U.S. delegation to the negotiations on nuclear and space arms in Geneva from 1985 to 1989, when I am writing my review on Cultural Norms & National Security. Recalling what he did as an arm negotiator in the Reagan Administration, a success in negotiating two different and contradictory agenda with two different parties: negotiating elimination of nuclear weapon with Soviet Union, and on the other hand negotiating with the speaker of the House to approve request for more MX missiles, he says, “There is a moral to these stories: you can be an idealist and a realist at the same time.”

Peter Katzenstein clearly states his position in fairly similar vein, finding a third way to go beyond two prevailing approaches of idealism and realism in security studies. He observes that both theories are correct but not enough. They both overlook a cultural explanation in different ways. Realism, focusing mainly on the effects of material capabilities, discredits the importance of culture. On the other hand, idealism only points to regulatory norm and pay no attention to the constitutive norms embodied in culture. Both neglect culture in different ways.

He thinks, therefore, that both theories are not capable of explaining Japan’s internal and external securities policy. Liberalism lacks in two important points: first, they don’t pay enough attention to a non great political powers. As non-militarized state, Japan has no military power to be considered great political power in international affairs. In any measure, realism generally indeterminate in what it tells about Japanese security. If all states merely behave in a reaction to other states, the states will change its securities policy in response to the changing situation around the neighboring states. This theory, however, does not work well to explain Japanese security policies. Since 1970s, American – Japan’s patron – position had been weakening, the Soviet military power had grew significantly, and Chinese power had increased importantly; Japan, amid these rapid changes, had been relatively unchanging.

In different fashion, idealism has neglected another, if not greater, important side of norm. Idealism focuses on written laws and other mores that help create spontaneous local order. The theory does explain how norms affect actor behavior and how individual impetus and social facts are formed in action-oriented framework. In so working, however, idealism then neglects cultural explanation. Idealism is critical to cultural explanations because they are too general. Confucianism values, for example, embraced by majority in three different countries of China, Korea, and Japan, do not bring about the same security policy. Second, cultural explanations assume norms as individually, rather than collectively, held values. These criticisms on cultural explanation, to some extent, are plausible, but the provided example of Confucianism is not quiet relevant to the security policy and current Japanese situation, especially its defining business, political, and legal culture. Katzenstein finds that “Idealism focuses only on the efficiency effects that ‘thin’ regulatory norms have on individual norms have on individual behavior. It overlooks ‘thick’ constitutive norms that define the identities of actors.” (p. 27).

Both in fact may contribute to a third option: institutional theory that based on neglected aspects of those theories. First, like realism, institutionalism treats state as rational, unitary actors with fixed preferences, especially its priority to survive. But, unlike, realism, institutionalism bothers internal dynamics realism neglects. Katzenstein believes that the distinctive aspects of Japan’s security policy can be understood best by analyzing in one analytical framework its international and domestic aspects. Like idealism, Katzenstein pays attention to the norm in explaining these domestic aspects. However, unlike idealism, he pays more attention to what he calls constitutive norms found in cultural aspects of the state.

Based on this theory, Katzenstein tries to provide a more comprehensive explanation about security policy in Japan at expense of combining two different views on international affairs and the state behavior. Katzenstein’s world, therefore, is both idealist and realist one. Like idealist, he believes that “international institutions do not merely create political efficiencies. Their form reflects collective identities that embody substantive political purposes” (p.29), such as to set up certain conduct and behavior. The norms seemingly are needed by states that strive to survive in the supposed amoral world so that the world can be more manageable. To put it differently, state behavior is affected by strategies to survive, the preferences of which are contingent on domestic cultural, economic, and political and international norms.

Japan’s security policy, then, is a result of a complex relation between international norms, collective identity produced by historical experience (either pre or post 1945), and domestic written norms and political institutions delineating the preferences of political actors. To make it more understandable, Katzenstein compares these three aspects of Japan’s security policy with the US and Germany. Because of its complexity, it is difficult to summarize Katzenstein’s argument. Below are the most important arguments of him.

The “Security Culture”

Katzenstein’s thesis focuses on “culture” and constitutive norms, rather than international balance of power and regulatory norms. But, what does he means by this culture? He observes three distinct cultural dimension: state organization, state-society relation, and transnational links.

First, analysts have different views on Japanese State organization. Some said it is a centralized state with a powerful and dominant government deriving its high quality and dedication staffs from its society. Some said that Japan is governed by three important sectors working together: bureaucracy, conservative party elders, and big business. Some view Japan in very contrast way: that in Japan there is a prolonged war between business and government. After all, it seems that, whatever the representation is, there is a strong relation between government and society. Second, the relation between society and state, among others, can be seen in the relation between state and Japanese firms that is informal, face to face, and horizontal. The close relation is also expressed in the placement of retiring government officials with the Japanese firms in the system of amakudari. The excellent example how Japan relies its security on society is its intelligence. Japan counts on its major trading houses, banks, and manufacturing corporations for its intelligence needs. Even though not operated directly by the state, it is “the most comprehensive and complex of friendly spy network deployed against the United States.” (p. 36). The third dimension of structure of the Japanese state is transnational as well trans-governmental. Foreign actors are included directly or indirectly in domestic policy coalition in which nationalists and internationalists seek to find acceptable compromises.

Support for Katzenstein’s main argument, however, lies in the striking Japanese legal culture. Idealism/liberalism focuses on written norms that actually become effective only when the informal social control breaks down. Japan, in fact, has a strong social control that forms a non-litigious character of contemporary Japanese society. Law in its cultural sense, as a doctrine of morality, is respected; on the other hand, law, as an instrument of adjudication, is viewed in suspicion (p. 43). If we pay attention more to the written norms, we possibly overlook the more important aspect of Japanese legal culture. We should pay attention to both aspects.

Katzenstein finds that in Japan, there has been a mix between the norm and culture. The written norms did have shifted dramatically Japan’s security policy since 1945. On the other hand, the Japanese culture expressed in the civilian control and an “anti-military” public sentiment supports that written norm and places military in a subordinate role in domestic and foreign policy affairs. Finally, the intertwined relations bring about police and military as agents of non violence.

Katzenstein and Mearsheimer

It is very interesting to compare Katzenstein and Mearsheimer for their different point of views. I will try to elaborate their arguments relevant to the aspects that they themselves can be criticized altogether.

I agree with Katzenstein that realism cannot explain Japan’s security policy in more detailed aspect in which Katzenstein can. Realism’s main premise that states are not be sure about behavior of other states is deniable in the case of Japan-US security relation. Instead of being suspicious to the US, I find that Japan does trust the US for its security more than Katzenstein suggests with his cultural explanation. Katzenstein suggests that Japan’s behavior in international security are resulted from, not exclusively though, its domestic culture that become more anti-violence since 1945. I think, however, that Japan’s non-military approach in international approach is a result of its cooperation with the US. Japan has “paid a bodyguard” for its international affairs and they do relay on this bodyguard without any doubt. Instead of thinking about “a supplemental security policy”, they focus their limited resources on economics.

I am thinking about the Robinson Crusoe Economy in economics class in explaining this Japanese behavior. According to this economics theory, it is more economical for individual to focus on his specialization rather than producing two different goods to fulfill his needs. Japan’s has comparative advantages on “economic good”, while the US has comparative advantages on “security good”. It is more beneficial for both of them to specialize in their respective comparative advantages to produce more goods. Japan, I think, devices this economic theory very well in its foreign policy security. If there were no security support from the US, one that Katzenstein doesn’t think about it, Japan would follow the “rule” held by Mearsheimer — that states will compete to survive and maximize their power.

Therefore, security relation between the US and Japan is not about “free-riding” or about reluctant to promote military position as Katzenstein suggests to criticize both realism and liberalism (p. 188), rather it is about security policy “economic consideration”. Why should Japan spend its budget to produce “security” if they can “buy” it cheaply from the US? It is better for one whose specialization is selling good to concentrate on his specialization and has his house fixed by a carpenter rather than he wastes his time to fix his house.

While Mearsheimer’s work would fail, too, in explaining “non great” political powers, because of its measure on military power, Katzenstein’s works well in Japan. In Mearsheimer’s world, small political powers would act according to the great political powers. Their policies are not significant because they will not influence world affairs though. However, we should consider the security “out come” rather than the security strategy used by a state. Katzenstein shows us that internally, Japanese society is very secure with a very low incident of criminality. Without sending its army oversea to protect economic interest, Japan can do business as well as the US who has to send its military in hot spots to maintain its economic interest. While Japanese are welcomed throughout the world, Americans (as a price of the US’s aggressive foreign policy) sometime has to bring Canadian flag to disguise his identity. To some extent, Japan benefits more by not using military power, having given it to the U.S., to influence the world.

So, Mearsheimer’s framework is still relevant to explain broad context of world affairs. Japan is not an exception; it doesn’t neglect the need to survive in the world competition. Instead, it shifted its security policy from “direct handling” to “indirect handling” by submitting its security interest to a management of the U.S. Domestic culture, surely, influences preferences that Japan has taken so far — as Katzenstein argues. Japan can be so dependent on the US for its external security because the US is not a threat and reliable. The basic behavior of state to survive or to rule does not necessarily encourage a state to pursue military hegemony. Japan obviously has been success in pursuing hegemony in different way. Katzenstein’s work is a strong challenge for both realism and idealism. (*)

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