US-Japan Reconciliation
16 April 2019

The Perilous Reconciliation Journey between the United States of America and Japan

The United States of America and Japan are considered to be the friendliest and closest allies in the Asia Pacific region since the end of World War II. Yet, over seven decades ago, they were bitter enemies who fought a total war that almost exterminated each other in the most horrid ways known to humankind. How did these two historical enemies manage to shape and mould a strong political community setup from the ashes of WWII, and maintain their bilateral relations peacefully so that the use of military force in international disputes has almost become unthinkable? Chanaka Jun Takazawa has devoted his PhD thesis to answering those questions, and now he answers ours. 

Why did you decide to study reconciliation processes?

I was born and raised in Sri Lanka during the bloodiest years of its 30-year civil war and I witnessed atrocities and violence that were unthinkable. Also, being raised in a multicultural society, I was very confused about why this rich multicultural nation was so divided and why they hated and were jealous of each other’s communities for no apparent direct reasoning. I was very uncomfortable with how people were judged and favoured not for their merits and contributions to their communities, but for the colour of their skins, the language they spoke and the elites they knew. I was appalled by the ingrained othering institutional behaviours that have been instilled for generations and by the fact that nobody was doing anything to transform those past exclusive practices into inclusive institutional policies of “we-feeling” environments and settle disputes through peaceful means. 

During my graduate studies, I have been researching on peace making and reconciliation after civil wars, and it was in Belfast that I discovered the value and vital aspects of reconciliation, and how reconciliation processes were transforming fragile communities in Northern Ireland who were affected by generations of violence and hatred because of past othering institutional policies operationalised by conflicting adversaries. Therefore, when I started my PhD at the Graduate Institute, I decided to do research on interstate conflicts, and I chose to conduct an in-depth study of the US and Japan reconciliation relations. Firstly, I am also Japanese, and it was my personal desire to figure out how these two nations who hated each other were able to forge strong relations from the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Secondly, I wanted to investigate how the United States transformed their old segregation policies of Jim Crow institutions into more inclusive institutional practices, and verify if America’s civil rights movements were associated with the US-Japan reconciliation journey.

What are your findings?

To construct a “pluralistic security community” (PSC) between former enemy nations is very complex and requires long-term vision and strong commitment by nations and their leaders, especially in transforming past othering institutional behaviours, which involves some form of reconciliation. Currently, the conventional PSC formation framework only offers a path-dependent tier-phased approach (proposed by Deutsch and Adler and Barnett), and it cannot explain the intricacies nor the reconciliation actions necessary for reaching a certain level of a PSC development stage. According to Herbert Kelman, reconciliation can be a process as well as an outcome, and it should also be acknowledged that reconciliation may not ever reach an end stage between past enemies. My framework builds on the existing PSC framework and conceptualisations, but it offers deeper perspectives and mindfulness about transforming past dehumanising attitudes into inclusive, humanising behaviours of peaceful change. It does not follow the conventional PSC path-dependent sequential tier-phased model because reconciliation does not follow a linear consequential motion. Reconciliation is a ratcheting process because its actions may be comprehended and accepted by each other or otherwise, which is why there is a constant push and pull effect phenomenon during the PSC development stages. So, I came up with a tier-cycle evolutionary PSC construction framework that applies to former enemy nation which still have existing othering institutional practices.

Thus, my thesis demonstrates the importance of reconciliation gestures occurring at the right time, during the right circumstances, and shared by long-term visionary leaders with masterful skills in establishing inclusive mutual dependable expectations. If leaders envision a PSC with their past foes, they must first begin to reconcile with their old past mistakes, which were instigated by othering institutional behaviours, and build new inclusive institutions that will reintegrate the former other into one’s own and vice versa. For example, Jean Monnet knew that France had to reconcile with Germany and integrate Germany into Europe’s Union to establish peace because “the British, the Americans, and the Russians have worlds of their own … France is bound up in Europe. She cannot escape” (Memoirs). Hence, leaders who envision a PSC have long-term visions in creating a community based on shared values and collective actions, which would delegitimise the use of war in settling international disputes. Also, they consider pathways that help in the healing, bonding, integrating the excluded enemy’s identity, and transforming their enmity into amity relations. This is when reconciliation institutionalisation becomes vital in the formation of PSC between former adversaries.

I see reconciliation actions as having two main components, which are their signalling and inclusive driver characteristics. Reconciliation signalling communicates the vision and the commitment of transforming past enmity attitudes into amiable relations in the envisioned PSC. The hostile leaders express their reconciliation intent through overt (clearly comprehended by all parties) or covert (not clearly comprehended due to ambiguity, but actors are mindful about the inner meaning of the signalling) gestures.

The thesis proves reconciliation to be a transformative, long-term, ongoing, ratcheting process that does not have a single definitive outcome, yet one which has to be practiced and renewed overtime continuously, depending on the different milestones (or setbacks) and circumstances. Reconciliation is a process of changing old prejudiced thoughts and practices into new institutional behaviours of mindfulness; and it encourages the mutual recognition that past actions are no longer applicable in current international circumstances. Reconciliation is the humanising process that transforms the past instilled enmity attitudes of the other into the new inclusive amity relations of a “we-feeling”, which are vital elements for building stable and lasting peace environments. Therefore, I see reconciliation as a vital agent or agency of change/transformation that facilitates the formation of inclusive political communities where dispute settlements happen peacefully and non-violently among former enemy nations.

Does your thesis provide policy recommendations?

It draws attention to questions that are surprisingly underexplored in the field of security communities in international affairs. I argue that existing heuristic approaches still leave “blind spots” in detecting past othering behaviours and engaging and transforming them directly into more inclusive ones. Hence, I propose to fill these blind spots by using my reconciliation-based framework, and it serves its purpose, as I explained above. If the main root causes of aggressive othering institutional behaviours are not actively resolved and transformed during the crucial PSC construction stages, the blind spots will re-emerge and the vicious cycles of using military force in settling international disputes will remain. 

I also make a recommendation for solving the puzzle of conventional security community formation based on insecurities of nations. In order to prevent insecurity mindsets and the need to create another new “other” or enemy identity, the integrated political community framework should avoid building an inclusive community solely based on “security”. This is because the moment the word “security” is mentioned in foreign policy, everything begins to be over securitised, which also produces a sense of militarising and protecting one’s interests from something that is unknown or yet to be othered. Perhaps re-labelling “pluralistic security community” (PSC) as “pluralistic inclusive community” (PIC) could reduce the friction of opposite behaviours, which attempts to negate the fear factor in order to create a common middle ground for resolving international disputes through peaceful means. Thus, the use of military force becomes invalid and unacceptable.

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Chanaka Jun Takazawa defended his PhD thesis in International Relations/Political Science in September 2018. Professor Thomas Biersteker presided the committee, which included Professor Cédric Dupont, thesis director, and Dr Kazuyo Yamane, Associate Professor at the Institute of International Relations and Area Studies, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan.

Full citation of the PhD thesis:
Takazawa, Chanaka Jun. “The Perilous Reconciliation Journey between the United States of America and Japan! The Role of Reconciliation in the Construction of Pluralistic Security Community among Former Enemy States.” PhD thesis, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, 2018.

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Interview by Nathalie Tanner, Research Office.
Illustration: Pete Souza [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.