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Japan's Post-Cold War North Korea Policy: Hedging toward Autonomy?

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Occasional paper

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Japans policy toward North Korea in the post-Cold War era can be understood in the context of a general desire to increase its influence vis-a-vis competitors in Asia, such as China and Russia, while enhancing its own capacity for autonomous action within the confines of its postwar security relationship with the United States and to a much lesser extent the Republic of Korea. With little at stake in North Korea economically, Japans pursuit of better diplomatic relations with the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea DPRK in the early 1990s aimed primarily at securing its economic and political influence in the future development of a united Korean Peninsula by putting to rest a legacy of historical animosity. Japans interest in the security aspect of the relationship with North Korea was low until the 1994 nuclear crisis and U.S. dissatisfaction with Japans response forced Japan to toughen its stance and take steps to strengthen the alliance. The North Korean launch of a Taepodong rocket in 1998, along with increasing media coverage of Japanese missing persons reported to have been abducted in the mid-1970s by North Korean agents, broadened support for a hard-line policy toward the DPRK inside Japan. Japans defense procurement strategy shifted incrementally toward greater military power projection capability, in part at least as a hedge against North Korean intransigence on the nuclear, missile, and abduction issues. Ironically, policy shifts in the United States and South Korea in the late 1990s that made engagement a top priority left Japan once again the odd man out when it shifted to a hard-line position following Taepodong. Diverging views between Japan, the United States, and South Korea on the North Korean military threat contributed to Tokyos desire to increase its defense capability, in part as a hedge against being pressured by the United States to normalize relations with North Korea on terms Tokyo might view as unfavorable.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Guided Missiles
  • Nuclear Weapons

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