In the early 1990s, there was serious concern that in the post-Cold War era the two economic powers Germany and Japan would emerge with more assertive foreign policy-lines and strive for political dominance in Europe and East Asia, respectively. Magazine articles and books sported titles such as "The Germans: Should the world be worried?", "Can Germany be contained?", "The coming war with Japan" and "Containing Japan". A number of comparative studies of Germany and Japan concluded that both countries would pursue broadly similar regional foreign policy roles that would inevitably lead to power struggles and instability in Europe and East Asia.
Now, one and a half decades later, it is evident that in fact Germany and Japan have explicitly rejected a unilaterally dominating regional role and have gone out of their way to assure neighboring countries of their peaceful intentions. While there are some striking similarities in German and Japanese regional foreign policy behavior, there are also some important differences. For example, Germany exhibits an unparalleled tendency to support regional cooperation and formal multilateral institutions, while Japan takes a more hesitant stance, preferring bilateral and less formal issue-specific multilateral cooperation.
In my presentation I will argue that the concept of political culture, encompassing values and normative beliefs held by each society, may offer a compelling explanation for the individual foreign policy approaches of Germany and Japan. I will draw on role theory as a tool through which political culture can be analyzed. As this presentation is based on work in progress, I will talk about the theoretical foundations, present some initial findings and draw some preliminary conclusions. This presentation is based on my PhD project at Trier University (Germany).
Alexandra Wittig is a PhD candidate in political science at Trier University and currently a doctoral research fellow at the DIJ.