Japanese commercial whaling officially came to an end following a comprehensive moratorium adopted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1982. Japan has since continued a controversial scientific whaling program and has also strongly advocating an end to the ban for certain species of whale, much to the ire of environmentally-minded people and governments worldwide. Why does Japan continue a pro-whaling policy in spite of the grave risk of international opprobrium and possible economic sanctions? This is especially perplexing in view of the relatively insignificant political influence of whaling communities in Japan and the marginal economic importance of the whaling catch.
With reference to Japan’s greater overarching aim of comprehensive security, I will try to explain Japanese foreign policy with respect to whaling and the reasons why the government chooses pro-whaling policies. Japan’s contentious whaling stance is only in part a fight for the rural economy, indigenous rights and the preservation of traditions as is so frequently, if unconvincingly, asserted in the IWC. I will argue that Japan’s pro-whaling policy is also premised on the defence of the fundamental right of access to all fisheries, not just whales, in accordance with its food security strategy. This issue hits at the very heart of Japan’s longstanding quest for resource security at a time when it feels threatened by calls for greater environmental protection of fish stocks in the face of mounting evidence that worldwide fisheries resources are in decline. This is especially poignant when Japan’s consumption of fish is at record highs. This examination of whaling policy forms one chapter of my larger study on Japan’s international fisheries policy.
Roger Smith is a doctoral student in international relations at Oxford University and is also currently a Research Associate at Tokyo University.