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Foreign Pressure and the Japanese Policy Process: a Global Prohibitory Norm on the Use of Large-Scale Driftnets (Gaiatsu im politischen Prozess in Japan: Globale Normen gegen Treibnetze)

24.06.1998 | 18.30

Isao Miyaoka, Institute of Social Science, Tōkyō University


In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Japan was denounced heavily by the foreign media, overseas environmental groups and, in some cases, other governments for its alleged great contribution to global environmental deterioration. Moreover, Japan came under severe foreign pressure, called gaiatsu in Japanese, to stop some of its economic practices that were allegedly harmful to wildlife and fisheries conservation. Most notably, Japan was pressured to end the use of large-scale driftnets for squid and tuna fishing operations on the high seas. Although the practice started in the late1970s, it suddenly drew much opposition overseas in 1989, which The Time magazine called quote;the year of the earth.quote; The driftnet fishing issue became the first case in the history of the United Nations (UN) in which Japan and the United States separately introduced conflicting draft resolutions to a committee of the UN General Assembly. In late 1991, the driftnet fishery, together with the Uruguay Round of the General Agreementon Tariffs and Trade, was considered by the Japanese government one of the most urgent economic foreign policy issues. In November 1991, when Japan found that a resolution calling for the moratorium was about to be adopted by the majority at the UN General Assembly, Japan decided not to conduct drift-net fishing on any high seas after January 1993.

What is noteworthy in this case, however, is that the hegemonic power of the United States was not only the source of foreign pressure. In 1989,an international prohibitionary norm emerged against the use of large-scale driftnets on the high seas. Initially, Japan contested the newly emerging norm but soon complied with it. It should be noted here that the compliance did not mean Japan’s acceptance of the preservationist values embedded in the norm. That raises the question of how and why Japan reluctantly came to comply with the non-coercive international norm that the state had initially contested because it was against its national economic interests.

This paper attempts to examine foreign pressure in an unconventional light: that is, to make an inquiry into the relationship between international norms and state autonomy, by tracing the political process from norm building to state compliance in the case of the global ban on driftnet fishing. The case cannot be sufficiently explained by a realist perspective, which assumes foreign pressure on a basis of the material (military and economic) power of a hegemonic state. An alternative explanation is sought in a sociological institutionalist approach such as constructivism, which admits that material, hegemonic power is not the only source of foreign pressure, and that international social structures such as norms may also exert moral pressure on states by constituting new state identities. In addition, the thesis employs a liberal approach for analyzing the domestic policy making process in contesting and complying with the international norm, and the policy impacts of environmental transnational groups, which are important players in the wildlife conservation issue area. This thesis seeks to contribute to the literature on international relations and political science by attempting to combine sociological institutionalism and orthodox liberalism.

Isao MIYAOKA is a Ph.D. candidate at St. Anthony’s College, University of Oxford and an institute researcher at the Institute of Social Science, Tōkyō University. He is currently conducting research for his dissertation on international ecological norms and Japan’s state autonomy.

Koordination: Verena Blechinger

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