Thursday 24 February
The North Korea threat emerged as the main catalyst for Japanese defence and security reforms in the post-Cold War era. Yet, only in recent years has North Korea become deeply embedded in a broad discourse relating to the revision of Japan’s postwar state. In 2017, then Prime Minister Abe called for general elections to ‘overcome Japan’s national crisis’. Pivotal to this sense of crisis were North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. Prior to elections, Japanese authorities had conducted unprecedented evacuation drills and issued emergency warnings preparing the public for missile strikes. Building on scholarship of political scientist Colin Hay, this research shows how political elites, scholars and the media in Japan have woven the North Korea threat discourse into a meta-narrative of state crisis that mandates the revision of Japan’s postwar security institutions. To this end, I trace the political and scholarly debates over North Korea in Japan since the 1990s and demonstrate how the revelation of Pyongyang’s state sponsored abduction campaign of Japanese citizens in 2002 has served as a critical juncture for conservative elites who have pledged to ‘take Japan back’ from the constraints of postwar pacifism. Locating North Korea in the broader context of the fabric of postwar Japanese democracy, I illustrate not only how the image of North Korea has changed in Japan over time, but also how narratives manufactured over the DPRK-threat were used to delegitimize established institutions and rival liberal elites in steering the transition of the state. A focus on PM Abe’s government since 2012 will further illustrate how the use of North Korea related narratives of state crisis were instrumental in debates over constitutional reinterpretations that allow participation in collective self-defence operations, the deployment of ballistic missile systems, and the build-up of enemy base strike capabilities.
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About the speaker
Sebastian Maslow is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Sendai Shirayuri Women’s College. His research interests cover contemporary Japanese politics and international relations. A long-time resident of Japan, Sebastian has commented on Japanese and East Asian security affairs for various media outlets, including The Guardian, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Deutsche Welle, Japan Times, Financial Times, Bloomberg, and Wall Street Journal. His research has been published in Asian Survey, Asian Security, and Pacific Affairs. He is the co-editor of Crisis Narratives, Institutional Change, and the Transformation of the Japanese State (SUNY Press, 2021), and Risk State: Japan’s Foreign Policy in an Age of Uncertainty (Routledge, 2015).
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