Ambassador Kitano's Lecture on Ireland's Neutrality Policy and Japan's Alliance Policy


It is a great pleasure and honor for me to be given this opportunity today to talk to the class of my dear friend and distinguished scholar, Professor Declan Downey.

These are exceptional and difficult times. I am sure everybody is struggling in this situation. In these days, I try to remind myself of my favorite maxim, “Do the duty which lies nearest to you.” In these circumstances, I also think it is important to continue to carry out our daily activities as much as possible, while respecting the requirements of social distancing and staying home. So, I am extremely happy to have this opportunity to be linked with you in this video conference format.

Allow me to start my presentation now. In trying to understand this country as Ambassador of Japan, I have been thinking about what our two countries have in common, and in what areas we have differences. I am delighted to say that we have lots in common. We both have a long history. We both have a distinct culture, and we treasure it. We both are island countries and are surrounded by sea. Importantly, and this is related to today’s topic, we both are located at the periphery of a large continent on the one hand and at the very end of a big ocean on the other.

The diplomacy of our two countries also has lots in common. We both attach importance to basic values such as freedom, democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. We both are committed to multilateralism. We both are active in disarmament as well as the fight against poverty and global warming. Both people have a strong desire to see world peace.
At the same time, I also have to acknowledge our differences. Take disarmament as an example. While we both underline the importance of nuclear disarmament, our approaches are different. Ireland takes a fundamental and legalistic approach, but Japan takes a moderate and practical approach. Ireland supports the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, but Japan takes a cautious stance on it.

In my perspective, this divergence stems from the difference in the basic stance of diplomacy of our two countries. While the policy of neutrality has been important for Irish diplomacy, the security alliance with the U. S. has been one of the pillars of Japan’s diplomacy. Today, I would like to talk about why we differ in this basic stance of diplomacy.
(Ireland’s Neutrality Policy)

Let me start with Ireland. This is an area with which you are familiar. So, I don’t think it is necessary to going into the details. However, for the sake of comparison, allow me to touch upon some of the salient points.

It was with the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 that Ireland formally proclaimed neutrality. While the leaders of Irish independence advocated a policy of neutrality since the 1920s, this proclamation confirmed it officially. This laid the ground for one of the pillars of the basic stance of Irish diplomacy.

We can understand this choice of neutrality from several angles. First, Ireland did not want to be dragged into what Dublin saw as an unnecessary war. The war that broke out on the European continent was not a war where Irish independence, sovereignty or survival were at stake, at least at that time. It was only twenty years after the end of the First World War. Bitter memories were still too fresh to have fought a war for another’s sake. In addition, Irish people also underwent the War of Independence and the Civil War after that. In the event that Ireland was attacked and sovereignty and independence were put at stake, it would become a “war of necessity.” However, until such time, they wanted to avoid being dragged into a war.

Second, neutrality, particularly to be neutral from the stance of Britain, was important from the standpoint of independence and sovereignty. It was the period when Ireland was trying to consolidate its sovereignty and independence under the leadership of Éamon de Valera. Ireland was still a member of the British Commonwealth and its freedom of action was constrained by its relationship with the United Kingdom. Article 7 of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Agreement allowed the U. K. to control three naval facilities in the South, namely those of Berehaven, Cobh and Lough Swilly. This was a situation de Valera wanted to change. What he did was the following. The 1937 Constitution initiated by de Valera stated that “war shall not be declared and the state shall not participate in any war save with the assent of Dáil Éireann” (Article 28. 3. 1). In 1938, through negotiation with the British Government headed by Neville Chamberlain, de Valera succeeded in regaining full control of the three naval facilities. These changes, in particular the return of the three naval facilities, provided a solid basis for Ireland to be neutral in the event of war. Thus, neutrality policy can be understood as one of the components of de Valera’s initiative to achieve full sovereignty and independence. Let me quote the late Professor Ronan Fanning, "For him [de Valera], neutrality was merely a means to an end; the end was sovereignty and neutrality was simply the expression of a sovereignty that enabled to pursue a genuinely independent foreign policy."[1]

Third, the security situation seemed, at least at that moment, to provide some breathing space for Ireland. Geographical situation was an important factor. Luckily, Ireland was remote from the center of Europe where the ground warfare broke out. Britain also provided a shield from upheavals on the European Continent. I said at the outset of today’s presentation that one of the commonalities between Japan and Ireland is that they are both located at the periphery of a large continent and at the very end of a big ocean. However, a big difference between the two countries is that Ireland is, using the expression of Ronan Fanning again, “an offshore island behind one larger and more powerful offshore island.”[2] Of course, he was referring to Great Britain. This makes security calculus totally different.

It is difficult to think about the security of Ireland independent from Britain, given its proximity and military power. Supposing the U. K. is strong and its security is unchallenged, the choices for Ireland to ensure its security will be either subordinate to it, or be benevolent to it. The option to seek the support of Britain’s most powerful continental enemy was simply unrealistic once Ireland became independent. Thus, the baseline was to come up with a situation where the U. K. did not feel threatened by Ireland from its western flank. Ireland could be benevolent to the U. K. while keeping neutrality. This was a fundamental part of de Valera's security calculus. In order to have a good understanding on the part of the U. K., de Valera repeated that he would never allow Ireland to be used as a base for an attack on Britain.

Fourth, Ireland was not militarily well prepared to fight a war. If it was invaded, they had to fight, like it or not. However, given limited military forces and equipment, fighting a war was the last option they would like to take.

Fifth, partition limited the policy options the Irish leadership could take. A stance regarded as too close to Britain might be understood as a measure to perpetuate partition, and prompt anger among the population or increase support to the anti-regime IRA. Though partition might not be the main motivation for neutrality, it also exerted some influence on the course of the discussion.

From my perspective, these are the considerations behind the neutrality policy of Ireland at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Six years of the so-called “Emergency” period might be one of the most difficult periods for Irish foreign policy since independence in 1922. Ireland faced possible threats from three directions, namely from Germany, Britain, and the United States. In the early years of the war, there was a fear of German invasion along the south coast and German bombers occasionally dropped bombs on Irish territory. The Irish government was also concerned about the prospect of a British military incursion to Ireland. Before the operation of D-Day in June 1944, American pressure for the expulsion of diplomats from the Axis powers caused concern as a prelude for a possible Allied invasion of Ireland through Northern Ireland. However, Ireland was able to manage these situations. Geographical situation helped Ireland. None of the belligerent powers found it strategically imperative to invade Ireland.

This is how neutrality emerged as a core element of Irish foreign policy.
(Japan’s Alliance Policy)

 Now, let me move to Japan’s alliance policy. It was in 1951, six years after the end of the Second World War, that Japan concluded its first Security Treaty with the United States. Japan was occupied by the Allied forces after its defeat. Japan in 1951 had some commonalities with Ireland in 1939. People’s distaste for war, limited defense capability, as well as the issue of independence and sovereignty, to name a few. However, Japan took a different policy option from Ireland.

After the end of the war, the expectation of world peace underpinned by cooperation and collaboration among major powers soon evaporated. Antagonism and tension between the two camps mounted as mentioned by Winston Churchill in his “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946.

This had a fundamental bearing on Japan’s position. It was the period regarded as the beginning of the Cold War. However, in East Asia, the reality was not a cold war, but a hot war. In China, a fierce civil war had been fought between communist forces led by Mao Tse-Tung and the Kuomintang forces of Chiang Kai-Shek. To the deep disappointment of the Western countries, communist forces won this civil war, leading to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Chiang Kai-Shek and his supporters fled to Taiwan, waiting for a chance to regain mainland China.

The Korean Peninsula was divided into two, the pro-Western Republic of Korea in the South and the communist regime of North Korea. In June 1950, the Korean War broke out with the North’s invasion of the South. The United Nations forces were formed under the leadership of the U. S. to push back. However, the war was an extremely difficult one for the U. S. and its allied forces.
It was against this background that the future course of Japan was discussed. There were a number of issues to be addressed.

First, the modality and timing of a peace treaty, which was to end the war, in legal terms, and the occupation. Ideally, a "complete peace", which meant peace with all the belligerent states in the Second World War was desirable. However, given the reality of the Cold War, a “complete peace” seemed unrealistic. If Japan waited for the environment to enable a “complete peace”, it would be a long, long way to go and occupation would continue for the foreseeable future. Another option was a “separate peace”, which meant concluding a peace treaty with only those who were ready to do so. Practically, this meant concluding a peace treaty with the U. S., western states and others, leaving communist countries for future negotiations. This would compromise the scope of countries. However, this could be made in a reasonable time framework.

Second, if Japan was to regain sovereignty in ending the occupation, how to ensure the security of Japan? At that moment, Japan was surrounded by communist countries, namely the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and North Korea. Only ROK was a pro-western country nearby. However, due to the Korean War, the very survival of ROK was in danger at that time. In such a situation, without effective security measures, the survival of Japan would have been at risk. One option was a security alliance with the United States. The other option was what was called a “non-armed neutrality” policy, relying on the United Nations and good will of the countries concerned.

Third, if Japan took the option of alliance with the U. S., to what extent would Japan have its own military forces? Already in 1950, an organization called the “National Police Reserve” was established in order to fill the gap caused by the transfer of most of the American ground forces from military facilities in Japan following the outbreak of the Korean War. The U.S. wished for Japan’s rearmament. However, rearmament did not fit the mind of Japanese people who by then had enough of the pre-war militarism. The economic situation also would not allow much resources to be spent for that.

The option the Government of Japan took was the following. For the peace treaty, Japan opted for a “separate peace“ in concluding the peace treaty with only those who were ready to do so, namely, the U. S., western countries and others, putting aside the communist countries. For security measures, Japan decided to form an alliance with the U. S. allowing U. S. troops to be stationed in Japan so as to deter armed attack against Japan. For Japan’s military forces, Japan would have forces of a moderate size, making a step-by-step increase, rather than aiming at a rapid military build-up, as requested by the United States.

It was Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru who exhibited leadership in choosing such a course. Yoshida was a former diplomat. In pre-war Japan, while the general policy trend became increasingly pro-Nazi Germany, he continued to advocate a cordial relationship with the United States and the United Kingdom. For Yoshida, Japan had developed, since the Meiji Restoration in the 19th Century, attaching importance to international trade and maintaining a cordial relationship with the United Kingdom and the United States. The situation since the 1930s was rather a deviation from this good tradition caused by the military. What Japan should do was to go back to this good tradition, deepening its relationship with the U. S., introducing foreign investment, and stimulating free economic activities. While some were critical of being “subordinate to the U. S.,” the counter-argument of Yoshida was that given international interdependence, it is not appropriate to have an obsession with a perfunctory independence.

This is how Japan’s alliance policy started.

These stories regarding the genesis of the two countries’ policies prompt some interesting themes of comparison, such as the “separate peace” of peace in 1951 and the 1921 Anglo-Irish treaty, the U.S.-Japan relationship in 1951 and the Anglo-Irish relationship in 1921 or 1939, and so on. These issues are of great interest. However since time is rather limited today, I would defer elaborating on them to a future occasion, and move to what happened after that.
(Evolution of policy in Japan)

It is one thing to start a policy. It is quite another to develop it afterward. The evolution since its start as a basic stance for diplomacy makes a stark contrast between Ireland's neutrality policy and Japan's alliance policy.

Japan has continued to strengthen its alliance with the United States. The two countries updated their security treaty in 1960. They cooperated in defense procurement. They formulated a guideline for defense cooperation in 1978, and expanded joint exercises in various formats. Japan expanded host-nation support for U. S. forces in Japan, and also strengthened its own self-defense forces.
The end of the Cold War necessitated soul-searching on the meaning of the alliance. Japan and the U. S. adopted the “Joint Declaration on Security Alliance for the 21st Century” in April 1996, and judged that the alliance continued to be relevant in view of the instability and uncertainty that persisted in the Asia and Pacific Region.

However, serious challenges for the Japan-U. S. security alliance came from other places, more precisely the Middle East. Particularly, the Gulf War started by Iraq’s invasion to Kuwait in 1990 and the war on terror after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 presented a serious challenge. In these cases, Japan wanted to discharge its international responsibility to respond to such crises and show solidarity to the U. S. who was the main actor of international responses. On the other hand, domestically, there was a strong resistance to get involved in these military conflicts. Further, Japan’s response should be in line with its Constitution. The case in point was the provision of Article 9 of the Constitution which reads as follows:

"Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

Each time new measures were proposed or were to be taken, criticism arose claiming that the measures in question were not in line with the spirit of the peaceful nature of the Constitution or would constitute a “use of force” prohibited by the Constitution.

At the time of the Gulf War in 1990-1991, Japan felt a heavy constraint in its policy tools to support the operation of coalition forces led by the United States. It was not a situation where an “armed attack against Japan” (Article 5 of the Japan-U. S. Security Treaty) occurred nor was it a situation where “international peace and security in the Far East” (Article 6 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty) was threatened. These are the key concepts of the Japan-U. S. Security Treaty. So, the mechanism of this treaty did not apply. Since there were few options other than financial contributions at that time, it became a wake-up call for broadening policy tools for Japan. The 1992 Act on the United Nations peacekeeping operations was one of the results of such efforts. For your reference, this Act provided for five principles to avoid the situation of “use of force,” namely, 1) existence of a cease-fire agreement between the parties concerned, 2) agreement by them for Japan’s participation, 3) neutral stance, 4) immediate withdrawal upon changes in these conditions, 5) weapon use only for self-defense purposes. This Act also stipulates that major developments should be reported to the Diet by the administration. You can compare this with the Irish‘triple lock’mechanism requiring the United Nation’s authorization, Government approval and Dáil approval, for deployment of Defense Forces.

After the terrorist attacks against the U.S. on September 11, 2001, the U. S. led military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In both cases, Japan adopted special measure acts to support such operations. To counter terrorism in Afghanistan and its surrounding areas, Japan dispatched naval self-defense forces vessels to provide logistical support for oil refueling and water supply in the Indian Ocean for vessels participating in the operations, named Operation Enduring Freedom. For Iraq, Japan dispatched units of ground self-defense forces with a view to support the reconstruction of the country.

This does not mean the Asia and Pacific Region was without problems. On the contrary, instability and uncertainty in the region increased as indicated in the Joint Declaration I mentioned earlier. A typical example was the issue of North Korea. Since the end of the Cold War, we have witnessed three rounds of nuclear crises in North Korea. First, in the first half of the 1990s, second, in the first half of the 2000s, and third since 2017. One of the important policy principles for Japan in responding to these crises was to maintain close coordination with the United States. During these crises, North Korea conducted six nuclear tests and launched missiles numerous times. In order to deal with this mounting threat, enhancement of cooperation with the U. S. was indispensable. One of the areas where cooperation with the U.S. was strengthened was in missile defense.

Most recently, with a view to dealing with national security issues more effectively in general, Japan strengthened its state mechanism. Japan established the National Security Council and its secretariat, and also adopted the National Security Strategy in 2013. Another big step was taken in 2014 when the government of Japan changed its interpretation of the constitution to allow the limited exercise of collective self-defense. The traditional interpretation was that the constitution permitted the exercise of individual self-defense, but not collective self-defense. Further, in 2015, Japan enhanced its legislation on the issue of peace and security to deal with the situation where Japan's existence is threatened or the situation where peace and security of Japan is seriously affected. Good functioning of the security alliance with the U. S. was one of the backgrounds for these measures.
So, Japan has continued to strengthen its alliance with the United States.
(Evolution of Policy in Ireland)

On the other hand, the relationship between the development of Irish diplomacy and the policy of neutrality was not straightforward.
When the Second World War was over, wartime neutrality left Ireland in an acrimonious relationship with western countries, particularly with the United Kingdom and the United States. Machiavelli pointed out in his classic work The Prince that while neutrality policy pleases the enemy, it disappoints the close friend. This is actually what happened in the Irish relationship with the United Kingdom and the United States.

When the Cold War took shape after the Second World War, Ireland, with a strong commitment to Catholicism, didn’t hesitate to take sides with the anti-communist free world both politically and ideologically. However, when it came to the issue of military alliance, it was a different story. When the U. S. took the initiative to establish NATO in 1949, Ireland tried to make a deal. At that moment, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sean MacBride in discussing with the U. S. side about Irish participation to NATO, indicated that Ireland agreed with the terms of the alliance and would be prepared to join NATO, if Washington first put pressure on London to end partition. Apparently, the U. S. was not in a position to do that.

Irish diplomacy moved to a new stage in joining the United Nations in 1955. Ireland started to participate in UN peacekeeping operations in 1958. In 1960, Ireland was asked to contribute to a large-scale mission to maintain law and order in the newly independent Congo. It was “due to its neutrality and being a non-member of Cold War military alliances”[3] that Ireland was chosen. One of the ideas supporting neutrality policy might be the wish for Ireland to be a peacemaker, a neutral mediator seeking international justice and a fair contributor to the humanitarian cause. This should have underpinned Ireland’s consistent and active participation to the UN peacekeeping operations, though it often presented a difficult task, as the case in Congo demonstrated.

Another big step for Irish diplomacy was its joining the EEC in 1973. During the referendum, one of the arguments of the “No” campaign against EEC membership was that membership would run counter to Ireland’s sovereignty and neutrality. However, in the referendum, the Irish electorate overwhelmingly supported joining the EEC with 83% voting in favor and 17% voting against. For Ireland, the main motivation to join the EEC was to benefit economically from European integration, and the main focus of European integration at that time was also in the economic field. So, in the 1970s and 1980s, there was little tension between European integration and Ireland's neutrality policy.

However, things changed in the 1990s. With the end of the Cold War and the emergence of new types of conflict such as those in former Yugoslavia, policy makers started to discuss security issues in a new setting. Now there were various agendas which required scrutiny with regard to the relationship with neutrality policy. This included deepening of European political and security cooperation, the relationship with NATO and the relationship with the Western European Union (WEU).

Ireland took a careful approach to these issues. Ireland tried to be positive and constructive to these cooperation mechanisms, while ensuring not to overstep into the domain of mutual defense. The policy was now dubbed “military neutrality”, meaning non-participation in military alliances, as spelled out in the 1996 White Paper on Foreign Policy Challenges and Opportunities Abroad. In the European integration discussion, Ireland was cautious on the development of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) or Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). When member states discussed the framework of the CFSP in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, specific provision was inserted with a view to ensure that it would not supersede individual member states’ security policies.

Ireland decided in 1999 to participate in a new mechanism called "Partnership for Peace (PfP)” of NATO, a scheme which enabled to establish cooperation with non-members. In the same year, Ireland concluded security arrangements with the WEU, which is to address the so-called Petersberg tasks. They include peacekeeping and crisis management. With that, Ireland engaged in the discussion of the creation of an EU Rapid Reaction Force. For these steps, compatibility with neutrality was a source of controversy, and it took quite some time before the Government of Ireland finally made up its mind on these two issues.

In 2017, Ireland joined the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), with the understanding that actual participation in each project is decided on a case-by-case basis.

While the policy of “military neutrality” continues to be enshrined as “a core element of Irish foreign policy,” it seems to me that its standing in Irish diplomacy has become less clear over the years. At the same time, I also acknowledge that the idea to be a peacemaker, a neutral mediator and a fair contributor to the international cause is largely supported by Irish people and the concept of neutrality is important in this context.
(Concluding remarks)

Now, I would like to conclude today's discussion. In determining the basic stance of diplomacy, each country should consider three factors, namely, ensuring security, managing relationships with key countries and being in line with national identity.

In Japan’s case, these three factors I mentioned have not changed a lot. Security was essential for Japan to choose alliance as a basic stance of diplomacy. Fortunately or unfortunately, the basic structure requiring alliance has not changed fundamentally. That is the background of the longevity of this alliance. Thus, Japan’s response has been to address the changing threats in the same framework of the security alliance with the U. S., and to broaden policy tools in order to ensure a good functioning of the alliance.

In Ireland’s case, things have changed a lot. National identity was an important factor for Ireland in choosing neutrality as a basic stance of diplomacy in 1939. However, the realization of full independence and sovereignty decreased the necessity for neutrality as an instrument to achieve them. Management of relationships with key countries is another area that changed a lot. Now the EU has become one of the most important key factors. Security cooperation in the EU has become the priority. The security situation has also changed a lot. The danger of being dragged into a war or attacked by hostile country became far from imminent after the end of the Second World War. With these changes, it is natural that lots of questions have been asked. Should the basic framework of neutrality continue to be the guiding principle of Irish diplomacy? How best to define neutrality? What is its rationale? How to reconcile that with other requirement, such as European security integration?

What both countries should do is continue to adapt to the changing situation. We are amid a rapidly changing environment. Sources of threat are changing. Now we should have in mind such elements as cyber warfare, international terrorism, global warming and global epidemics. The current issue of Covid-19 is a perfect illustration of this. At the same time, we should not forget traditional types of threats. The recent incident of Russian bombers’ entering into Irish-controlled air space is a vivid reminder of this. We will continue to ask ourselves what should be the right response to these challenges and how our basic stance of diplomacy can serve that purpose.

I hope that the comparison between our two countries we have discussed today will shed some light on these questions.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

[1] Ronan Fanning, Éamon de Valera: A Will to Power, Faber&Faber, 2015, Chapter 11.
[2] Ronan Fanning, Irish Neutrality: An Historical Review, Irish Studies in International Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 3 (1982), p. 27.
[3] John Gibney, Michael Kennedy, and Kate O’Malley, Ireland: A Voice Among the Nations, Royal Irish Academy, 2019, p. 182.