Congressional Research Service on Japanese political turmoil, circa September 2008

I have been very excited to discover the website Open CRS, an unofficial repository of Congressional Research Service reports. Normally, the reports are only available to Congress members and their aides, but a surprising number of them do see the light of day. This site could serve as a helpful source until Joe Lieberman’s initiative to open up the CRS becomes law.

For a taste of what the CRS has to offer, here is a report (PDF) on the state of Japanese politics around the time when former PM Fukuda stepped down:

Factors Behind Japan’s Political Paralysis

A number of factors impeded Fukuda’s ability to govern and will challenge
whomever the LDP chooses as his successor.
Parliamentary Gridlock. In July 2007, the DPJ won a majority in nationwide
elections for the Upper House of the Diet. As a result, for the first time in Japanese
history, Japan’s two parliamentary chambers are controlled by different parties. Shortly
after the DPJ’s victory, then-prime minister Shinzo Abe resigned, leading the LDP to
select Fukuda as premier. Concerned by Ozawa’s threats to veto major legislation,
Fukuda attempted to form a “Grand Coalition” with the DPJ. After the talks broke down,
the DPJ adopted an aggressive policy of using its control of the Upper House to block or
delay several of the Fukuda government’s legislative initiatives.
The LDP’s Increased Dependence on Coalition Partners. For more than
a decade, the LDP generally has not been able to secure independent majorities in both
Diet chambers, forcing it to rely upon coalitions with smaller parties. Since 1999, the
LDP has formed a governing coalition with the New Komeito party, a pacifist-leaning
party with strong ties to the Buddhist Soka Gakkai religious group. Komeito’s clout in
the coalition has increased over time, for at least two reasons. First, the LDP is reliant
upon Komeito to obtain the 2/3 majority in the Lower House to override the DPJ-led
vetoes in the Upper House. Second, LDP candidates in many electoral districts have
become reliant upon support from Soka Gakkai followers.4 Although traditionally the
LDP has dominated the coalition, during the summer of 2008, New Komeito became
more assertive, for instance by resisting Fukuda’s push to renew the authorization to
provide fuel to coalition forces in Afghanistan (see later section for details).
The LDP’s Weakened Decision-Making Structure. Former Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi significantly weakened the LDP’s old, opaque system, in which the
leaders of the party’s internal factions made major budgetary, policy, and personnel
decisions (including deciding who would serve as prime minister). This system, although
widely criticized as lacking transparency, helped the LDP to overcome significant internal
divisions over policy. While he was breaking the faction-based system, Koizumi used his
personal popularity and aggressiveness to enforce party discipline. However, his
successors, Abe and Fukuda, often were unable to duplicate this feat. As a result,
decision-making became increasingly difficult on contentious matters, such as the battles between the LDP’s economic reformers and those favoring a return to the status quo of
channeling government funds toward key interest groups.5
The DPJ’s Discipline. The DPJ was formed in 1998 as a merger of four smaller
parties and was later joined by a fifth grouping. The amalgamated nature of the DPJ has
led to considerable internal contradictions, primarily between the party’s
hawkish/conservative and passivist/liberal wings. In particular, the issues of deploying
Japanese troops abroad and revising the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Japanese
constitution have generated considerable internal debate in the DPJ. As a result, for much
of its history, the DPJ has a reputation of not being able to formulate coherent alternative
policies to the LDP. Additionally, battles between various party leaders have weakened
the party. Since winning the Upper House, however, the party has appeared much more
unified, at least on the strategy of using its veto power to try to force the LDP to hold
early elections. This discipline is remarkable considering that, privately and publicly,
many DPJ members chafe at Ozawa’s top-down leadership style. If the DPJ does worse
than expected in the next election, it is likely that he will be forced to step down.


11 thoughts on “Congressional Research Service on Japanese political turmoil, circa September 2008”

  1. Okay, but…. is it really that different than what you could get by reading the Japan Times?

    I see the old “Beat Takeshi as Tojo” post listed among “Related Posts” – I didn’t see it myself, did anyone have a chance to check it out?

  2. Ya well, it’s more organized at least. I admit I might not necessarily need a Congressional think tank to give me talking points on Japanese politics, but look at the wide variety of topics they cover!

    Recent Reports

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    March 09, 2009 – Israeli-Arab Negotiations: Background, Conflicts, and U.S. Policy

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  3. “Ya well, it’s more organized at least.”

    It has a nice brass tacks quality to it but it misses one big point that we all hit on – no matter what, it was going to be Aso and no matter what, that was going to be a skullf^%k.

    Nice diversity though. Now let’s just hope that the right people end up reading this stuff….

  4. More on the CRS and leaks. It seems that someone is passing the reports to wikileaks and open CRS. I’ve heard it mentioned a couple of times now:

    You have to wonder why, when the CRS reports have the analytical depth of the Japan Times, there would be such a fuss about publishing them. Is it because Congress members want to look smart when they are spouting their easily-digested info?

  5. Hello, they aren’t all like the one I posted. Most are 10+ pages of history and background. The analysis itself might not impress you but the quick and dirty histories themselves are pretty useful.

    How about this 30 page briefer on the NK removal from the state sponsors of terror list?

    “Removing North Korea likely will encourage Pyongyang to continue and possibly expand its
    support for terrorist groups and other state sponsors of terrorism in the Middle East. North
    Korea’s expansion of these activities since 2000 appear to constitute a major threat to U.S.
    national security policy interests in the Middle East. Relatedly, the United States will no longer
    have the terrorism support list as a negotiating lever if it ever decided to address North Korean
    activities in the Middle East in negotiations with Pyongyang. Indeed, a chief objective of North
    Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, in prioritizing removal from the terrorism support list may be to
    weaken the U.S. diplomatic hand if the United States should decide to place North Korea’s
    activities in the Middle East on its policy agenda.”

    Or this on China’s holdings of US debt?

    “A gradual decline in China’s holdings of U.S. assets would not be expected to have a negative
    impact on the U.S. economy (since it could be matched by increased U.S. exports and a lower
    trade deficit). However, some economists contend that attempts by China to unload a large share
    of its U.S. securities holdings could have a significant negative impact on the U.S. economy (at
    least in the short run), especially if such a move sparked a sharp depreciation of the dollar in
    international markets and induced other foreign investors to sell off their U.S. holdings as well. In
    order to keep or attract that investment back, U.S. interest rates would rise, which would dampen
    U.S. economic growth, all else equal. Other economists counter that it would not be in China’s
    economic interest to suddenly sell off its U.S. investment holdings. Doing so could lead to
    financial losses for the Chinese government, and any shocks to the U.S. economy caused by this
    action could ultimately hurt China’s economy as well.
    The issue of China’s large holdings of U.S. securities is part of a larger debate among economists
    over how long the high U.S. reliance on foreign investment can be sustained, to what extent that
    reliance poses risks to the economy, and how to evaluate the costs associated with borrowing
    versus the benefits that would accrue to the economy from that practice.”

    I would imagine they don’t want to open them to the public because of their specific mission for Congress and the understandable desire to avoid criticism. Not that the researchers’ convenience is by itself a reason to keep the reports out of the public eye. If they can’t produce something of better quality than Wikipedia then they might need to make some changes.

  6. you are only looking at the watered-down UNCLASSIFIED version of things. there are other reports and briefing utilized that are geared specifically to various Congressional committees and members.

    most items on the CRS are still a great read though!

  7. “The analysis itself might not impress you but the quick and dirty histories themselves are pretty useful.”

    Well, in terms of what is actually cpntained in the CRS reports is is not that interesting (c’mon, surely both of the examples you pasted didn’t reveal anything new to you), but it is interesting to see that there exists an organisation which simply bundles sensible mainstream news into a digestable format for decisionmakers. I wonder, how does one land a sweet gig?

    Zurui says: “there are other reports and briefing utilized that are geared specifically to various Congressional committees and members.”

    Apparently some 75% of the CLASSIFIED stuff is just cut and pasted from public sources (i.e the media) anyway.

  8. Oops, I meant “I wonder, how does one land SUCH a sweet gig?”

    And where has may avatar gone?

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