Exploring Ways to Construct a Stable International Order in East Asia


Takeshi Yuzawa, Professor

Faculty of Global and Interdisciplinary Studies (GIS)
Posted June.5, 2020

Faculty Profile

Emphasizing the importance of theoretical reasoning backed by solid empirical evidence, Professor Yuzawa pursues research on international relations theory. He is exploring institutional designs and settings that can overcome negative organizational habits embedded in multilateral security institutions in Asia and facilitate the promotion of cooperative security norms among regional countries.

A Theoretical Approach to Making Sense of International Relations in Asia

I specialize in International Relations (IR). Currently, I am trying to develop a theory regarding the design features of multilateral institutions that are effective for promoting norms of security cooperation among regional countries in East Asia, with a view to building a stable regional order.

I consider theoretical knowledge to be indispensable in understanding the nature of international relations. Inter-state relations are often unstable and highly complex.  One can often observe a case in which states become deeply collaborative in the economic and cultural spheres while they entail serious confrontation in political and security fields. In considering the ways of stabilizing such relations, it is essential to comprehend complex causal relationships at work. IR theory is extremely beneficial in the analysis of these causal relationships.

In my theoretical research, I place great importance on empirical evidence. Theoretical research in IR scholarship is often criticized for their empirical weakness as they tend not to collect evidence from primary sources. I endeavor wherever possible to gather primary sources rather than simply citing scholarly texts or information available in newspapers and other media. I check official documents, interview policymakers and experts familiar with what is happening on the ground in order to provide a solid basis for my research. I believe that this is the way to develop theoretical insights attuned to a rapidly changing world.

I make a point of sharing my research findings widely with the international community through presentations at international academic conferences and articles in international academic journals and books. I also endeavor to convey my findings to the front lines of diplomacy through involvement in “track II diplomacy”*, which brings together scholars and government officials. When I meet policymakers in Japan and abroad at conferences and for interviews, they sometimes tell me that they read my publications in preparation for taking up positions relating to multilateral institutions in Asia. It seems that my research findings have made some addition to policymakers’ store of knowledge.

I am still only midway through my research journey, but I hope that as I make progress, I will be able to contribute not only to the academic world but also indirectly to diplomacy in practice.

Transcending the Barriers of Organizational Habits to Disseminate Norms of Cooperation

In recent years, as there have been marked changes in the power relations among major countries in East Asia, territorial disputes and arms races have intensified and hence the regional order is becoming increasingly unstable. In this regional environment, calls are growing for the urgent development of effective institutional mechanisms to promote conflict prevention and military transparency in each country. For the past 20 years, efforts in this direction have primarily been pursued through the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum, the most prominent multilateral security institution that involves Japan, the US, China, and other major powers in the region. These efforts, however, have made negligible progress. For this reason, the media often criticizes Asian multilateral institutions as being little more than a “talk shop” where things are said but not backed up by concrete action.

Existing studies tend to explain this phenomenon by pointing to the effects of external factors, such as differing security interests and threat perceptions among regional countries. On the contrary, my research puts more focus on internal factors, most notably distinctive organizational habits that underpin multilateral institutions in Asia. In the contractual societies of Europe and North America, international agreements are often concluded in a binding and enforceable fashion, and hence the agreements are likely to be adequately implemented. However, in Asia, and especially in the fields of politics and security, international agreements tend not to be legally-binding; thus, they are entirely dependent on the voluntary compliance of concerned states. As a result, Asian institutions repeatedly experience situations where agreed cooperative efforts are not put into practice, or they are implemented in a manner that throws their efficacy into doubt.

Achieving high-level cooperation, such as the development of conflict prevention mechanisms, requires regional countries to establish a certain degree of mutual trust. To achieve this goal, they need first to lead regional security institutions to depart from the undesirable habits of “non-implementation” and instead to cultivate the habits of carrying out cooperation reliably once it is agreed, no matter how trivial it may be. What kind of institutional designs and settings would enable this principle to be put into practice? For the past few years, drawing on theoretical insights from other scholarships such as sociology, organizational theory and policy studies, I have worked toward a theoretical framework for explaining the emergence of, and changes in, organizational habits and routines in the field of international relations.

Armed with Evidence-based Logical Thinking

One critical skill that I want students to hone during their time at university is logical thinking. When they step out into wider society, they will, to varying degrees, be required to generate their own ideas. In turn, they will be expected to not only implement them but also produce concrete results. If someone can think in a logical manner, success at work will become easier to achieve. Logical thinking is an essential skill for opening up new possibilities in life.

The important thing is not just to think logically, but to hone the ability to formulate your own opinion based on facts and evidence. My seminar classes include many tasks designed to bolster this ability. For example, in tasks that involve reading academic literature, students are required to clarify the logical structure of an assigned article, correlate it with facts that they have found on their own, and write essays critiquing the validity of the article. In discussions, students are not permitted to advance opinions off the top of their heads. I expect them to prepare in advance and present evidence in support of their argument.

A world in which social life is dominated by artificial intelligence (AI) is just around the corner. I believe that what is required of humans in this era is the capacity to think logically based on evidence and find ways to solve problems. Drawing out the potential of my students and helping them hone this capacity so they can use it to their advantage: I believe that this is my style of “practical wisdom.”

*Track II diplomacy: A kind of “civilian diplomacy” whereby government officials attend meetings of private-sector research institutes, with university researchers and the like in an individual capacity and exchange opinions freely, unfettered by the government’s official position.

Recognizing the value of fieldwork in gaining an accurate grasp of information

At least once a year, I travel internationally to gather information relevant to my research project, mainly through interviewing government officials and experts. The country I choose to visit reflects my research topic at the time, but most are in the Asia-Pacific region.

In October 2019, I travelled to Singapore to attend an international joint research project workshop. In the context of seriously deteriorating relations between the US and China that have significantly overshadowed the prospects of a regional order in Asia, this project aims to examine what kinds of cooperation could be pursued to promote a stable regional order by surrounding countries, including Japan, South Korea, ASEAN member countries, Australia, and India. In the workshop, scholars from these countries gathered together to discuss the issue based on our research findings. It was a very worthwhile opportunity for me to engage in a lively exchange of opinions with scholars from various countries. The research findings from this workshop will be published as an academic book by an international publisher and are set to be presented as a series of policy proposals as well.

The information I obtain from newspapers and other media is often different from what I hear on the ground when I visit and interview government officials and experts. This disparity gives me a strong sense of the importance of fieldwork, in which you gather and scrutinize information with your own eyes and ears. Fieldwork overseas requires a good deal of time, so I cannot do it often, but I hope to find opportunities whenever possible, such as in the long spring and summer vacations, and spare no effort in procuring reliable information.

I plan to attend and present my research at the world’s largest international academic conference in the field of international relations, held in the United States in late March 2020. I organized a panel in cooperation with other scholars studying distinctive diplomatic habits embedded in specific countries and international organizations and their effects on world politics, such as the form of hierarchy among states, the patterns and properties of international cooperation, and the development of inimical and unintended political outcomes. As all the members of the panel have engaged in research that not only develops theoretical frameworks but also emphasizes primary data gathered through fieldwork, we expect to present some original findings. In the near future, I hope to be able to launch an international research project on the basis of this research.

Takeshi Yuzawa, Professor

Faculty of Global and Interdisciplinary Studies (GIS)

Earned a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) after having worked for a private-sector corporation in Japan. Later worked as a Research Fellow at the Japan Institute for International Affairs (JIIA). Appointed Associate Professor in Hosei University’s Faculty of Global and Interdisciplinary Studies in 2010 and became Professor in 2016.