17 March 2015

As part of the UK-Japan Global Seminar Series, four experts offer different perspectives on how Japan and the UK can respond to the challenges of failing states, natural and man-made disasters and complex democratic transitions.


Dr John Nilsson-Wright

Senior Research Fellow, Asia-Pacific Programme

Dr Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Sir Adam Roberts, David Steinberg


Photo: Andrew F Kazmierski/iStock
Photo: Andrew F Kazmierski/iStock


The second seminar in the UK–Japan Global Seminar Series was held in Tokyo on 2–3 October 2014 and was titled ‘The Role of the Nation-State in Addressing Global Challenges: Japan–UK Perspectives’. It considered what role individual leadership, public opinion and domestic governmental and non-governmental institutions play in Japan and the UK in contributing to an effective national response to three critical thematic challenges: the problem of failing states; natural and man-made disasters; and complex democratic transitions. It also analysed the suitability of current institutional architectures for addressing critical issues, both globally and regionally, in order to assess their effectiveness and sufficiency in East Asia.

The discussions at all the sessions of the seminar indicated that nation-states must be involved in these critical issues and that failing to engage with them would have unwanted consequences at home. The question is not whether but how to engage. The discussions clarified and fleshed out the various levels of governance within the nation-state at which there can be engagement, the various actors to engage with, and the appropriate timing of involvement. The panellists provided concrete policy recommendations, emphasizing the need for early engagement with local actors, especially in Syria and Myanmar. The sessions also highlighted the need for a framework of strong political structures to be put in place in order for external assistance to be effective. In addition to institutional and technical ‘hardware’, there must be ‘software’ that will allow accountable and transparent governance to function, as discussed in the case of Fukushima. Such foundations are fundamental to the formation of democratic relationships between government and the public.

The UK and Japan must think of themselves as external actors and must also be aware of the models of democracy that they project to the world, especially now that the need for regulatory reform in Japan is pressing and populist and isolationist sentiments are growing in the UK. The discussions at the seminar should lead the two countries to re-examine their own centralized governance structures. As the roles of nation-states and globalization evolve, we must apply these lessons and continue to develop our long-term and innovative thinking.