BOOK REVIEW: Japanese Foreign Intelligence and Grand Strategy: From the Cold War to the Abe Era
By Brad Williams/Georgetown University Press
Reviewed by Stephen C. Mercado
The Reviewer – Stephen C. Mercado is an analyst, researcher, and translator who has worked on Asian issues in the Washington area and East Asia as an all-source analyst and open-source official for the CIA. He is the author of The Shadow Warriors of Nakano, an intelligence history of the Imperial Japanese Army. The CIA has twice presented him with the Studies in Intelligence Award for his contributions to the Agency’s Journal.
REVIEW – Intelligence may be the second oldest profession in the world according to some authors, but it is a young area of research for academics. Most academic papers written in English since the field began to develop in the 1990s have had to do with US and British intelligence agencies. Japanese Foreign Intelligence and Grand Strategy: From the Cold War to the Abe Erawritten by Brad Williams, an associate professor in the Department of Asian and International Studies at the City University of Hong Kong, which hit bookshelves this March, follows the work of eminent MIT scholar Richard Samuels Special Duty: A History of the Japanese Intelligence Community (2019) as the second of two scholarly papers in English on the Japanese intelligence community.
dr Williams examines why the government of Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, has an intelligence community that is modest by the country’s stellar international reputation and lacks what all the world’s other major powers possess: a core intelligence organization with dispatched officers abroad to conduct Foreign Human Intelligence (HUMINT) activities. In short, in this book he examines a key question: Why doesn’t Tokyo have more intelligence resources and its own version of a CIA or MI6?
The author tries to answer this question in six chapters. The first traces Japan’s changing place in the world as Tokyo recovered from defeat in World War II, underwent a period of military occupation, and then assumed a position as a “junior ally” with the United States during the Cold War before becoming its Secrecy has developed intelligence capabilities in the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall in the West and the rise of China to power in the East. The second chapter deals with US covert actions in occupied Japan. The third chapter deals with Japan under the US umbrella during the occupation and the Cold War. The fourth chapter is a review of how the Japanese focused their intelligence efforts on economic growth and technological development. The fifth chapter deals with government and popular opposition to the development of HUMINT capabilities in particular and military intelligence in general. And the sixth chapter is largely a look at Tokyo’s acquisition of spy satellites and prospects for adding HUMINT to its capabilities to cope with the changes since the Cold War.
Emerged from defeat and occupation, without the impressive intelligence and military capabilities of its imperial era, Japan during the Cold War devoted resources to intelligence gathering to close the yawning economic and technological gap with the United States while remaining under the umbrella of the United States US military protected. The author’s discussion of economic and technological information obtained through the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), Japan Foreign Trade Organization (JETRO), such other government auxiliary bodies (gaikaku dantai) such as the Japan Information Center of Science and Technology (JICST) and Japan’s Extraordinary Trading Houses (sogo soscha) made chapter 4 one of the two chapters I found the most interesting.
The Cipher Brief is proud to present a fully virtual international summit. Join three days of expert-led sessions on the strategic value of alliances, intelligence, China, and cyber and emerging technologies. Registration is free for Cipher Brief members. See how $10/month brings the most experienced national security professionals to you.
While the search for information about markets and technologies did much to push the Japanese intelligence community in one direction, against a revival of military and human intelligence, the government and the public worked to curb the growth of Japanese intelligence in these areas. These restraining forces are the focus of Chapter 5, my other favorite chapter. Readers should find the author’s notes of post-war National Police Agency (NPA) efforts to prevent the return of a powerful military in the struggle for power between the Ministry of the Interior and the army in Imperial Japan particularly interesting. In the same chapter, the author also finds the root of the State Department’s determination to control the reporting of defense attaches from embassies today to the independence of the military and naval attaches of the former empire from the ambassadors of the time.
There is much to recommend in this book for the reader. dr Williams wrote it after reading extensively – from declassified CIA materials to the relevant books and media articles in Japanese and English – and experts (including Dr. Ken Kotani of Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies and Dr. Samuels of MIT) in the Japan had interviewed at home and abroad. Readers interested in reading more about the Japanese intelligence community will find a treasure trove of materials in the bibliography.
The portrayal of post-war Japan’s unusually modest and limited intelligence services as the result of Tokyo’s Yoshida Doctrine, which emphasizes economic growth and technological development over political and military concerns while benefiting from close ties with Washington, is compelling. The same goes for his suggestion that changes in Japan’s domestic conditions and international environment since the Cold War have fueled the development of the Japanese intelligence community and may well lead Tokyo to “cross the Rubicon” to join the other great powers in development own classified HUMINT skills.
Having praised the book extensively, I must also point out my shortcomings. dr Williams writes more about Washington’s actions than Tokyo’s in some parts of the book. The second chapter, for example, is a history of US covert action in occupied Japan that does not tell readers how Japanese leaders endured, exploited, or applied the lessons of these covert operations to their own intelligence community. The author also strays from the subject at some points, leading to interesting but unrelated pages, such as Washington’s post-war sponsorship of the West German Federal Intelligence Service (BND). A university scholar, he uses academic jargon and some fashionable or awkward terms in a style this reviewer sometimes found distracting.
I recommend this book as a solid work for those interested in the evolving intelligence community of the world’s third largest economy. With an increasingly powerful China being both its most important business partner and its greatest military threat, Japan has no choice but to expand its intelligence capabilities along with its diplomatic and military assets.
Japanese Foreign Intelligence and Grand Strategy earns a solid three out of four trench coats.
Disclaimer: The Cipher Brief, like other Amazon affiliates, receives a small commission based on purchases made through the links provided in this review
Read more Under/Cover book reviews in The Cipher Brief
Read under/cover Interviews with authors and publishers in The Cipher Brief
Would you like to submit a book review? Check out ours guidelines here
Sign up for our free undercover newsletter to ensure you stay up to date with all new releases and expert reviews
Read more expert perspectives and analysis on national security in The cipher letter
Read more expert-led national security reviews, perspectives and analysis in The Cipher Brief