Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Sarko and Abe

Glamorous romantic life aside, I find the parallels between former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and French President Nicolas Sarkozy intriguing. (I previously explored this theme in this post from last July.)

The parallel came to mind once again when I read this post by Arthur Goldhammer.

Commenting on a recent Sarkozy press conference, Goldhammer wrote:
...The "politics of civilization" was not an idle phrase to be forgotten after the New Year's greetings. Now the borrowing from Edgar Morin is openly affirmed. The intention is to infuse politics with poetry, to eschew the pallid practice of "governance," that wan neologism, in favor of what de Gaulle would have called grandeur. Sarko's grandeur partakes not of glory, however, but of the affective. The words "love" and "value" loom large.
I was immediately reminded of Mr. Abe's efforts to sugarcoat his ideology with "affective" terminology, the most prominent term being, of course, that ubiquitous Abe adjective "beautiful." It seems that like M. Sarkozy, Mr. Abe sought to transcend the "governance" of his predecessors by appealing to the deeper values that he and his comrades believe all Japanese share.

However, one difference is that Mr. Abe, as prime minister, was responsible for "governance" and all the messiness it entails. The grandeur of the French presidency seems to give M. Sarkozy some room with which to muse about these subjects; indeed, it might well be a requirement of the job.

(UPDATE: As noted by MTC in the comments, the more obvious comparison for the frenetic M. Sarkozy is, of course, Mr. Koizumi. Agreed. And M. Sarkozy is obviously a much more adept politician than the hapless Mr. Abe. My point is simply that Messrs. Abe and Sarkozy think about their nations' pasts, presents, and futures in similar terms.)

Meanwhile, in the same press conference M. Sarkozy proposed that the G8 be expanded to the G13, with the new members being Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, India, and China. This might very well make the summit meaningful again, if not more effective (the G8's ineffectualness is, I think, as much a function of overambitious agendas as of the roster of attendees).

I expect that this proposal will not be popular in Tokyo. As anyone who has seen Japanese media coverage of preparations for the July G8 summit in Hokkaido knows, Japanese elites take the G8 seriously. They are proud of Japan's membership and would undoubtedly be extremely reluctant to make this exclusive club that much less exclusive. And given that China would be included in an expanded summit, I can easily imagine that the Japanese government is in no hurry to see group expanded, especially considering China's role in keeping Japan out of that most exclusive of international clubs, the permanent membership of the UN Security Council.

5 comments:

MTC said...

Sarko reminds me more of Koizumi than Abe. Like Koizumi, Sarko seems obsessed with projecting an image of physical energy and zest for life. Like Koizumi, he seems intent on being the subject of every conversation. Furthermore, both men seem constrained by the bonds of monogamy.

Abe, by contrast, is wan and listless, seemed to hate being the subject of conversations, and has remained a faithful, even boring husband.

Japan Observer said...

MTC,

You're right — the more obvious comparison is with Koizumi, especially in terms of personality and image, but when talking about his country's role in the world, Sarkozy occasionally strikes notes that sound awfully like Abe.

Sophie said...

I thought that Japan could not get a permanent position at the UN security council because it doesn't rank well enough in the 'largest weapon exporters' list, and it doesn't have nuclear weapons.

I know, I know, it isn't supposed to work that way, but still, it seems that the Netherlands or Israel are in better position to get a permanent membership.

Anonymous said...

Sophie is right that the qualifications between membership in the G8 and the UN are very different though her example is obviously cynical and trivial. The original terms of membership in the UN Security Council is codified partly in the formal charter and in tradition which goes back to WWII and the Cold War while the G8 has a more informal and fluid concept of membership. Also there is the difference in spheres: for the G8 economics and for the Security Council political.

Japan Observer said...

There is nothing in the UN Charter about the permanent members having nuclear weapons or being arms exporters.

It's safe to say that Israel has no chance of becoming a permanent member whatsoever, and if another European state is becoming a member, it's Germany, not the Netherlands.

As for the G8, there are no official qualifications. Why was Russia invited to join after the fall of the Soviet Union? Was it such an economic power that it merited inclusion? It is now more a "committee of the powerful" than the summit for resolving economic problems that it was when created. Clearly the G8 agenda has grown far beyond the bounds of economic issues, making it far less effective.