Former State Department Diplomat William L. Brooks Speaks at Smith

Hira Humayun '17

Features Editor

William L. Brooks delivered a lecture titled “The Policy Agenda of Prime Minister Abe and the U.S.-Japan Relationship” on April 16, focusing primarily on the comeback of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The lecture began at 7 p.m. with a hall full of students as Professor Dennis Yasutomo from the government and East Asian studies departments took the podium to introduce Brooks. The event was sponsored by Smith’s departments of government, East Asian studies, East Asian languages and literatures and the lecture committee.

Brooks is currently adjunct professor of Japan studies and senior adviser for the Reischauer Center for East Asian studies at Johns Hopkins University. He served for 35 years at the U.S. State Department as a diplomat, research analyst, linguist and chief of the Tokyo Embassy’s media and translation unit from 1993 until he retired in 2009. As a diplomat, Brooks also served in the economic section of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the Tokyo Embassy.

After Yasutomo introduced Brooks and his achievements, Brooks began his presentation. The first slide on the screen behind him was a picture from his retirement from the State Department – a photo of him shaking hands with his then-boss, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Brooks began by dividing his lecture into three main sections: the return of the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s legacy and agenda and U.S.-Japan relations in 2015. He went on to explain the initial failure of the LDP, which he credited to a variety of factors including weak prime ministers, a decentralized party structure and numerous scandals. He explained that the LDP’s real decline came in the ’80s and ’90s. Their economic policies failed, and there was a growth of independent voters and an “aging party leadership,” which could not accept reform.

He then showed the audience a December 2008 survey by the LDP that showed its support base diminishing, leading to the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) coming to power in 2009 just because the leaders were “anti-LDP” and not necessarily pro-DPJ, according to Brooks. Following this, Brooks then explained the subsequent fall of the DPJ due to ineffective implementation of many policies promised during the campaigns, the dismissed role of the bureaucracy and a succession of prime ministers who handled national crises poorly.

Brooks then turned to the return of the LDP in 2012 and, with it, the return of Prime Minister Abe. He presented a chart showing that a large portion of the LDP’s support came from independent voters at that time. The LDP, he explained, was trying to reconstruct its image. Brooks then showed the audience an old photograph of Abe–a family photo of Abe as a child, sitting on his grandfather’s lap. His grandfather, former Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, was an “unindicted war criminal,” according to Brooks, and had policies very similar to the ones Abe now has on his agenda.

“Like grandfather, like grandson,” Brooks remarked. He explained some common policy areas that both Abe and Kishi focused on, such as the revision of the basic education law and the revision of the constitution – a highly controversial objective.

“He is also very dedicated to the U.S.-Japan alliance,” Brooks said. He continued to discuss Abe’s attempts at image-building for himself and his party. “Many of the Japanese students I have taught have a very positive image of Abe as a leader,” Brooks said. Abe’s other policies include economic reform, also known as “Abenomics,” attempts to join a transpacific partnership, an increased consumption tax, revision the U.S.-Japan security treaty to give Japan a more active role and the creation of a national security council.

However, some of Abe’s objectives were received with great controversy, such as his allowance of Japan’s right to collective self-defense and his dispatch of the Self Defense Force overseas. “All of this means Japan has repositioned its security strategy,” Brooks said. There are still, however, some areas where Abe has yet to make advancements. “I’ve been following [the Okinawa Base] issue since 1995, and it’s still a work in progress,” he said.

Brooks concluded the talk by offering some alternating perspectives on Abe, summarizing some of his mistakes as well as his strong qualities as a leader. He expressed his personal views, which held that Japan should take a more proactive diplomatic and less militaristic approach toward China and that China should be viewed more as a neighbor than as a threat. Brooks also predicted that constitutional revision would be Abe’s biggest challenge in his present term.

“I was so ecstatic to have the opportunity to attend Bill Brooks’ talk,” said Tiffany Clarke ’16. “He provided an invaluable insight into Japan’s foreign relations.”