Buy Buy Baby: Why China and Japan Need Consumers to Combat Secular Stagnation

written by Lucy Massey

Most developed nations are currently facing post-Great Recession economic sluggishness that has responded inadequately to both traditional fiscal and monetary policy tools. While the sources of this crisis lie in a vast array of social, political, demographic, and economic problems, one key issue for East Asia, in particular, is consumer spending. The potential for consumer spending to reinvigorate an economy is apparent in a careful analysis of the policies currently in place, those being proposed, and other solutions to this persistent East Asian stagnation. On the other hand, mishandling of consumer spending policy could lead down a slippery, economically stagnant slope. This paper will focus on China and Japan, charting the economic and fiscal policies which have led to and arguably perpetuated this crisis and analyzing the leading policy options to buck the downward trend.
Economists and policymakers alike have identified consumer spending as a potentially powerful tool for solving the crisis of long-term stagnation in East Asia. Consumer spending as defined by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development includes “final purchases by resident households to meet their everyday needs.”1 According to mainstream macroeconomic theories, consumer spending is one of the single greatest drivers of economic activity, usually accounting for over 50% of GDP. The relationship is simple enough that policies intended to increase consumer spending are frequently trusted and implemented as useful policy tools when touted by economists. Japan and China are nonetheless handling the economic slowdown differently due to their disparate situations: they are in effect facing the same basic problem, but their respective economic and political structures have key differences which tend to produce markedly different policy approaches. On the one hand, Japan is more or less a liberal democracy, with high rates of consumer spending (Chart A) and saving rates that are comparable to the United States (Chart B). On the other, China is an authoritarian, communist regime with low rates of consumer spending (Chart A) and rates of consumer saving that are substantially higher than those of other OECD countries (Chart B). In addition, China is significantly more reliant on agriculture and heavy industry than Japan, with less investment in the service sector (Table 1).


Table 1

GDP Composition China Japan
Agriculture 8.6% 1.1%
Industry 39.8% 29.6%
Services 51.6% 69.4%
Central Intelligence Agency. “The World Factbook.” CIA World Factbook. Accessed November 15, 2017.


Downward Spiral

The puzzle of economic revitalization in China and Japan has produced a robust body of economic analyses and policy recommendations from scholars and bureaucrats alike. Although issues of demographic change, immigration policy, and political reform are also pressing concerns, the necessity of economic revitalization arguably encompasses and eclipses these related concerns. For the governments of both China and Japan, the economic slowdown seen over the past ten years poses a direct existential threat. The increasingly authoritarian rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has, since the era of Mao Zedong a generation ago, legitimized its control directly through breathtaking economic growth. The current trend of decreased economic growth may not be as numerically stark as the Japanese downturn, and the trend is much more recent, but any decrease in growth that could spark concerns among Chinese consumers is sufficient to threaten the political dominance of Xi Jinping and the CCP. As for Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has gambled his tenure, one of the longest ever for a Japanese Prime Minister, on the success of his “Abenomics” fiscal policy program. He has so far retained political power despite continuing economic sluggishness, but the question of economic revitalization becomes more pressing with each day as Japan’s population ages and shrinks. Unless the Japanese economy can quickly find a workable solution to its economic slowdown, the economy will only slide deeper into stagnation and return to deflation.

Chinese Needs

China is currently pursuing tighter monetary policy by raising short-term interest rates to downsize government debt and institute economic reforms, but this policy could cause a decrease in household consumption and further economic slowdown. In the next few years, the Economist Intelligence Unit forecasts a drop in domestic demand, which is in large part a function of household consumption.2 Here the nature of China’s government plays a vital role in explaining tighter monetary policy, which ceteris paribus would exacerbate the economic slowdown. Raising short-term interest rates is primarily intended to help the government finance its growing debts, a problem which the CCP has deemed serious enough to risk deeper economic slowing to solve. Because the CCP and People’s Bank of China (PBC) hold immense and virtually uncontested power over the economy, these decisions will inevitably shape the overall Chinese response to its slowing economy.

Economic scholars have frequently made suggestions in opposition to China’s dominant policies. Although economic data on the Chinese economy is historically difficult to obtain and verify, scholars have successfully applied principles that hold sway in other OECD countries to Chinese economics, especially since China has become more developed. Major trends are visible despite obscured data, such as the downward trend in household consumption since Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms began in the 1970s and further reforms continued in the 1990s (Chart A). In addition, the substantial influx of migrant workers to Chinese cities results in inevitable economic repercussions, which could be positive given effective policy measures. Chinese economists Meiyan Wang and Cai Fang posit that migrants represent a major new engine of consumer spending, with younger migrants even more likely to consume than older migrants and both groups consuming more than non-migrants.3 However, these scholars warn that migrants’ consumption is restricted by unstable jobs and limited access to welfare resources. Their consumption would be a more effective support to the Chinese economy if it could be fully realized if the migrants themselves were supported. So far, the Chinese government has resisted the expansion of its welfare programs, but with a rapidly aging population, a more robust social welfare program is nearly inevitable. This dangerous demographic shift is particularly problematic when it comes to consumer spending – older people tend to spend less.4 For both China and Japan, the numbers are stacked against rapid economic growth: effective fiscal policy is essential to revitalize these flagging economies.

Japan’s Plans

Japan’s attention to consumer spending has taken on an altogether different character. Rather than trying to spur economic growth by boosting consumer spending, Japan has actually increased its consumption tax to alleviate astronomical public debt.5 But while this tax has increased regularly since its inception in the 1990s, the tax hike planned for early 2019 is in danger of being delayed due to concerns that it would further slow the economy, among other reasons.6 The Japanese economy has shown stronger growth in 2017 than in the past decade,7 but the gains are not so solid as to inspire lasting confidence.8 Consumer confidence is directly related to consumer spending, as consumers worried about economic stagnation turn to saving more money, but not in risky corporate bonds. Prime Minister Abe must convince the public that additional tax revenue would be used to support public services, or at least not crony capitalism, in the face of corruption allegations. Unlike the semi-authoritarian regime centered around Xi Jinping, Shinzo Abe’s administration faces closer public scrutiny and his tenure is less certain.9 Whereas the centralized Chinese government has the opportunity to develop long-term policies with a strong likelihood of such policies being implemented over decades, the Japanese government must adjust its economic policies in response to political pressures.

Politics aside, not all analysts agree that the consumption tax increase is the least economically-harmful way to lower government debt. Political scientist Gene Park instead proposes an expansion of the progressive income tax, which would alleviate the growing problem of income inequality in Japan without provoking any shock to consumer spending.10 An increase in the consumption tax, he argues, would have to be massive to finance the debt, and it would rely on foreign consumers buying Japanese exports to generate enough revenue. Neither outcome seems likely, whereas convincing those who earn the most to help shore up the economy is much more realistic. As for policies that would reliably boost the Japanese economy, scholars, and to some extent even policymakers, tend to focus on increasing inflation and possibly interest rates to safeguard against deflation and the dangers of negative interest rates; however, these main goals are not always easily pursued in tandem – increasing interest rates could further stymie the economy by encouraging consumers to save more and spend less, while upward inflationary pressures could negatively impact consumer confidence if individuals’ real wages and purchasing power are harmed. But operating close to zero for either macroeconomic variable leaves the Bank of Japan and Prime Minister Abe with limited options, which could be especially problematic if they want to stimulate the economy by lowering interest rates later.


To track the similarities and differences between China and Japan, and where they fall among other OECD countries, I utilized the comparison charts available from the OECD database. For household spending, I included a bar graph that directly compares the total levels of spending in each country, clearly showing how Japan is eclipsed by most of the other large economies. China’s total household spending level is somewhat misleading, as it fails to compare the significantly larger population of China; the per capita and percent of GDP figures are much lower than those for the U.S. I chose to represent the data for household savings among OECD countries over time to show the important trend of Chinese savings increasing over time. One difficulty with this data is that the figures for China are not available before 1992, so only the more recent iterations of economic reform are visible on the graph. The figures for Japan start even later, but that trendline is relatively flat and clearly comparable with the U.S. The data on short-term interest rates is significantly more volatile, and Chinese data is again somewhat unreliable, but the gradual decrease of Japanese interest rates supports assertions about trends in Japanese monetary policy. The graph also clearly shows how China and the U.S. had room to loosen short-term interest rates sharply for stimulus in response to the economic downturn in 2008, while Japan did not have much room to lower rates. I also compiled a table of GDP by sector of origin for China and Japan with data from the Central Intelligence Agency. The discrepancies in how much of each economy is devoted to industry versus agriculture or services sectors is a significant insight into the makeup of the economy.

What about Consumers?

Overall, China and Japan are navigating a complex political and economic situation under duress. The success of each government depends, to a greater or lesser extent, on the success of each economy. But the way forward is not necessarily clear: economists and policymakers agree that there are multiple interrelated concerns which make addressing the economic crisis a delicate balance of forceful policy and careful restraint. Since the economy of a large country is a multi-faceted leviathan yielding endless opportunities for analysis and debate, the policies currently being proposed and implemented do not all center on consumer spending. Some of the major non-spending policies in China and Japan include China’s reduction of steel and aluminum production and openness to foreign direct investment, as well as Japan’s ultra-loose monetary policy and unofficial acceptance of illegal migrant labor. Yet consumer spending remains a central problem to solve, a useful tool to master, for the governments of China and Japan: the current political order may hang in the balance. These aging, stagnating economies need to find some way to revitalize, and consumer spending certainly could be the key. Policies in China should include social welfare and employment support for migrant workers, allowing them to assuage both demographic and consumption problems. In Japan, the political resources currently being employed to push forward a consumption tax increase should instead be applied to an increase in the progressive income tax. Future research should seek to deepen our understanding of the role of consumer spending on modern economies so that policy proposals can better target the proper mechanisms for spending-based economic growth.


  1. “National Accounts at a Glance 2009.” OECD iLibrary. 2009. Accessed November 15, 2017.
  2. “Country Report: China.” Economist Intelligence Unit Country Briefs. November 15, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.
  3. Meiyan Wang, and Cai Fang. “Destination Consumption: Enabling Migrants’ Propensity to Consume.” In China’s Domestic Transformation in a Global Context, edited by LIGANG SONG, GARNAUT ROSS, CAI FANG, and JOHNSTON LAUREN, 91-110. ANU Press, 2015.
  4. Du, Yang, and Meiyan Wang. “Population Ageing, Domestic Consumption and Future Economic Growth in China.” In Rising China: Global Challenges and Opportunities, edited by Golley Jane and Song Ligang, 301-14. ANU Press, 2011.
  5. Park, Gene. “Sharing the Burden: Rethinking Japan’s Approach to Raising Revenue.” Challenges Facing Japan: Perspectives from the U.S.-Japan Network for the Future, 2014, 115-21. 2014. Accessed November 15, 2017.
  6. “Revised use for tax hike revenue a tactic by Finance Ministry to prevent third delay.” The Japan Times. November 10, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.
  7. Partington, Richard. “Japanese economy posts longest expansion in more than a decade.” The Guardian. August 14, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.
  8. Stokes, Bruce. “Japanese more satisfied with economy, but doubts about future persist.” Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. October 17, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.
  9. “Country Report: Japan.” Economist Intelligence Unit Country Briefs. November 15, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017.
  10. Park.


Chart A


OECD (2017), Household spending (indicator). doi: 10.1787/b5f46047-en (Accessed on 15 November 2017) (Accessed on 17 November 2017)

Link for easier viewing:


Chart B


OECD (2017), Household savings (indicator). doi: 10.1787/cfc6f499-en (Accessed on 15 November 2017)

Link for easier viewing:


Chart C


OECD (2017), Short-term interest rates (indicator). doi: 10.1787/2cc37d77-en (Accessed on 15 November 2017)

Link for easier viewing:

Table 1

GDP Composition China Japan
Agriculture 8.6% 1.1%
Industry 39.8% 29.6%
Services 51.6% 69.4%

Central Intelligence Agency. “The World Factbook.” CIA World Factbook. Accessed November 15, 2017.

Analyzing the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Through Realism

written by Elizabeth Goldstone on December 8, 2017

The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, UNODA,  phrases the situation well: “Nuclear weapons are the most dangerous weapons on earth.”[1]

Though one can analyze this topic through constructivism and liberalism, realism is the most comprehensive theory of international relations through which one can understand the refusal by these nuclear states to sign the ban treaty. In this paper, a brief background on the recent ban treaty will be provided, and a discussion will follow on advantages and disadvantages of using realism to explain this phenomenon. Furthermore, I will elaborate on the disadvantages, and state whether constructivism or liberalism would be the better choice for analysis in these cases. Concepts of realism I will discuss in this paper are “states wanting survival,” “balance of threat,” “balance of power,” and “anarchy in the international system.”

While nuclear weapons have only been used twice throughout history at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “about 22,000 [nuclear weapons] reportedly remain in our world today.”[2] Midway through the Cold War, global citizens began to question why countries continued to keep and create nuclear weapons when world powers had largely accepted after World War II that nuclear weapons were dangerous. In 1968, the United States had 31,000 nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union had 6,000, Great Britain had 400, France had 30, and China had 5.[3] Never have more nuclear weapons existed at one time.[4] In response to this situation, the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was created by the UN. The international community had concluded, “that the proliferation of nuclear weapons would seriously enhance the danger of nuclear war.”[5] This Treaty is the only multilateral treaty of its kind aimed at the goal of disarmament, with all five nuclear-weapons states as signatories.[6]

Other treaties followed. This paper will focus specifically on the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (UNTPNW), signed on July 7, 2017. This treaty prohibits “nuclear weapons use, threat of use, testing, development, production, possession, transfer, and stationing in a different country.”[7] The analysis in this paper will show that realist theories of international relations best explain why nuclear powers did not sign this particular treaty.

The first realist concept I will analyze is that of “states wanting survival.” According to offensive realist, John Mearsheimer, states naturally strive to be hegemons – having power equals having security.[8] Mearsheimer summarizes this point of view in his 2001 book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. He writes that “given the difficulty of determining how much power is enough for today and tomorrow, great powers recognize that the best way to ensure their security is to achieve hegemony now, thus eliminating any possibility of a challenge by another great power.”[9] I would argue that there is no greater form of power in our current world than having nuclear weapons; therefore, having nuclear weapons makes a state safe, and a country that wants to stay safe would not willingly sign a treaty that would reduce their safety.

The first and perhaps most obvious reason nuclear weapons would nearly ensure a state’s survival is that nuclear weapons are a deterrent.[10] Thomas Schelling, an International Relations professor and author of Arms and Influence, concisely defines deterrence as “preventing an action.”[11] In this case, that action is a nuclear strike. If a country has nuclear weapons, realist theory dictates that no other country will attack them, since there is risk that the country will retaliate and nuclear war would ensue, leading to world mass destruction. No country wants to risk their own destruction; therefore, neither a non-nuclear nor nuclear state would risk their own safety by attacking a nuclear state.[12] If a nuclear state signed the UNTPNW and was forced to give up their nuclear weapons, they would be relinquishing the main deterrent that ensures their continued survival. This leads to my next point: what if one nuclear state signs the treaty and another does not? The nuclear state that signed would be virtually defenseless against the latter nuclear power that refrained from signing. Quite simply, a country cannot protect itself from nuclear weapons with guns.

Furthermore, since states are primarily concerned with security and survival in the “dark brooding world of neo-realism in which states can’t trust one another,”[13] they “must always be prepared to gear up for conflict.”[14] It is reasonable to assume that since the nuclear states did not sign the treaty, they are unwilling to discount the possibility of future nuclear war.

Kenneth Waltz, a defensive realist, says, “states seek to ensure their survival” since “it is a prerequisite to achieving any goals that states may have.”[15] A goal that nuclear states currently have is to prevent North Korea from gaining hegemony. Stephen Walt’s “balance-of-threat” realism asserts that nations form alliances based on perceived threat.[16] The issue of North Korean perceived aggression is relevant because together, nuclear states use deterrence tactics to protect themselves. Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, said, “We have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?”[17] It is illogical for nuclear states to sign the UNTPNW when they truly believe North Korea is a threat.

Differing from the type of relations the United States has with North Korea, Russia is at odds with America in a way similar to the Cold War. “Balance of power” realism explains at least why the United States and Russia would not sign the UNTPNW. Balance of power dictates that states will shift their foreign policies in order to keep one state from becoming a global hegemon and having more power than the other states.[18] Robert Jervis, a Columbia University professor, extrapolates upon this definition to discuss the current situation involving nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia. He writes that having nuclear weapons is preventing a war with Russia since the United States and Russia are evenly matched in present nuclear capability and therefore “balanced”. Presently, the only way the Russians would attack the United States would be if the “Russians are so highly motivated to expand that they would be willing to accept any level of destruction as long as they ended up ahead of the West and so were able to dominate the postwar world.”[19]

Even if one did not align with the realist theory of “states wanting survival” and one argued that Russia was indifferent about being destroyed in the process of United-States-takeover, “It is hard to have any sense of what the postwar world would look like, but geography alone should caution against believing that either the United States or Russia could easily dominate the other.”[20] By this logic, signing the UNTPNW would not make sense for America or Russia, for if nuclear weapons were out of the picture, one side could potentially start a conventional conflict in an attempt to win a conventional war. Furthermore, if a conventional war was sparked in the aftermath of nuclear weapons being destroyed and a side won this war, the distance between Russia and the United States would make control of one nation by the other impossible.[21]

The international system would also be affected if the nuclear states signed the UNTPNW. Kenneth Waltz discusses the anarchical international system in “The Origins of War in Neorealist Theory” when he writes, “For the purpose of developing a theory, states are cast as unitary actors wanting at least to survive, and are taken to be the system’s constituent units. The essential structural quality of the system is anarchy – the  absence of a central monopoly of legitimate force.”[22] New measures would need to be taken to ensure that all signatories follow each part of the Treaty. The treaty mandates that signatory states cannot “develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”[23] How could the international community be sure that the nuclear states, even if they signed the UNTPNW, were fully disarming?

It is my opinion that, in relation to the international system of anarchy, the nuclear states did not sign the UNTPNW because they are not willing to take the risk of fully disarming when there is no confirmation that the rest of the nuclear states are doing the same. To quote Mearsheimer, “Indeed, central wars are likely when there is an especially powerful country in the system. A preponderant power, according to this perspective, is a potential hegemon. It has the wherewithal to make a run at dominating the system, which is the best guarantee of survival in international anarchy. Therefore, it will not be satisfied with the status quo, but instead will look for opportunities to gain hegemony.”[24] I would argue that in the eyes of the state, it makes little sense to sign a treaty that cannot be enforced by any form of international government, and such a government does not exist in the current anarchical sphere of internationalism.

While realism provides the best lens through which to understand why the nuclear states did not sign the UNTPNW, there are disadvantages to using realism that can be explained better as seen through constructivist and liberalist ideology. First, I will discuss reasons the nuclear states refused to sign the UNTPNW best understood through constructivism. In brief, constructivists argue that “individual agents and social structures” matter in the explanations of international outcomes, and that the relationship between the two is “reciprocal and reflexive.” Constructivists are concerned with “norms, identity, and ideas,” and believe that agents’ conceptions of the world are shaped by “the intersubjective structures created and sustained by their activities.”[25]

Signing the UNTPNW, and therefore relinquishing all nuclear weapons, is unthinkable for some nations because to give up nuclear power would be to lose a part of those nations’ identities.[26] For example, I would argue that North Korea would have nothing of significance to their identity if they halted their nuclear tests since there would be no more socially constructed threat to other nations of a nuclear attack by North Korea. If North Korea no longer had nuclear weapons and was no longer considered dangerous, who would “care” about them on the global stage? Therefore, North Korea would never sign the UNTPNW, for their “nuclear identity” would be lost. In relating constructivism to the social relationship that develops between states, Alexander Wendt writes, “500 British nuclear weapons are less threatening to the United States than 5 North Korean nuclear weapons,”[27] even though North Korea has stated they do not intend to launch a first strike.[28] Only 5 nuclear weapons from such an unpredictable nation are enough to deter the rest of the world, including countries that have been on the world stage for centuries. This shows that great powers’ fear of North Korea and North Korea’s “nuclear identity” have been socially constructed by the numerous (sometimes exaggerated) threats, and historically constructed by the past decade of continued militaristic rhetoric coming from within North Korea aimed at the outside world.

Another constructivist interpretation explaining why the nuclear states did not sign the UNTPNW is Nina Tannenwald’s idea of the “nuclear taboo.” Tannenwald said in an interview, “a taboo against the use of nuclear weapons has developed since 1945. [It’s] a normative prohibition on the use of nuclear weapons. It is associated with a sense of moral opprobrium regarding such weapons.[29] Tannenwald argues that nuclear weapons have not been used since 1945 due to socially constructed moral concerns. There is clear historical and social significance here, as the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was traumatic for both the victims and the perpetrators.[30] Tannenwald theorizes that countries will not use nuclear weapons again, despite having the ability to do so. Signing the UNTPNW would be irrelevant for a nuclear state since using the weapons is unforeseeable anyway.[31]

A final way to view the refusal by nuclear states to sign the UNTPNW is through liberalism. Two tenets of liberalism are that international organizations and non-governmental actors are key in shaping state preferences and policy choices and that mutual benefits and international cooperation are necessary for global societal progress.[32] A prominent international organization, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), was a pushback force during the creation of the UNTPNW. Powerful NATO countries urged less influential members along with non-NATO countries to boycott the signing.[33] In a statement released by the NATO council regarding the UNTPNW, it was explained that “Seeking to ban nuclear weapons through a treaty that will not engage any state actually possessing nuclear weapons will not be effective, will not reduce nuclear arsenals, and will neither enhance any country’s security, nor international peace and stability.”[34] NATO doubts that the treaty will effectively create peace, so NATO states (mainly those with nuclear weapons) pressured countries to refrain from signing. The Netherlands, the only NATO member that participated in the conference, wouldn’t sign.[35] This exemplifies liberalism since it is a time when NATO, an international organization, dictated a course of action that affected international policy choices.[36]

As for the principle that economic benefits and international cooperation are vital, many nuclear states did not sign the treaty for financial reasons. Free trade and transport, a concept that embodies mutual benefits, is limited in the UNTPNW. A signatory cannot allow “any stationing…or deployment of any…nuclear explosive devices in its territory or at any place under its jurisdiction or control.”[37] Nuclear states (many of whom support free market trade) were not eager to sign a treaty that restricted trade in any sense.

Despite valid advantages of using constructivism and liberalism to explain the refusal by nuclear states to sign the UNTPNW, the advantages of using realism are more compelling and numerous. While it is true that constructivism and liberalism provide helpful theories of analysis, realism offers a broader, more comprehensive, and more applicable range of explanations. Moreover, a government’s primary job is to protect its citizens and keep the nation strong; this is exactly what realism stresses through the four realist tenets of wanting survival, balance of threat, balance of power, and international anarchy.



Dorell, Oren. “North Korea Won’t Strike U.S. First despite Inflammatory Threats, Experts Say.”

USA Today, November 17, 2017. Accessed December 8, 2017.



Gladstone, Rick. “A Treaty Is Reached to Ban Nuclear Arms. Now Comes the Hard Part.” NY Times (New

York, NY), July 7, 2017, Americas. Accessed December 8, 2017.

Hurd, Ian. “Constructivism.” Oxford Academic, January 18, 2008. Accessed December 8, 2017.

ICAN. “UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (full text).” International Campaign to

Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus, and Daniel H. Nexon. “Whence Causal Mechanisms? A Comment on Legro.”

Dialogue IO 1, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 81-101. Accessed December 8, 2017.


Jehangir, Hamza. “Realism, Liberalism and the Possibilities of Peace.” E-International Relations.

Last modified February 19, 2012. Accessed December 8, 2017.


Jervis, Robert. The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press,

  1. Accessed December 8, 2017.


Mearsheimer, John. Structural Realism to International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity,

by Tim Dunne, Milja Kurki, and Steve Smith, 71-88. 3rd ed. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press,

  1. Accessed December 8, 2017.

———. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2001.

Norris, Robert S., and Hans M. Kristensen. “Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945-2010.”

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 2, 2016. Accessed December 7, 2017.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “North Atlantic Council Statement on the Treaty on the

Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.” News release. September 20, 2017. Accessed December 8, 2017.

Schelling, Thomas C. Arms and Influence. 2008 ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966.

Shiraev, Eric B. “The Liberal Perspective.” In International Relations, by Eric B. Shiraev and

Vladislav M. Zubok. 2nd ed. N.p.: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Tannenwald, Nina. “The Nuclear Taboo.” Interview. Soka Gakkai International, no. 62 (October 2010):

8-9. Accessed December 8, 2017.


“The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).” 2005 Review Conference of the

Parties to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, May 22, 2005. Accessed December

7, 2017.

United Nations. “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).” UNODA.

———. “United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs.” United Nations.

Walt, Stephen M. “Alliance Formation and the Balance of World Power.” International Security 9, no.

4 (Spring 1985): 3-43. doi:10.2307/2538540.

Waltz, Kenneth N. “The Origins of War in Neorealist Theory.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History

18, no. 4 (Spring 1988): 615-28. Accessed December 8, 2017.


———. Theory of International Politics. 2010. Reprint, Long Grove, IL: Waveland

Press, 1979.

[1] United Nations. “United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs.” United Nations.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Norris, Robert S., and Hans M. Kristensen. “Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945-2010.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 2, 2016. Accessed      December 7, 2017.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).” 2005 Review
Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear
Weapons, May 22, 2005. Accessed December 7, 2017.

[6]United Nations. “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).”

[7]Gladstone, Rick. “A Treaty Is Reached to Ban Nuclear Arms. Now Comes the Hard
Part.” NY Times (New York, NY), July 7, 2017, Americas. Accessed December
8, 2017.

[8] Mearshiemer, John. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York, NY: W. W.
Norton, 2001.

[9] Ibid

[10] Schelling, Thomas C. Arms and Influence. 2008 ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University
Press, 1966.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13]Jehangir, Hamza. “Realism, Liberalism and the Possibilities of Peace.”
E-International Relations. Last modified February 19, 2012. Accessed
December 8, 2017.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Waltz, Kenneth N. Theory of International Politics. 2010. Reprint, Long
Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 1979.

[16] Walt, Stephen M. “Alliance Formation and the Balance of World Power.”
International Security 9, no. 4 (Spring 1985): 3-43. doi:10.2307/2538540.

[17]Gladstone, Rick. “A Treaty Is Reached to Ban Nuclear Arms. Now Comes the Hard
Part.” NY Times (New York, NY), July 7, 2017, Americas. Accessed December 8, 2017.

[18] Mearsheimer, John. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York, NY: W. W.
Norton, 2001.

[19] Jervis, Robert. The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution. Ithaca and London:
Cornell University Press, 1989. Accessed December 8, 2017.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22]Waltz, Kenneth N. “The Origins of War in Neorealist Theory.” Journal of

Interdisciplinary History 18, no. 4 (Spring 1988): 615-28. Accessed

December 8, 2017.

[23] ICAN. “UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (full text).”

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.


[24]Mearsheimer, John. Structural Realism to International Relations Theories:

     Discipline and Diversity, by Tim Dunne, Milja Kurki, and Steve Smith,

71-88. 3rd ed. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013. Accessed December

8, 2017.

[25] Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus, and Daniel H. Nexon. “Whence Causal Mechanisms? A

Comment on Legro.” Dialogue IO 1, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 81-101. Accessed

December 8, 2017. doi:10.1017.S7777777702000079.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Hurd, Ian. “Constructivism.” Oxford Academic, January 18, 2008. Accessed

December 8, 2017.


[28] Dorell, Oren. “North Korea Won’t Strike U.S. First despite Inflammatory Threats,

Experts Say.” USA Today, November 17, 2017. Accessed December 8, 2017.



[29]Tannenwald, Nina. “The Nuclear Taboo.” Interview. Soka Gakkai International, no.

62 (October 2010): 8-9. Accessed December 8, 2017.


[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32]Shiraev, Eric B. “The Liberal Perspective.” In International Relations, by Eric

  1. Shiraev and Vladislav M. Zubok. 2nd ed. N.p.: Oxford University Press,


[33]  North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “North Atlantic Council Statement on the
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.” News release. September 20,
2017. Accessed December 8, 2017.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Gladstone, Rick. “A Treaty Is Reached to Ban Nuclear Arms. Now Comes the Hard
Part.” NY Times (New York, NY), July 7, 2017, Americas. Accessed December
8, 2017.

[36] Shiraev, Eric B. “The Liberal Perspective.” In International Relations, by Eric

  1. Shiraev and Vladislav M. Zubok. 2nd ed. N.p.: Oxford University Press,


[37] ICAN. “UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (full text).”

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.


The End of East Asian Pacifism: Nuclear Policy in Japan and South Korea

Written by Aaron Pultman and Sarah Rosenberg on November 17, 2017

Executive Summary

North Korea’s nuclear arsenal poses a monumental threat to its neighbors throughout Asia. South Korea and Japan, however, are in particular danger due to their proximity to the rogue nation and their ties to the United States. There are numerous possible solutions to resolve this danger, yet they vary in their efficacy, feasibility, and practicality. Two specific possibilities stand out from previous literature on the subject: Japan and South Korea can develop their own nuclear arsenals, or maintain the status quo by relying on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Both of these strategies carry just as many drawbacks as positive aspects, including cost and effectiveness. We propose a different solution: the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons to Japan and Korea. This solution rates the highest in its practicality and capability to truly deter North Korean aggression. We use speeches, polls, and articles to demonstrate that this solution would be met with favor in the two countries. This strategy will provide the region with a stable measure to counter North Korean nuclear hostility and maintain peace.


            There are numerous security threats currently facing Asia, ranging from China’s desire to achieve hegemony in the region, Russia’s coziness with strongmen in the area like Xi Jinping, and, most significantly, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. This rogue state has repeatedly demonstrated its nuclear capability and its constantly improving ballistic missile technology. Both Japan and South Korea lie in geographic proximity to North Korea, leaving them exposed to a variety of conflicts with the latter. Additionally, Japan and South Korea are both steadfast allies of the U.S. Consequently, tension between the U.S. and North Korea could also affect Japan and South Korea. Finally, conflict has occurred in the past and, given North Korea’s recent aggressive posture, it is a distinct possibility. One option for responding to the threat is through Japanese and Korean nuclear weapons. This paper seeks to answer the question of what, if any, nuclear measures should Japan and South Korea attempt.

Literature Review

Many scholars argue against the Japanese and Korean acquisition of nuclear weapons. Earlier literature focuses on China as the primary threat given its desire to attain regional hegemony. In addition, there was apprehension that if the Sino-American relationship improved, Tokyo and Seoul would feel isolated.[1] Some policy officials worry whether a cascade effect could occur if either country attained nuclear weapons; it could open the door for countries like Myanmar, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Australia to create their own programs out of fear of North Korea.[2] Lee Choon-geun of the Korean Institute for International Economic Policy claims that if South Korea obtained nuclear weapons, Japan would undoubtedly follow.[3] As such, if China wants to avoid this cascade in order to maintain its hegemonic position, it would be in its interest to convince Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Notably, this stance aligns with that of the U.S. and the international community.[4]

With South Korea specifically, most scholarship focuses on developing a stronger relationship with the North and rolling back their nuclear program. Prominent national figures such as former President Park Geun-hye, have argued for trust building between the two countries in the past.[5] This perspective is maintained by numerous scholars and policymakers despite the ultimate failure of South Korea’s Sunshine Policy[6]. The biggest factor for many scholars is whether the U.S. can guarantee the security of South Korea given its proximity to the North.[7] There exists, however, contradicting opinions whether the U.S. can do so, particularly given its robust trade relationship with China, Pyongyang’s biggest ally. It is notable that the majority of scholarship on the South Korean nuclear question was primarily written in the early 2000s, as most modern academic literature focuses on the role of China as a mediator and the possibility of Japanese acquisition of nuclear weapons.

This question of nuclearization of Japan and South Korea is particularly pertinent given the current regional dynamics. Opinion remains divided both in the academic community and among policymakers, with particularly stark differences between public opinion in these two countries. Many, however, focus on whether Japan and South Korea should manufacture their own nuclear weapons or merely strengthen the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Instead, both countries should consider stationing U.S. nuclear weapons on their soil in order to more effectively deter North Korea. U.S. security guarantees have failed to slow North Korea’s nuclear program; therefore new measures should be taken.

Analysis & Discussion

Given the importance of the Korean and Japanese governments’ official stance on the issue, documents from the Prime Minister’s or President’s office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, and other related government institutions proved to be particularly valuable. In addition, documents from international organizations like the United Nations are relevant given Japan’s leadership in nonproliferation efforts. To gain a scholarly view on the subject, defense and international relations journals provided various literature, demonstrating how the academic world believed the issue could be solved. Finally, English newspapers in Japan and South Korea contributed information on the media and broader public’s view through reporting, polls, and editorials.

In Japan, members of the Liberal Democratic Party are more open to the idea of nuclear weapons. Despite Japan’s three non-nuclear principles — no possessing, manufacturing, or allowing nuclear weapons on its territory – some LDP officials propose reinterpreting the Constitution to permit some form of nuclear protection. Former LDP Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba suggested allowing U.S. nuclear weapons on Japanese soil to deter North Korea, though he condemned manufacturing their own weapons.[8] This position is still highly controversial in Japan: recent numbers show that fewer than one in ten Japanese citizens support nuclear armament, yet the LDP has continued to win elections.[9]

Most recently, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe received a stronger mandate after calling for snap elections in October 2017.[10] While LDP policies extend beyond North Korea, Abe campaigned on building up the Japanese military and revising Article 9.[11] With the new elections, Abe obtained the necessary majority to do so and plans to rewrite the constitution by 2020.[12] Despite the lack of popular support among Japanese citizens, they would likely be more inclined to accept nuclear armament if South Korea did so first. When discussing a nuclearized Japan and South Korea, many scholars speak of both acquiring nuclear weapons rather than simply one country. If the security situation becomes dire enough, Japan will have little choice but to allow nuclear weapons on its territory.

Japan and the U.S. cooperate closely on security, but as early as 2012 the LDP recognized Japan must do more to protect itself. When the opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, lost to LDP in 2012, the ruling government issued a new National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG). It expressed the need to maintain and strengthen ballistic missile defense, in particular, to address the threat of nuclear weapons. The document explicitly mentions North Korea, China, and Russia as posing the greatest risks to Japanese security, though the government recognized that the likelihood of conflict remained low at that time.[13] While the NDPG states that Japan will play a “rigorous and active role in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation efforts,” it also recognizes that Japanese defense must be constantly reevaluated to ensure it is meeting the necessities of the current security environment.[14] Given North Korea’s recent antagonistic behavior, Abe will likely try to expedite the process of redefining Japan’s pacifist constitution in order to comply with the NDPG’s directive of changing defense to meet the security conditions.

Many in the international community have expressed concerns over Japan’s new defensive attitude, particularly at the UN. Every year, Japan submits a resolution to the UN General Assembly on nonproliferation and the elimination of nuclear weapons. This year, however, delegates expressed apprehension about the wording of the resolution, raising the possibility that Japan watered down the language in order to justify the potential use of nuclear weapons.[15] Japanese officials claim, however, that they faced pressure from the U.S. to make this change.[16] In the text of the resolution, rather than acknowledging “the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons,” the new resolution says, “the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapon use.”[17] This small change in language contains drastic implications for Japan’s efforts in fighting North Korea because it no longer excludes the use of nuclear weapons against the regime. The resolution demonstrates that Japan is willing to risk its international image as the leader of the nonproliferation movement in order to counter North Korea. Perhaps the next step is to adjust its nuclear policy.

            In South Korea, the debate over a nuclear counter to the North dominates politics. With just under two hundred kilometers between Seoul and Pyongyang, South Korea has always sought ways to deter the threat from North Korea, yet early efforts primarily focused on nonproliferation. South Korea had a nuclear weapons program in the 1970s, but the U.S. forced the government to abandon the project.[18] In 1991, President Roh Tae Woo said that South Korea would not, “manufacture, possess, store, deploy, or use nuclear weapons.”[19] Only two months later, North and South Korea signed the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In this agreement, both sides pledged not to “test, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons; to use nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes; and not to possess facilities for nuclear reprocessing or uranium enrichment.”[20] Implementation of the agreement’s inspection regime stalled in 1993 due to revelations about the North Korean nuclear program. Despite this setback, South Korea has not renounced its obligations under the treaty.[21] Given the North’s recent escalations of nuclear testing, attitudes towards Seoul’s obligation to the treaty are beginning to change.

While for decades it seemed unthinkable, Korean opinions on nuclear weapons have recently begun to shift. A poll conducted by Gallup Korea found that 60% of Koreans support nuclear weapons for their country.[22] Woo Yoo-chul, a senior figure in the then-ruling Saenuri Party, suggested last year that Korea should develop “peaceful” nuclear weapons to counter the North.[23] This recommendation is in part caused by a lack of faith in the continuing efficacy of the U.S. nuclear umbrella under President Trump. These concerns created broader support for a different proposal: the redeployment of American nuclear weapons to South Korea.

For many years, the U.S. maintained an arsenal of nearly one hundred nuclear weapons in South Korea. In 1991, however, President George H.W. Bush withdrew them under the condition that Moscow withdrew its own weapons from the Peninsula as well.[24] Recently, there has been a major push to bring the weapons back. A poll by YTN, a Korean cable news company, found that 68% of Koreans supported the redeployment of U.S. nuclear weapons.[25] Several months ago, Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo said that redeployment was an idea worth reviewing.[26] President Moon Jae-in has publicly opposed the idea while the opposition Liberty Korea Party strongly argues for redeployment.[27] These varying political positions demonstrate the gap between public officials’ opinions and the general public.

One of the obstacles that Japan and South Korea must overcome in deterring North Korea is the risk of international condemnation. Both countries signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and would risk sanctions if they violated its terms or withdrew. Although the international community may be reluctant to sanction two of the world’s largest economies, it would still cause international outrage and undermine the NPT.[28] Some nuclear weapons experts, however, argue that the treaty has been a failure for Asian democracies; thus these countries should not adhere to it. While Japan’s pacifist constitution is expected, it is no longer sustainable with the threats from North Korea.[29] Its acquisition or stationing of U.S. nuclear weapons may seem symbolic, but realistically neither Japan nor South Korea are aggressive powers. These proposals should not be taken lightly, but one should also be pragmatic about the security situation. In addition, the election of President Trump has complicated matters given his statements that he would not object to either country obtaining nuclear weapons.[30] It is unclear whether or not he will make policy based on that assertion, but it is likely that he would take a more favorable position to aggressive nuclear policies in both Japan and South Korea.


Under the current security situation, Japan and South Korea must seriously consider reevaluating their nuclear policies. Both governments are undergoing that process, though the Korean situation may change under Moon Jae-in. Rather than creating their own programs, stationing U.S. nuclear weapons would be the most effective way to deter North Korea. The world does not need more nuclear weapons, and deploying U.S. weapons instead would ensure security while not condoning increased proliferation. This move is unlikely to lead to a cascade effect, as Japan and South Korea are most threatened by North Korea, and other countries will feel more secure with weapons. Despite the stigma of this decision, current policies have failed; these countries must change their positions or face the threat of nuclear annihilation.





The Asahi Shimbun (Tokyo, Japan). “Ex-defense chief Ishiba suggests change in anti-nuke

policy.” September 7, 2017.


Chan, Melissa. “Here’s What Donald Trump Has Said About Nuclear Weapons.” Time. August 3,



Corrs, Anders. “Japan: Go Nuclear Now.” Forbes. February 1, 2017.


Geun-hye, Park. “A New Kind of Korea: Building Trust Between Seoul and Pyongyang.”

Foreign Affairs 90, no. 5 (September/October 2011).


Government of Japan. “Defense National Program Guidelines.” December 17, 2013.


Fifield, Anna. “South Korea’s defense minister suggests bringing back tactical U.S. nuclear

weapons.” The Washington Post. September 4, 2017.


The Japan Times (Tokyo, Japan). “An idea buds in the U.S. that Japan should go nuclear.”

October 24, 2017.


Kojo, Hirotaka. “40,000 protest Abe’s plans to revise Article 9 of Constitution.” The Asahi

Shimbun (Tokyo, Japan), November 4, 2017.


Lee, Dennis. “A Nuclear Japan: The Push for Weaponization.” Harvard International Review 35,

  1. 1 (Summer 2013).


Lee, Michelle Ye Hee. “More than ever, South Koreans want their own nuclear weapons.” The

Washington Post. September 13, 2017.


O’Neil, Andrew. “Extended nuclear deterrence in East Asia: redundant or resurgent?”

International Affairs 87, no. 6 (November 2011).


Osaki, Tomohiro. “Abe claims victory as powerful endorsement, may seek re-election next

month.” The Japan Times (Tokyo, Japan), October 23, 2017.


Ota, Masakatsu. “Japan waters down text of annual anti-nuclear resolution to imply acceptable

use of nukes.” The Japan Times (Tokyo, Japan), October 21, 2017.


Park, Ju-min. “Calls in South Korea for nuclear weapons as parliamentary poll looms.” Reuters.

February 15, 2016.


Sanger, David, Choe Sang-Hun, and Motoko Rich. “North Korea Rouses Neighbors to

Reconsider Nuclear Weapons.” The New York Times. October 28, 2017.


“South Korea.” Nuclear Threat Initiative. December 2015.


UN General Assembly. “Approving 18 Drafts on Disarmament Measures, First Committee Urges

General Assembly Call for States to Sign Nuclear-Weapon-Ban Treaty.” News release. October 27, 2017.


UN General Assembly, Draft Resolution L.35, “General and complete disarmament: United

action with renewed determination towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” October 12, 2017.


Woo, Roh Tae. “President Roh Tae Woo’s Declaration of Non-Nuclear Korean Peninsula Peace

Initiatives.” Federation of Atomic Scientists. November 8, 1991.



[1] Dennis Lee, “A Nuclear Japan: The Push for Weaponization,” Harvard International Review 35, no. 1 (Summer 2013): 8,

[2] David Sanger, Choe Sang-Hun, and Motoko Rich, “North Korea Rouses Neighbors to Reconsider Nuclear Weapons,” The New York Times, October 28, 2017,

[3] “An idea buds in the U.S. that Japan should go nuclear,” The Japan Times (Tokyo, Japan), October 24, 2017,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Park Geun-hye, “A New Kind of Korea: Building Trust Between Seoul and Pyongyang,” Foreign Affairs 90, no. 5 (September/October 2011): 14,

[6] The Sunshine Policy was the name given to South Korea’s foreign policy stance towards the North from 1998 to 2008. It entailed greater communication with and economic aid to North Korea.

[7] Andrew O’Neil, “Extended nuclear deterrence in East Asia: redundant or resurgent?,” International Affairs 87, no. 6 (November 2011): 1439,

[8] “Ex-defense chief Ishiba suggests change in anti-nuke policy,” The Asahi Shimbun (Tokyo, Japan), September 7, 2017,

[9] Sanger, Sang-Hun, and Rich, “North Korea Rouses.”

[10] Tomohiro Osaki, “Abe claims victory as powerful endorsement, may seek re-election next month,” The Japan Times (Tokyo, Japan), October 23, 2017,

[11] Hirotaka Kojo, “40,000 protest Abe’s plans to revise Article 9 of Constitution,” The Asahi Shimbun (Tokyo, Japan), November 4, 2017,

[12] Osaki, “Abe claims.”

[13] Government of Japan, “Defense National Program Guidelines,” December 17, 2013,

[14] Ibid.

[15] UN General Assembly, “Approving 18 Drafts on Disarmament Measures, First Committee Urges General Assembly Call for States to Sign Nuclear-Weapon-Ban Treaty,” press release, October 27, 2017,

[16] Masakatsu Ota, “Japan waters down text of annual anti-nuclear resolution to imply acceptable use of nukes,” The Japan Times (Tokyo, Japan), October 21, 2017,

[17] UN General Assembly, Draft Resolution L.35, “General and complete disarmament: United action with renewed determination towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” October 12, 2017.

[18] “South Korea,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, December 2015,

[19] Roh Tae Woo, “President Roh Tae Woo’s Declaration of Non-Nuclear Korean Peninsula Peace Initiatives,” Federation of Atomic Scientists, November 8, 1991.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Michelle Ye Hee Lee, “More than ever, South Koreans want their own nuclear weapons,” The Washington Post, September 13, 2017,

[23] Ju-min Park, “Calls in South Korea for nuclear weapons as parliamentary poll looms,” Reuters, February 15, 2016,

[24] Anna Fifield, “South Korea’s defense minister suggests bringing back tactical U.S. nuclear weapons,” The Washington Post, September 4, 2017,

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Sanger, Sang-Hun, and Rich, “North Korea Rouses.”

[29] Anders Corrs, “Japan: Go Nuclear Now,” Forbes, February 1, 2017,

[30] Melissa Chan, “Here’s What Donald Trump Has Said About Nuclear Weapons,” Time, August 3, 2016,

Honduras’ Election Fraud: Are the U.S. & Canada to Blame?


Written by Allie McManus on December 11, 2017


Latin America has a history of external influences proven to be detrimental to its society, from Spanish colonialism to U.S. fruit companies. Today, this pattern of economic extraction continues, but a surprising new agent engages in the same behavior– Canada. Fatigued by centuries of imperialism impeding true autonomy, Latin American countries today continue to struggle ineffective self-governance.

This paper will focus specifically on Honduras, where on November 26, 2017, protests broke out across the country in response to government manipulation and voter fraud in the re-election of President Juan Orlando Hérnandez. Protests continue internationally by organizations such as the European Union and the Organization of American States, who have questioned the legitimacy and transparency of the Honduran electoral commission. Squelching the voice of the Honduran populace either through the election of illegitimate political actors or the improper removal of legitimately elected officials by a series of military coups–as recent as eight years ago–Honduras remains a democratically fragile state.

Given the desire of international businesses to protect their interests in Honduras and other Latin American countries, it comes as no surprise that the propagation of illegitimate political actors and military coups would be fomented abroad. Each of the three Honduran military coups (1963, 1975, and 2009) was supported by international powers. A battle-weary populace jaded by the undue influence of foreign actors continues to yield a wavering democracy.

In this paper, I will argue that Honduras’ democratic fragility, and the current allegations of election fraud, are the result of centuries of economic imperialist intervention from Spanish colonialism to modern U.S. and Canadian economic imperialism.

History of ‘Imperialism’ in Honduras

Spanish Colonialism

The history of imperialism in Honduras began when the Spanish crown colonized San Gil de Buenavista in 1502 (Leonard 2011, pg. xxiii). The Spanish strategy for colonization was highly effective: they captured Limpera, the indigenous’ leader, to subdue the opposition. As the Spanish acquired the wealth of the indigenous peoples, they appropriated control of the existing methods of taxation, tribute, and forced labor, transferring power from the former leader to themselves, a new societal elite. It wasn’t, however, just the creation of a social elite that created a new order. The Spanish also created a web of institutions designed to exploit the indigenous population, such as encomienda, mitas, repartimiento, and trajin. These economic structures created a new subclass that turned the indigenous into indentured servants (Acemoglu & Robinson 2012). The Spanish, at the inception of colonial rule, constructed institutions that centralized power for the interests of the new elite while marginalizing the indigenous.

“Banana Republic”

In 1821, Honduras gained independence from the Spanish crown (Leonard 2011) yet the small nation remained an economic colony of the industrial powers. Ellen Meiksins Wood, a prolific Marxist theorist, posits that today “capitalist imperialism has become almost entirely a matter of economic domination, in which market imperatives, manipulated by the dominant capitalist powers, are made to do the work no longer done by imperial states or colonial settlers” (Wood 2003). In particular, it is maintained that throughout the twentieth century, the world hegemon, the United States, used ‘market imperatives’ such as inexpensive labor in autocratic states to control the fate of Honduran politics in its favor.

U.S. economic imperialism began in Honduras at the dawn of the banana industry when major U.S. multinationals, like United Fruit Co. and Standard Fruit Co., took control of Honduran telecommunications and national newspapers (Bucheli 2008). United Fruit Co. financed the presidential campaign of Tiburcio Carias out of fear that emerging left-leaning worker’s policies would damage the growing industry. Carias was subsequently elected and his presidency led to a military dictatorship until 1949 (Bucheli & Kim 2012). Carias jailed and exiled his opponents, outlawed the Communist Party, and fortified the military, leaving a long-lasting impact that damaged any hope of developing democratic institutions (Leonard 2011, pg. 113). Meanwhile, the U.S. ratified the “Good Neighbor Policy” in 1933, agreeing to nonintervention in Latin America, while legislating certain trade agreements to decrease tariffs abroad to stimulate U.S. industry during the Great Depression (Leonard 2011, pg. 116). On paper, the U.S. claimed that they kept their hands out of Latin American politics, but the reality was much different: the United States supported General Carias dictatorship (Fenner 2012).

In the 1950’s, in response to imbalanced and unfair U.S. policies, several communist and populist organizations emerged in Honduras. In 1957, Ramón Villeda Morales, an anti-American, left-leaning physician became president on the platform for increased welfare for the country’s poor. Morales initiated a new national labor code that provided an increased minimum wage, improved working conditions, mandatory severance pay, vacations, workmen’s compensation, and maternity leave (Leonard 2011, pg. 144). These policies not only threatened profit margins for banana companies but also alarmed the U.S. government who was amidst the Cold War on an anti-communism ideology. In 1963, the United States was “decisive” in delivering a coup in Honduras — ousting President Morales weeks before an upcoming election and replacing him with Oswaldo López Arellano (Coatsworth 2017; Buceli 2008; Leonard 2011).

Just like with Carias, López Arellano’s dictatorship was fraught with human rights abuses and a buttressing of the foreign Banana industry. Under his leadership, United Fruit Co. and Standard Fruit Co. did not pay income tax on their gains in the country (Leonard 2011, pg. 151). Several years later, a number of Honduran press releases discovered that Arellano had received a $1.25 million bribe from United Fruit Company to lower a banana export tax (The New York Times, 1975). Displeased with his corruption, the military found it essential to overthrow Arellano, which only continued to weaken the leadership in Honduras and facilitated yet another military dictatorship.

The 2009 Coup

In the next fifty years, Honduras was unable to free itself from the shackles of external influence. Fast-forward to the twenty-first century and similar patterns of economic imperialism continue to persist. It is argued that the 2009 Honduran coup and subsequent international support was the product of U.S. and Canadian fears that their economic interests were in jeopardy.

On June 28, 2009, José Manuel Zelaya, the democratically elected President of Honduras was deposed by the military, forced into exile, and replaced by Roberto Micheletti (Leonard 2011, pg. 174). Five months later, in November 2009, a second election was managed by the pro-coup supporters and Porfirio Lobo emerged as the new leader. There are several problems with this Lobo’s administration. The first problem goes to the very structure of the administration, where many whom Lobo appointed initiated the undemocratic coup, an act that threatens democratic order. The second is the cessation of fundamental human rights and state-sponsored repression under Lobo’s administration. In 2010, Human Rights Watch released a report stating “at least eight journalists and ten members of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) – a political group that opposed the 2009 coup and advocated the reinstatement of Zelaya – have been killed since President Lobo assumed power on January 27, 2010. There has also been a significant increase in threats against journalists and opposition members during this period” (Honduras: Ongoing Attacks Foster Climate of Intimidation 2010).

The U.S. Role in 2009 Coup

Despite the obvious threat to democracy and lack of protection for journalists and free speech, the Americans and Canadians have prioritized their economic interests above their democratic responsibility by supporting President Lobo.

The previously ousted President Zelaya created too much risk for U.S. business interests through his economic reforms to support small landowners, raising the minimum wage by sixty percent, and lowering interest rates (Valle 2013). He also sought to limit the monopolistic behavior of U.S. mining companies operating in the country by banning open-pit mining and the use of several toxic substances (COHA 2015). Zelaya’s policies are remarkably reminiscent of those of policies of President Morales who was ousted in 1963 for similar reasons.

Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State of the U.S., writes in her book Hard Choices that she admits her desire to prevent Zelaya’s return:  “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary Espinosa in Mexico. We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot” (Clinton 2014). Equally, in July 2013, four years after the coup, President Obama met with President Lobo at the White House and praised him for leadership and “restoration of democratic practices” in Honduras (“Obama Meets Honduran President Lobo” 2015). Yet, in contrast, and what might be most telling, is Honduran scholar Dona Frank’s opinion in Foreign Affairs magazine (2013) where he offers that U.S. support for coup loyalists opens the door for further “violence and anarchy.”
The Canadian Role in 2009 Coup

Canada has thirty-seven companies operating in Honduras totaling $26.8 million CAD a year in business volume (Honduras – Export Development Canada, 2017). Canada imports manufactured and industrial raw materials, fuels, machinery, and transport equipment, and food and animal products (Gordon & Webber, 2016). Most striking is that ninety percent of Canada’s foreign mining investment is limited to one country: Honduras (Escalera-Flexhaug 2017).

As Zelaya built ties with other center-left governments in Latin America, the Canadian government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, sought to end Honduran protectionist policies. When Zelaya was ousted, the Canadian government made no effort to condemn those preventing the democratically elected president from returning. Rather, Peter Kent, the Canadian Minister of State for the Americas, stated in a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) program that Zelaya’s “attempts to re-enter the country… [are]…very unhelpful to the situation” (“Rights Action Coup Alert #41” 2009).

Post-coup, Canadians positioned themselves as mediators between Zelaya’s forces and the dictatorship with the affirmation of the “Tegucigalpa-San José Accord.” This deal is particularly alarming because it affirmed “national unity” between Zelaya and the dictatorship. Post-signing, Neil Reeder, the Canadian Ambassador to Honduras, reported that “as a long-standing aid, trade, and investment partner with Honduras, we were delighted with this outcome,” (Reeder 2009), an explicit demonstration of Canadian powers to push for an unequal and unjust resolution to resume its trade and support its economic interests.

Neil Reeder, Canadian Member of Parliament, speaking to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, condemned Zelaya’s ousting but stated:

we should not deny the people of Honduras the opportunity to benefit from a free-trade agreement with us….There is a lot of potential for them to profit from Canadian markets, in that they can export their food products to Canada…We saw this with Costa Rica, for example, or in the small Central American countries that have huge export potential, which helps the national economy, creates jobs and attracts Canadian investments. This is already going on in Honduras, but I think that a free-trade agreement will increase confidence” (House of Commons Canada, 2011).  

Despite President Lobo’s relationship to the 2009 coup and gross human rights violations, House of Commons members and other Canadian officials were delighted with the new President because of his willingness to facilitate Canadian business interests. In 2011, President Lobo held an investment conference called “Honduras is Open for Business” attended by many Canadian investors (Escalera-Flexhaug, 2014). Former Canadian Ambassador to Central America Cameron Mackay published an op-ed piece in the Honduran Daily titled “Canada and Honduras, working together” where he says he is “pleased that Honduras is under the leadership of Porfirio Lobo” (Mackay, 2014).

Indeed Canadian political theorists Todd Gordon and Jeffrey Webber’s attack Canada’s veritable incongruity of words versus actions in their book “Blood of Extraction” (2016) where they the authors argue that “Canadian interests are fraught with contradiction and instability in Latin America and require state protection if they are not to be undermined. Providing such protection is the overarching goal of Canadian foreign policy in the region – whether it’s diplomatic, developmental, or security form—to ensure the successful expansion of Canadian capital in its relentless and insatiable drive for profit” (pg. 3). Herein lies the very essence of introverted political interests with little regard for the institutional development of marginalized nations.  

While approaching their extractive economic interests is different, both the Americans and Canadians have remarkably similar intents, particularly after the 2009 coup.

Election Fraud in 2017

This pattern continues into the present. This November 26 in a national election for the presidency, Salvador Nasrella (Kahn 2017) challenged incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández, who National Public Radio (NPR) calls “a close U.S. ally,” After the first partial results were released, Nasralla lead by 3.3%. Immediately counting stopped for 36 hours and then resumed with paradoxically with Hernández leading, causing suspicions since Congress, controlled by Hernandez’s party, appoints the election tribunal. (“Honduras election: Opposition candidate Nasralla rejects poll count”). The Organization of American States (OAS) released a statement that “irregularities, errors and systematic problems” with the election process meant they could not be certain of the results (“OAS says Honduran vote results in doubt due to ‘irregularities'”, 2017).

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in the capital, Tegucigalpa, to protest manipulation of the vote count (“Honduras Election”). Across social media, videos were shared of young protesters being killed or beaten by security forces. A ten-day curfew was imposed, but law enforcement ignored the curfew to join in the protest (Kahn 2017).

Despite the irregularities in the voting process, little mention is given to President Hernandez’s “Supreme Court Packed” group of individuals who overturned recent legislation on term limits enabling Hernandez to continue to remain in office (Kahn 2017). These actions were found to be egregious even to the countries that participated in this centuries-long paradigm, including the United States Department Official who advised Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Central America, Juan Gonzalez: “the electoral commission should find a way to be transparent and make sure that the O.A.S. and the E.U. have as much access as possible,” said that the final result should have “international validation,” he said (Malkin, 2017).

Equally, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, called for “all parties to resolve any disagreement peacefully, transparently, and in line with the highest democratic and human rights standards. Participatory, transparent, and credible electoral processes are cornerstones of democracy” (Government of Canada, 2017).


Centuries ago, Spanish economic structures in the name of commerce sapped economic and political potential among the Latin countries to create perpetual dependence, instability, and a permanent underclass. In North America, it was impossible for the British to coerce the indigenous to work and as a result, they were forced to complete the work themselves (Acemoglu & Robinson 2012). The British realized that it’s only option was to create economically viable institutions that incentivized investment and hard work (ibid).

U.S. and Canadian involvement in Honduras served only to advance a centuries-old structure of instability in its political economy, creating the recipe for modern institutional failure. As Acemoglu and Robinson (2012) write in their book Why Nations Fail, contrary to the political and economic stability enjoyed in the developed world, these same foreign nations (to protect their financial interests in the developing world) create a different incentive for its political leaders. Their foreign policy towards Honduras for example, prioritizing economic interests, sets a precedent for further anarchy. The Spanish colonial regime created the institutions used to exploit those who lived in the colonies, and later in history, power shifted to U.S. and Canadian interests, who then capitalized on pre-existing institutions to perpetuate this dynamic.

For centuries, Honduras and its people have been denied political transparency, accountability, and political power of, by, and for the people.  As a result, these institutional weaknesses materialize into an unraveling democratic crisis. Despite their condemnation, the United States and Canada are responsible for the perpetuation of institutions that facilitate the present situation in Honduras.



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IR Theory & Aliens

Welcome to the first official podcast by the Hopkins Podcast on Foreign Affairs! Today we talk about the three fundamental theories of international relations and how we can apply these theories to an alien invasion.
The idea for this podcast stemmed from the book International Politics and Zombies by Daniel Drezner, go read it!

Hopkins Podcast On Foreign Affairs – Pilot Episode

The Johns Hopkins Podcast on Foreign Affairs is a monthly podcast discussing the most pressing issues in international relations. Three Johns Hopkins students in the International Studies program will discuss contemporary issues, interview professors and create a fun and lively atmosphere while doing it! This Podcast will not focus on only the Trump administration as many Foreign Affairs podcasts do, but rather, we will address world issues from an international perspective.