Behind-the-scenes whale diplomacy

A series of cables released today from the Tokyo embassy reveal U.S. efforts to win concessions from Japan on the international whaling trade. Throughout 2009, the U.S. government pushed Japan to agree to a deal at the International Whaling Commission under which it would gradually reduce the number of whales it catches each year for ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
559694_whalesushi_12.jpg
559694_whalesushi_12.jpg

A series of cables released today from the Tokyo embassy reveal U.S. efforts to win concessions from Japan on the international whaling trade. Throughout 2009, the U.S. government pushed Japan to agree to a deal at the International Whaling Commission under which it would gradually reduce the number of whales it catches each year for "scientific" purposes in exchange for recognition that a complete moratorium is unrealistic. A panel of the International Whaling Commission proposed such a deal in February 2010, but it's still under consideration.

Interestingly, throughout the talks, the Japanese repeatedly brought up the activities of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the confrontational group made famous in the U.S. by the TV show Whale Wars, as a major obstacle to progress. From Nov. 2, 2009:

Yamada inquired about an investigation into the tax status of the U.S.-based NGO Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and repeated Japan's request for the U.S. to take action against the organization, which he said created a very dangerous situation on the seas. The DCM replied that the U.S. places the highest priority on the safety of vessels and human life at sea, and added that if any violations of U.S. law are discovered, we will take appropriate enforcement action. Morishita went on to say it would be easier for Japan to make progress in the IWC negotiations if the U.S. were to take action against the Sea Shepherd. 

A series of cables released today from the Tokyo embassy reveal U.S. efforts to win concessions from Japan on the international whaling trade. Throughout 2009, the U.S. government pushed Japan to agree to a deal at the International Whaling Commission under which it would gradually reduce the number of whales it catches each year for "scientific" purposes in exchange for recognition that a complete moratorium is unrealistic. A panel of the International Whaling Commission proposed such a deal in February 2010, but it’s still under consideration.

Interestingly, throughout the talks, the Japanese repeatedly brought up the activities of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the confrontational group made famous in the U.S. by the TV show Whale Wars, as a major obstacle to progress. From Nov. 2, 2009:

Yamada inquired about an investigation into the tax status of the U.S.-based NGO Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and repeated Japan’s request for the U.S. to take action against the organization, which he said created a very dangerous situation on the seas. The DCM replied that the U.S. places the highest priority on the safety of vessels and human life at sea, and added that if any violations of U.S. law are discovered, we will take appropriate enforcement action. Morishita went on to say it would be easier for Japan to make progress in the IWC negotiations if the U.S. were to take action against the Sea Shepherd. 

From Jan. 27, 2010:

Turning to harassment of the Japanese whaling fleet by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), Yamashita said the NGO’s actions have kept the fleet from reaching its quota the last few years. Yamashita said the GOJ would come under pressure domestically if SSCS harassment continues to keep Japanese whalers from filling their quota after an agreement on reduced numbers is reached within the IWC. EMIN said the USG is concerned about the safety of life at sea and is looking at the activity of the SSCS.

The cables are pretty good publicity for the always publicity-seeking Sea Shepherd. They show that the group rattled Japanese authorities at the highest levels and also make it a lot more difficult for U.S. tax authorities to take action against them, if those plans ever actually had been in the works.

As for the Japanese, they come out looking, unsurprisingly, like they’re evading the main issue. The cables also don’t address what seems like a much larger problem, the high likelihood that Tokyo is actively lobbying a group of small countries for their votes on the IWC. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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