Japan has often been dismissed by mainstream international relations and policy discourse as a bit-part actor in Korean Peninsula security affairs. If ascribed any role at all, it is seen as a secondary and submissive actor, generally bending to US strategy and international systemic pressures. This paper argues, however, that Japanese policy towards North Korea is now challenging these international systemic pressures, and threatening divergence with US policy. This is due to the fact that Japan's policy is increasingly driven by domestic political considerations that are rivalling or even superseding international influences in importance. In order to highlight these domestic dynamics, the paper utilizes domestic sanctions theory and a detailed empirical analysis of the Japanese policy-making process with regard to the imposition of sanctions on North Korea. It demonstrates that a "threshold coalition" has now emerged in Japan which is tipping government policy towards sanctions, irrespective of, or even in opposition to, international systemic pressures to desist from such actions. The paper highlights the changing disposition of a pluralistic range of domestic actors away from default engagement to default containment. The consequence of these aggregate domestic pressures is that the Japanese government is finding it progressively harder to converge with US and international strategy towards North Korea. Japan is thus set to augment its influence in Korean Peninsula security affairs by becoming a more obstructive partner in attempts to find an international resolution to the nuclear crisis
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