On December 26th 2018, the Japanese government announced it would be withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission, or IWC, and resuming commercial whaling in July 2019. The move triggered an international backlash, and there were also critical voices from within the country.
There were three factors behind Japan’s sudden withdrawal. The first was a ruling by the International Court of Justice. The second was the issue of the continuation of scientific whaling. And the third–and most important–was a decision adopted by the IWC general assembly in September.
Unexpected court decisionIn 2014, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ordered a temporary halt to Japan’s research whaling, saying the country had failed to prove the program was for scientific purposes.
The International Court of Justice ruled that Japan must halt its whaling program as it failed to prove the program was for scientific purposes.
The ruling was the result of legal action taken by the Australian government to force Japan to halt whaling in the Antarctic Ocean. It claimed the hunts were actually carried out for commercial purposes.
Japan objected, saying that the number of whales it caught was necessary for scientific research, and that the sale of whale meat was approved under the IWC. It also claimed that its research had produced useful results.
But the Hague ruled otherwise, and Japan was forced to stop.
What’s at issue
It’s extremely rare for Japan to pull out of a major international organization like the IWC. Since the end of World War Two, the country has put a priority on diplomacy through cooperation, choosing to hold talks to resolve differences. The decision to withdraw from the IWC could mark a turning point.
Japan will be pressured to respond to the international criticism. The withdrawal may make it difficult for the country to press its case on how to preserve seafood resources, such as tuna. Japan will also face the possibility that commercial whaling may not be a viable industry amid falling domestic whale meat consumption.
Japan has made a major decision on whaling. But the fallout will continue for some time.