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Dr John Nilsson-Wright (formerly Swenson-Wright)

Cold War relationship between the USA & NE Asia, particularly Japan & the two Koreas; contemporary regional security issues, foreign policy & domestic politics


John Nilsson-Wright is the Fuji Bank University Senior Lecturer in Modern Japanese Politics and International Relations and a Fellow of Darwin College. He read Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) as an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford, from 1984 to 1987 during which time he developed an interest in Japanese politics and foreign policy. From 1988 to 1989 he was a Monbusho visiting researcher at Kyoto University, where he worked under the guidance of Professor Masataka Kosaka, focusing on post-war relations between Japan and Korea.

From Japan he moved to the United States, where he completed an M.A. in International Relations (concentrating on East Asian studies) at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, in Washington, DC.

In 1991 he returned to Oxford, to St. Antony's college, for his D.Phil. in International Relations under the guidance of Professors Arthur Stockwin and Rosemary Foot. His research focused on early Cold War US-Japan foreign and security relations from 1945 to 1960, and involved extensive archival research both in the United States and in Japan, where he spent a ten month period as a visiting researcher at Tokyo University. His thesis was completed in 1997 and awarded the British International History Group (BIHG) annual dissertation prize.

In addition to his position at Cambridge, Dr Nilsson-Wright is also Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia at the Asia Programme at Chatham House which he previously directed as Head of Programme from March 2014 to October 2016.

He has been a Monbusho research fellow at Kyoto and Tokyo universities, and a visiting fellow at Tohoku University, Yonsei University, Korea University, and Seoul National University. He has also been a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Agenda Council (GAC) on Korea and is a director of the UK-Japan 21st Century Group. In 2014 he was awarded the 10th Nakasone Yasuhiro Prize in recognition of his research and contributions to UK-Japan relations.

He comments regularly for the global media on the international relations of East Asia, with particular reference to Japan and the Korean Peninsula (see here for a representative selection of recent articles), and has testified to the House of Commons, Foreign Affairs Committee and the House of Commons, Defence Committee.

He is a member of the editorial board of Global Asia, and is a founding member of the European Japan Advanced Research Network (EJARN).

Subject groups/Research projects

Japanese Studies:

Research Interests

Dr Nilsson-Wright's recent work has continued to concentrate on the Cold War relationship between the United States and Northeast Asia, with particular reference to the security and political relationships between the United States and Japan and the two Koreas, but has expanded to include contemporary regional security issues and political change.

His early work focused on the US-Japan relationship, including a monograph published by Stanford University Press, entitled Unequal Allies? United States Security and Alliance Policy Towards Japan, 1945-1960 (March 2005), as well as an edited translation of a Japanese memoir dealing with the role of Okinawa in bilateral US-Japan relations - The Best Course Available. A Personal Account of the Secret US-Japan Okinawa Reversion Negotiations - written by the late Professor Kei Wakaizumi, and published by Hawai'i University Press in April, 2002.

Key Publications

"Nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula: strategic adaptation, the Abe administration and extended deterrence in the face of uncertainty," Japan Forum, April 4, 2018.

Creative Minilateralism in a Changing Asia: Opportunities for Security Convergence and Cooperation between Australia, India and Japan. Chatham House, Asia Program, Research Paper, London, UK: Royal Institute of International Affairs, June 2017.   

“Sino-Japanese Relations. Prospects for the Next Five Years,” in Kerry Brown, ed. The Critical Transition: China’s Priorities for 2021. London, UK: Royal Institute of International Affairs, January, 2017.

The Politics and International Relations of Modern KoreaLondon, UK: Routledge, 2016. (Four volumes) 

With Kiichi Fujiwara, Brexit and its Consequences: Anglo-Japanese Relations in a Post-EU Referendum World. Chatham House, Asia Program, Research Paper, London, UK: Royal Institute of International Affairs, October 2016. 

With Xenia Wickett and Tim Summers The Asia-Pacific Power Balance: Beyond the US-China Narrative, Chatham House, US Project and Asia Program, Research Paper, September 2015. 

With Kiichi Fujiwara, Japan’s Abe Administration: Steering a course between pragmatism and extremism, Chatham House, Asia Program, Research Paper, September, 2015. 

Park Geun-hye, Foreign Policy Innovation and Risk on the Korean Peninsula,” in Andrew T.H. Tan, ed., Security and Conflict in East Asia, London: Routledge, 2015. 

With Chung-in Moon, Crisis of Peace and New Leadership in Korea: Lessons of Kim Dae-jung’s Legacies, Seoul: Yonsei University Press, 2013. 

 “Crisis of Peace and Humanitarian Development in North Korea: Reflections on Life in North Korea During the MB Government,” in Chung-in Moon and John Swenson-Wright, eds. Crisis of Peace and New Leadership in Korea: Lessons of Kim Dae-jung’s Legacies Seoul: Yonsei University Press, 2013. 

Is Japan Truly ‘Back’: Prospects for a more Proactive Security Policy, Chatham House Briefing Paper, June, 2013. 

“Inter-Korean relations and the challenge of North-east Asian regional security,” in Andrew T. H. Tan, ed. East and South-East Asia International Relations and Security Perspectives, London: Routledge, 2013

With Ruediger Frank, Korea and East Asia: The Stony Road to Collective Security, Leiden: Brill, 2012. 

 “The Role of Japan in the International Relations of East Asia,” in Ruediger Frank and John Swenson-Wright, eds. Korea and East Asia: The Stony Road to Collective Security, Leiden: Brill, 2012. 

Resurgent Trilateralism in Northeast Asia, Chatham House, Asia Programme Paper, February 2011. 

“East Asia: Consistency and Sensitivity Needed in a Strategically Vital Region,” in Robin Niblet, ed., America and A Changed World: a Question of Leadership, London: WileyBlackwell, 2010.

“Sasakawa Ryouichi: Unravelling an Enigma,” in Ryoichi Sasakawa and Ken Hijino (trans), Sugamo Diary, London: Hurst/Columbia, 2010.

“Contending with Regional Uncertainty: Japan’s Response to Contemporary East Asian Security Challenges,” in Patricia Nelson and Marie Sodeberg, eds, Perspectives on Change in Japanese Politics and Economics, Routledge, 2010.

“The Limits of Normality: Japanese-Korean post-Cold War Interactions,” in David Welch, ed. Japan as a Normal Nation, University of Toronto Press, 2010.