Wednesday, November 25, 2009

ACCJ Lecture by the Commander of the US Forces in Japan

On November 5, I attended a luncheon at the Peninsula Hotel in Yurakucho of Tokyo, in order to listen to a lecture by Lieutenant General Edward Rice of the US Air Force. Lieutenant General Rice was appointed to the Commander of the US Forces in Japan in 2008.

Lieutenant General Rice talked about the changing nature of international security environment, and stressed that the US-Japanese alliance transform in order to deal with new challenges. Those challenges are primarily transnational threats, such as terrorism, pandemic, organized crime, climate change, and so forth. Furthermore, he said that such threats have become more important than traditional threats of conflicts between nation states. He said that Japan and the United States develop further partnership to manage these global threats.

It seems to me that the lecture by Lieutenant General Rice reflects foreign policy viewpoints of the Obama administration. Certainly, multilateral security cooperation has become increasingly important in the era of transnational challenges. However, I think that the tone of the lecture could have been different, if Senator John McCain assumed the presidency at present. Regardless of his own political creed, Lieutenant General Rice works for the Obama administration now, just as General David Petraeus does even though he is an icon among Republican supporters. There is nothing strange that the lecture at the Peninsula Hotel was Obamanian.

At the Q & A session after the lecture, attendants asked a broad range of questions on US-Japanese relations and East Asian security, such as North Korea, US bases in Futenma of Okinawa, the East Asian Community, and interest in national security among the Japanese public.

Regarding the East Asian Community, Lieutenant General Rice said that it was necessary to see what it was, and told the attendants not to judge it prematurely. As to public attention to national security, the USFJ (US Forces in Japan) Commander commented that Americans were not necessarily more well-aware of security issues than Japanese.

The USFJ Commander was so cautious that he did not say something like, "the hardest thing right now is not China, it's Japan", as I quoted an anonymous comment in the Washington Post before. Unlike the media, Lieutenant General Rice did not say something provocative about the Hatoyama administration.

My Question to Lieutenant General Rice was whether the role of nation state was declining in global security in view of the rise of radical nationalism in Russia and China. Ever since I wrote a post on the discussion between Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times, top opinion leaders from America and Europe, I have been watching both illiberal capitalisms very closely. I quoted phrases back to the old Soviet Union for Russia and Peaceful rise for China, to ask policy implications of their challenges to free industrialized nations like the United States, Europe, and Japan.

In reply to my question, Lieutenant General Rice said that traditional power games between nation states still mattered, even though transnational challenges were getting increasingly important. Also, he said that a combination of engagement and containment approaches were necessary to deal with the Russo-Chinese challenge. If the Western alliance depends solely on hardliner measures, radical nationalism in Russia and China will be invigorated furthermore, he says.

I was impressed that Lieutenant General Edward Rice replied to every question sincerely. The USFJ Commander also said that it was a good opportunity to know interest of everyone at the forum. It was a very good opportunity for me to participate in mutual interaction between the guest speaker and distinguished attendants.

Note: This blog post reflects my personal view points, and not those of the ACCJ and the USFJ. The author is entirely responsible for everything mentioned in this post.

Photo: US Forces in Japan