Monday, June 21, 2010

The US-Japanese Alliance from Suez to Pearl Harbor

The Futenma problem spurred nationwide debates in Japan on the US-Japanese Alliance in the new century. As Yukio Hatoyama stepped down from the Japanese prime minister position, the bilateral alliance seems be getting back to the normalcy. Considering importance of the US-Japanese Alliance in global security, the Hatoyama administration wasted tremendous time and energy on such a meager domestic issue.

Instead of US bases in Okinawa, the Japanese public needs to focus on a vital point that the US-Japanese security partnership has not only been bilateral and regional but also global since the loss of the Guard in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. British Labour Prime Minister-then Harold Wilson decided to withdraw the armed forces from the east of Suez in 1968. Then, pro-Western Pahlavi regime in Iran assumed itself the Guard of the Persian Gulf to fill the vacuum of power after British retreat. However, the shah’s Iran collapsed by the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Today, the US forces in Japan needs to cover a vast area from Suez to Pearl Harbor. Therefore, I insisted that the focus of US-Japanese security arrangements must be global in a previous post.

Despite such changes in global power games, the Japanese public had been in a daydream of peaceful paradise until the Gulf War in 1991. Only when Japanese Prime Minister-then Toshiki Kaifu was blamed for his free riding diplomacy when the Western coalition fought against Saddam Hussein’s invasion to Kuwait, did whole Japanese nation woke up to find that the alliance with America was global. Throughout the postwar era, the Yoshida Doctrine dominated Japanese foreign policy, and the Japanese government pursued economic growth and living standard improvement while leaving national defense to US security umbrella. Japan only had to depend on US forces to defend itself from communist threats such as the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea. The alliance was entirely bilateral and regional in the 1950s and the 1960s.

Such a security environment has changed when Britain decided to withdraw from east of Suez. In those days, Britain was in a stagnant economy, and the Wilson administration needed to cut defense spending. Also, in view of Soviet submarine threats in the Northern Atlantic area, the British government changed the defense strategy to concentrate its forces on European fronts for NATO command structure. Until then, British forces played the role of the guard from Suez to Singapore. The Royal Navy patrolled across the Indian Ocean. Britain stopped Ba’athist Iraqi ambition to invade Kuwait in 1961. Also, the British led coalition defeated communist guerillas in Malaysia in 1960.

After British withdrawal, the shah’s Iran assumed itself as the Guard of the Persian Gulf, endorsed by the Nixon Doctrine. When the shah purchased America’s top gun F14 fighters, the Imperial Iranian Air Force boasted to cover the sky from Egypt to India, which is the territorial range of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Had pro-Western regime survived in Iran, Saddam Hussein would not have invaded Kuwait to satisfy his Nasserian megalomania. Also, the impact of Soviet invasion to Afghanistan in 1979 would not have been so serious. The Pahlavi regime was neutral in the Arab Israeli conflict, because Iranians are descendants of ancient Aryans, one of Indo-European peoples. Moreover, Cyrus the Great liberated the Jewish from Babylonian oppression. Therefore, Iran was in a very good position to assume America’s Guard in the Gulf Area.

Since the fall of the shah in 1979, American involvement in the Middle East and the Indian Ocean has grown precipitously. Long before the Gulf War, the US-Japanese Alliance has evolved into a global security arrangement. Currently, the US armed forces in the Pacific region, including the 7th Fleet, fill a huge vacuum of power from Suez to the east. It is unlikely that some regional powers like India will or can afford to play the role assumed by Britain and the Pahlavi Iran in the past.

Unfortunately, Japanese politicians and opinion leaders still miss this point. For example, if the US forces in Okinawa were to be transferred to somewhere else, it would create a huge vacuum of power from Suez to Pear Harbor. None of others like Guam, Tinian, and Diego Garcia Islands can supplant current US bases in Japan. In order to deepen and develop the US-Japanese Alliance for the new century, the Japanese public must understand global security environment, and pay more attention to Europe, Middle East, and the rest of the world. When I studied world history at high school, I was told to understand things chronically and contemporarily, that is, understanding things in chronicle order of cause and effect and in terms of interrelations among what happened in one area to another in the same age. It is a pity that Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama failed to understand the basic principle of high school level of world history. Therefore, Japanese leaders should keep alert to the world beyond bilateral relations, East Asia, and Washington politics to rebuild US-Japanese security arrangements for this century. The Alliance has been global for a long time, well before the Gulf War!