Monday, December 20, 2010

A Reconsideration of the US-Japanese Alliance at the 50th Anniversary

It is the 50th anniversary of the US-Japanese Security Treaty this year. When the Cold War ended, the Hosokawa administration of Japan explored “independent” national security policy to strengthen Japan's own sovereign choice from the United States. However, the “peaceful rise” of China and tensions in the Korean Peninsula brought Japanese people home to understand vulnerable security in their neighborhood and importance of the alliance with the United States. This is not wrong. But I would like to talk about importance of the alliance from global contexts.

It is a pity that current debates on the US-Japanese alliance focus on bilateral and Asia-Pacific perspectives, that is, the alliance is an indispensable “public goods” to provide stability and a liberal order throughout East Asia. Assuming like this, Japanese leaders and the public feel a dilemma. While Japan can enjoy political stability and economic prosperity under the US security umbrella, a substantial number of Japanese public worry that the alliance will lead Japan into “America’s war” like Iraq and Afghanistan. The alliance must be viewed from more long term and worldwide perspectives. Remember that American allies around the world regard Japan as their trustworthy partner because they share common values and interests with Japan. As I argued in a previous post, an area from Suez to Pearl Harbor is the natural sphere of the US-Japanese alliance. We must be bold to deepen this indispensable strategic partnership.

Quite interestingly, liberal democratic nations still regard the alliance as bilateral and regional, though Japan and NATO explored closer ties during the Abe and the Aso administration period. At the policy forum by the Japan Forum on International Relations on November 22, I was rather perplexed to hear British Ambassador David Warren say the US-Japanese alliance “exclusive”. Technically speaking, Ambassador Warren is right, as the alliance is based on a bilateral treaty between the United States and Japan. Also, Japanese defense procurement is dependent on US made arsenals. There is nothing strange that policymakers who are keen to pioneer defense market in Japan think current US-Japanese alliance “exclusive”.

However, I would like to emphasize that the US-Japanese alliance is “opener” than commonly understood in the global community. It is a status symbol for Japan to strengthen its position in the world. As I said before, the alliance has been global since 1960s and 70s when Britain withdrew from the Indian Ocean and the shah’s Iran collapsed respectively. US 7th fleet expanded its operational sphere in response to them.

The US-Japanese alliance endowed invaluable political prestige to Japan. As a major industrialized democracy, Japan has been a de facto ally with Europe. It is symbolic that French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing invited Japan to the first Summit at Rambouillet in 1975. Also, Japan attended G5 Plaza finance ministers meeting of top Western economies, ahead of Canada and Italy. Europeans admit Japan their key partner, not simply because it is a big economy, but because it shares common values and strategic interests with them.

In security, Japan has been deepening partnership with American allies through the US-Japanese alliance. Since the War on Terror broke out, NATO has begun to develop strategic partnership with Japan. Also, in Iraq, Japanese Self Defense Force worked with Britain and the Netherlands through the US-Japanese alliance. “The special relationship” with America bolsters Japan’s multilateral diplomacy, particularly with European free nations.

Some Japanese lament that Japan was “forced” to join US-led Western camp through the alliance, and it lost foreign policy autonomy. However, since the Meiji Regime Change, this country has been one of Western Great Powers, and this is the national fundamental of modern Japan. Therefore, the US-Japanese alliance is a natural alliance for Japan.

The alliance helps Japan’s multilateral diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific region as well. When North Korea conducted a nuclear bomb test, American allies such as Britain and Australia also sent early warning planes to Okinawa. Japanese people were pleased with this multilateral support. In view of threats posed by China and North Korea, Japan is exploring regional security partnership with Australia, India, South Korea, Indonesia, and so forth. This is endorsed by the US-Japanese alliance.

Had I enough time to ask a question at the forum, I would have mentioned “open” and “multilateral” nature of the alliance to Ambassador Warren. His lecture was so stimulating that he needed to answer numerous enthusiastic questions from attendants. But as Ambassador Warren repeatedly said in the policy forum, there are numerous “exclusive” aspects in the alliance. Typically, Japan cannot help South Korea as “a friend in need” against recent aggression by North Korea.

In order to make the alliance is truly “open” and “multilateral”, it is necessary for Japan to lessen dependence on the Japan handlers. The alliance is evolving more worldwide. Regarding this, NHK TV broadcasted a special program on the 50th anniversary of the US-Japanese alliance on December 11. In that TV program, Jitsuro Terashima, Chairman of the Japan Research Institute, commented that Japanese policymakers should strengthen ties with global strategist in Washington political corridor rather than narrowly focused Japan handlers. I agree with him! I have been insisting that the alliance is not just bilateral and regional but global.

As to this point, I would like to mention Britain’s relations with the United States, as it is the role model for Japan to upgrade current alliance with the United States. Britain hardly relies on “British handlers”. British policymakers discuss global policy with American global strategists. Also, when they discuss regional affairs, they talk with corresponding American counterparts. When they talk on Russia, they meet American experts on Russian affairs. When they discuss Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, or wherever, they act accordingly. In those cases, it is no use to meet experts on Downing Street or Westminster.

Accordingly, it is not of much help for Japanese policymakers to depend excessively on Nagatacho and Kasumigaseki experts on the American side. Learning this “English lesson” will upgrade US-Japanese, UK (or EU)-Japanese, and Anglo-American relations. This triangle is much better than Yukio Hatoyama’s triangle among United States, Japan, and China ("Three interpretations of the US-Japanese-Chinese Security Triangle"; East Asia Forum; May 1, 2010).

These days, Japanese people are preoccupied with Chinese expansionism and North Korean brutalism, when they reassess the US-Japanese alliance. But we should not be “exclusive”, but “open, multilateral, and global” to make the alliance much more sustainable and strong.