By Yoshiyuki Kasai / Special to The Yomiuri ShimbunU.S. President Donald Trump, speaking at a press conference following the end of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Osaka in late June, complained about the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. He remarked, “I said [to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe], ‘Look, if somebody attacks Japan, we go after them and we are in a battle — full force in effect.’ We are locked in a battle and committed to fight for Japan. If somebody should attack the United States, they don’t have to do that. That’s unfair… I said we’re going to have to change it.”
The president flatly ruled out the possibility of withdrawing from the bilateral security pact in answer to a reporter’s question. However, such a remark carries the risk of letting the rest of the world see a difference of perception between Japan and the United States regarding security, thus diminishing the deterrent power of their alliance.
The fact that he nonetheless dared to make his dissatisfaction known in public appears to suggest the president was sending a message to Japan, in order to solidify the Japan-U.S. alliance further in response to a rapidly worsening international situation.
The Japan-U.S. Security Treaty stipulates the reciprocal obligations of the two countries, with the United States assuming responsibility to defend Japan and Japan providing the U.S. forces in Japan with bases for forward deployment.
Both countries have implemented the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation of 1978 — which has since been updated twice — advancing their abilities to conduct coordinated operations. Further, the Legislation for Peace and Security that was adopted under the Abe administration is now in place, providing a wider variety of security options for the two countries to employ in case of a situation that Japan determines threatens its survival. Even in peacetime, the Self-Defense Forces are authorized to protect the U.S. military, including its vessels. Japan and the United States have thus steadfastly developed their alliance.
However, the rapid rise in tensions between the United States and China demands that the alliance be further strengthened. Pursuing state capitalism under dictatorial control by the Chinese Communist Party, China has achieved years of rapid economic growth.
China is now seeking hegemony in every area, confronting the U.S.-led order based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
Trump’s determination to contain China’s supremacy is said to have across-the-board support from his administration’s national security team and strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.
Turning to China’s hegemonic intentions, they are not irrelevant to Japan. In the seas surrounding our country, Chinese vessels are appearing in Japan’s contiguous zone around the Senkaku Islands for consecutive days, with some of them actually violating Japanese territorial waters. As a result, the Japanese side has been busy watching out for and trying to stop Chinese vessels’ intrusions. Against this backdrop, Japan cannot help strongly recognizing the necessity of the Japan-U.S. alliance once again.
The effectiveness of deterrent power by an alliance depends on two factors — the alliance needs to stay sufficiently prepared for an emergency, and must remain determined to take joint action. When a potential adversary perceives the alliance’s deterrence to be credible, emergencies can be avoided.
The basic response to fluid international situations such as those facing us today is to clarify the backbone of our foreign policy and ensure that it remains steady. For Japan, this backbone can only be its unwavering alliance with the United States.
Surrounded by worsening security circumstances, Japan is under pressure to determine what role it should play as an independent ally of the United States.
Using different gauges
Regarding the confrontation between the United States and China, a majority of Japanese people apparently choose to be silent for the time being, seeing it as a “trade war” between the two countries. But I hear the United States is resolutely prepared to engage in a long-term confrontation with China, and intends to request Japan’s cooperation. Even if this lasts 50 or 100 years, the United States aims to contain Beijing’s hegemonic ambitions based on its state capitalist model in the areas of trade, technology, military power and others.
The matter of concern is the difference of opinion between Japan and the United States about the level of Japan’s contribution to the bilateral alliance. Whereas Japan applies the development of the alliance as the yardstick to gauge its contribution, the United States uses a different barometer to measure if Japan is sufficiently responding to the growing pace of China’s military power.
From the U.S. perspective, Japan’s contribution to the bilateral alliance is judged to be “too slow,” “too little” and “temporary.” Washington considers it necessary for Japan to assume a greater share of responsibility in the alliance.
Japan is aware of China’s threat but it tends to take a less active, wait-and-see attitude toward the world’s second-largest economy, as it does not want its relationship of economic interdependence with China jeopardized.
However, there is no room for compromise from the U.S. standpoint, because the battle for hegemony with China is a struggle not only to defend such foundational American values as freedom and democracy, but also to protect the national interests and national security of the United States.
The prerequisite for the security of Japan is U.S. nuclear protection, also known as the “nuclear umbrella,” provided thanks to the Japan-U.S. alliance. Japan has no other option in this regard.
Then, how does the United States see Japan? The United States, too, has no partner that could take the place of Japan in Asia, considering that Japan shares values with the United States, has a high logistics ability and is important in geopolitical terms.
Does this mean Japan need not swing between optimism and fear when responding to each request from the United States? Of course not. Japan and the United States are bound by an extremely broad range of ties. When Japan faces China resolutely, backed by the unwavering alliance, China may choose to behave in the neighborhood more like a gentleman. Conversely, weak-kneed diplomacy will only result in China taking advantage of such a wavering stance to adopt an overbearing attitude toward Japan and incite division between Japan and the United States through manipulation of public opinion.
Areas for Japan-U.S. joint actions deeply overlap with the safety and national interests of Japan. Japan-U.S. coordinated operations in the Strait of Hormuz in the Middle East, the East China Sea, the South China Sea and the Pacific and Indian oceans, among other areas, will certainly contribute to ensuring the effectiveness of the Japan-U.S. alliance and raising the deterrent power of the alliance. Furthermore, Japan-U.S. cooperation in outer space and the cyber realm is indispensable, because these are umbrella areas that cover all regions.
Solidarity between the SDF and the U.S. military, backed by national sentiment shared between the two countries, is vital to ensure the effectiveness of the Japan-U.S. alliance. In this connection, what is necessary in Japan now is the awakening of public opinion to facilitate the development of the alliance. Precedents can be found in Japan’s modern and contemporary history.
Stop inward-looking policy
During the Edo period (1603-1867), the Tokugawa shogunate effectively isolated the country from the rest of the world for about 200 years. But the period of isolation came to an end in the 19th century, following the arrival of a U.S. flotilla known as the Black Ships. At the time, the Western powers were accelerating the colonization of Asia. A sense of crisis over the threat to independence surmounted the national policy of isolation, and the country opened itself up to the world.
Another precedent was the 1960 revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. U.S. policy during the Occupation had kept Japan isolated, but the U.S.-Soviet Cold War brought a sea change to the situation. The Cabinet of Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi decided to have Japan join the Western camp, supporting freedom and democracy, by revising the security treaty.
Japan’s business community was already on board with the free economic system. Japan’s leftists, however, fell into line with propaganda campaigns by the Soviet Union and China, giving rise to waves of protest against the security treaty with the United States. Superficially, the massive demonstrations looked like the prelude to a revolution. In those days, some intellectuals praised the protest rallies as “the dawn of democracy,” but, once the revised treaty was ratified, a sense of calm returned to the public as if nothing had happened. Kishi’s vision of the world and his strategic way of thinking were decisive factors in Japan reopening itself and set the backbone of the nation’s foreign and security policy. However, subsequent administrations all returned to and firmly maintained the inward-looking orientation.
While the United States had viewed the U.S. forces in Japan as “a cap on the bottle” to prevent the resurgence of Japanese militarism, Japan has been limiting its security efforts to the implementation of an “exclusively defense-oriented policy,” and has kept the SDF’s capabilities to the “bare minimum necessary” for self-defense purposes for about 60 years since the revision of the security treaty. As a consequence, Japan managed to achieve miraculous economic development, resulting in what we have today.
As Japan enters the Reiwa era, its people must shed their excessively inward-looking way of thinking so the nation can more fulfill its role in the international community as a sovereign state.
Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun