Stimson in the News

US-Japan Alliance at 50: Toward a Reenergized Partnership

in Program

On Monday, June 7th, 2010, the Henry L. Stimson Center commemorated the 50th anniversary of the US-Japan security treaty with an event, US-Japan Alliance at 50: Toward a Reenergized Partnership. Held
as the new Prime Minister was forming his cabinet, the day-long program
attracted over 100 attendees from the private sector, US government, foreign diplomatic services, media and non-governmental Asian affairs organizations.

Following brief welcoming remarks by Ambassador Lincoln P. Bloomfield, Jr., Chairman of the Stimson Board, Japanese Ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki led off the day-long program with opening remarks.
Ambassador Fujisaki reflected on the history of the US-Japan alliance
and reiterated the significance of maintaining a robust alliance. In
this context, he stressed the importance of continuing cooperation
between the US and Japan in areas of common interest, while identifying
new “tools” to address both current and future challenges.

Ambassador
Jeffrey A. Bader (Special Assistant to the President and Senior
Director for East Asian Affairs, National Security Council)
delivered the keynote speech. Ambassador
Bader called the US–Japan alliance a cornerstone of the US presence in
the Asia-Pacific region, and emphasized that its importance will only
increase as China and India become major powers. He stressed that
President Obama has attached personal importance
to the US–Japan relationship and that such an attitude was reflected in
Obama’s “warm and substantive” telephone conversation with Naoto Kan
after the Diet vote, even before Kan officially became Prime Minister.

Ambassador
Bader then offered his analysis of the Hatoyama administration’s
foreign policy. He observed that former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama
came into office seeking to “rebalance”
US–Japan and Japan–China relations. Bader revealed that he received
drastically different advice on how to best engage the Hatoyama
administration on
the Futenma Relocation Facility (FRF)
agreement—some advised the Administration to stay tough, while others
suggested that the Administration show endless patience—and argued that
the Administration tried to navigate a path somewhere between the two
extremes. Defense Secretary Gates visited Japan in October and
made it clear that the FRF remained the best option, and that walking
away from it would damage the alliance. Addressing Gates’ so-called
“confrontational” approach, Bader attributed the friction to a
transcript leak of a private meeting between Gates and Foreign Minister
Okada by someone on the Japanese side. He also called Hatoyama’s
announcement postponing a decision on the Futenma relocation beyond the
originally-announced December deadline “a mistake, for various
reasons.” While the US continued to call the already negotiated
agreement the “best” option, it never insisted that it was the “only”
option, recognizing that some flexibility was required in an “alliance
of equals.” Ambassador Bader acknowledged, however, that over time the
FRF agreement came to be seen as an indicator of how the Japanese
government viewed the security relationship.
Bader

Discussing the new FRF agreement announced on May 28th 2010, Bader suggested that it demonstrates the end of the gaiatsu
(foreign pressure) era; instead, he argued, the agreement reflects
mainstream views of the Japanese public about its own interests. He
also pointed to a maturation of the DPJ’s und
erstanding
of the stakes and national security implications of the US–Japan
alliance, as the Hatoyama administration came to realize that Japan
could not afford the appearance of a rift in the alliance.

In
light of the Futenma agreement, as well as cooperation between the US
and Japan on issues regarding Iran, North Korea, and nuclear security,
Bader characterized the US-Japan relationship as “positive, and
improving.” Although Bader acknowledged the issues posed to the
alliance by the political transition in Tokyo, he emphasized the US
conclusion that the alliance remains in sound condition after scrutiny
and ultimate validation by Japan’s new political leadership.

 

In Panel One (Past and Present—Accomplishments and Near-Term Challenges),
Mr. Robin “Sak” Sakoda (Partner, Armitage International and former
Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary of State) and Ms. Keiko Iizuka
(Deputy Political Editor, Yomiuri Shimbun) shared their perspectives on
the history of the US–Japan alliance, as well as recent challenges.

 

Sakoda
emphasized that perceptions of the US-Japan alliance by other countries
are important. While noting that military-to-military relations between
Tokyo and Washington were strong even during the last several months,
he argued that the perception
of a “weak” US-Japan alliance could destabilize East Asian security,
pointing to China’s maritime activities near Japanese territorial
waters. Moving forward, Sakoda urged both the US and Japan to show
strength, citing the Cheonan
incident as a reminder of continuing danger in the region. He also
recommended that the US and Japan work together on Iran, as well as the
realignment of the US military presence in Japan.

 

Iizuka
began her remarks by criticizing former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama
and his administration for mishandling the issue of relocation of the
Marine Corps Air Station in Futenma, arguing that it directed negative
public attention towards the US–Japan alliance. She suggested that new
Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, is more pragmatic than Hatoyama, citing his
background as an civil activist as well as his decision to include
liberals Yoshito Sengoku as Chief Cabinet Secretary and Yukio Edano as
DPJ -Secretary-General.

 

Looking to the future, Iizuka
emphasized the importance of political stability in Tokyo. She
suggested that Kan is likely to leave the details of foreign and
security policy to bureaucrats. This is partly due to his inexperience
in these areas and because he prefers to use his political capital to
address domestic issues, but also because he had developed a new,
healthy respect for the expertise of the technocrats while serving as
the finance minister during the Hatoyama administration. She also
pointed out that the Kan government will likely face infighting within
the DPJ. She stressed that Kan must do well in the July Upper House
election, and win the DPJ presidential election (Kan is currently
serving out the term left by Yukio Hatoyama, which will end in
September) in order to solidify his power.

Panel Two (Regional Perspectives) explored
regional perspectives on the US-Japan alliance, featuring Ambassadors
Chan Heng Chee (Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of
Singapore to the United States) and J. Stapleton Roy (Director,
Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, Woodrow Wilson
Center for International Scholars and former Ambassador to Singapore,
China and Indonesia and Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence
and Research).


Ambassador
Roy discussed the Chinese perspective on the US–Japan alliance, which
has shifted several times over the past three decades. According to
Roy, China is generally opposed to the presence of US bases in Japan,
but its decision to engage in international community since 1978 meant
that Beijing would accept the status quo that includes the existence of
the US-Japan alliance. Roy explained that while China endorsed the
alliance in the 1980s, its relationship with Washington and Tokyo
soured by early 1990s due to tensions surrounding the Soviet collapse,
the Tiananmen Square incident, and escalating trade disputes. Roy also
pointed to the April 17, 1996 US-Japan Joint Declaration on Security,
as well as the inclusion of reference to peaceful resolution of the
Taiwan question in the 2005 Security Consultative Committee
declaration, as events precipitating China’s current misgivings about
the alliance.

 

Ambassador Chan began to suggesting that
there is no one “regional” view of the US-Japan alliance in Southeast
Asia. Singapore, on the one hand, views the US–Japan alliance as a
strategic security anchor in the Asia-Pacific region. Indonesia,
Malaysia, and Brunei, on the other hand, tend to be more ambivalent
toward the US-Japan alliance, due to US involvement in foreign
conflicts. Ambassador Chan also suggested that many countries in
Southeast Asia also view the alliance as a way to ensure that Japan
will not remilitarize itself to resort to aggressive behavior, but that
such a tendency may change as China grows in its influence in the
region In fact, many Southeast Asian nations felt uneasy about the
seeming rift in the alliance, which they depend on as a balancing force
in the region. Chan also pointed out that the importance of the
US-Japan alliance often goes beyond security in Southeast Asia. In
particular, she suggested that the economic dimension of the
partnership is more prominent in the minds of many in Southeast Asia.

 

In Panel Three (Looking Ahead—Toward a Re-energized Partnership), Dr.
Sheila Smith (Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations) and Mr.
Tomohiko Taniguchi (Senior Guest Fellow, Defense and Security Team,
Sojitz Research Institute, Ltd.) discussed the future of the US–Japan
alliance.

 

Taniguchi
urged the US and Japan to redefine and strengthen their partnership. He
also called for the involvement of other like-minded nations in
specific initiatives, emphasizing the use of mini-lateral agreements.
Specifically, Taniguchi advocated agreements following the concept of
“arc of freedom and prosperity,” which was proposed by Taro Aso when he
served as the foreign minister in the Abe cabinet. Taniguchi also
called for substantial investment in the SDF in order to fortify the
US-Japan alliance.

 

Smith echoed the need for a
re-evaluation and strengthening of the US-Japan alliance, noting that
the foreign policy of the currently ruling Democratic Party of Japan
(DPJ) will likely be influenced by changes in both the United States
and Northeast Asia. Smith particularly emphasized the importance of US
willingness to reach out beyond its traditional contacts in Tokyo,
arguing that the concept of “alliance managers”—that historically only
included foreign and defense officials of the two countries—will
continue to change and expand in Tokyo.

 

Smith stressed
that the US-Japan alliance needs to work for the Asia-Pacific region in
order to remain valid. Beyond the military component, she suggested
that the alliance can work together on issues of humanitarian
assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR), maritime stability, global economy,
climate change/energy conservation, and nuclear
nonproliferation/nuclear disarmament.

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