Strengthening the U.S.-Japan Alliance after 3-11

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Nearly six months after the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and devastating tsunami in March, the U.S.-Japan
alliance appears to be on an upward path
thanks to the U.S.
military’s humanitarian assistance. Vice President Joe Biden reaffirmed the importance of U.S.-Japan
relations by discussing “the profound importance America places on our relationship with Japan and our deep ties to this region” during his visit to Japan on August 23rd.
This much-needed positive boost to U.S.-Japan relations helps solidify the foundation on
which the U.S. and Japan can
develop further its global partnership.

Vice President Biden’s trip comes at a time when Japan’s
internal political and economic issues pose a challenge to sustained engagement in international affairs. These
political challenges include unstable leadership since 2006, with the turnover
of five prime ministers in the last five years. The most recent Prime Minister,
Naoto Kan,
stepped down on August 26th due to his unpopularity among the
population after only 15 months in office. As Japan adjusts to its newly
elected Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda,
there is a possibility that he and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan may
turn their focus to domestic issues in the near future. It also remains
uncertain whether Japan
will usher in a stable leadership that can continue to engage with the
international community, and particularly, maintain a strong U.S.-Japan alliance.  There also are unresolved bilateral issues that
can alter the positive footing that U.S.-Japan relations are experiencing now. The Futenma Marine Air Station base
realignment proposal is one such example.
Other issues include Japan’s economic recovery costs and fiscal
constraints that will make it difficult for Japan to assist with burden-sharing
for the alliance.

Despite these uncertainties, the joint U.S.-Japan
humanitarian operation for the tsunami through “Operation Tomodachi” has
improved America’s
image dramatically among the Japanese people. According to the Pew Research
Center’s public opinion poll released
in June 2011, 85 percent of Japanese respondents viewed the U.S. favorably after the tsunami,
compared to 66 percent in 2010. U.S.
relief efforts not only provided a more tangible display of U.S. commitment to Japan,
but also gave a positive face to the U.S. military and the U.S.-Japan

Building from these encouraging signs, Vice President
Biden’s trip sends a positive signal to Noda and his party that the U.S. intends to maintain strong ties with Japan while it faces serious economic and fiscal
challenges at home. The U.S.
needs this ally to remain engaged in world affairs. Japan
is undoubtedly a key partner for the U.S.
in addressing challenges from regional security concerns, such as North Korea’s instability and China’s future military
modernization; to transnational security issues, such as energy security and
nuclear safety; and even the global economy. U.S.-Japan joint military cooperation in humanitarian assistance after 3-11 reassured
Japan of U.S. commitment to Japan’s security, greatly improving the mood in relations
between the two.  The leaders of both
countries should capitalize on this positive atmosphere and intensify their
efforts to enhance their global partnership.

Photo credit: By David Lienemann,

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