Japan-U.S. Security Treaty 50 Years On

January 19, 2010

Ralph Cossa
, President, Pacific Forum CSIS

Michael Auslin
, Director of Japan Studies, American Enterprise Institute

Kent E. Calder
, Director, The Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University
Leif-Eric Easley, Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard University Department of Government
Aki Mori, Research Fellow, Policy Research Department, Ocean Policy Research Foundation
Hugh Patrick, Director, Center on Japanese Economy and Business; Robert D. Calkins Professor Emeritus of International Business, Columbia Business School
Evans Revere, President & Chief Executive Officer, The Korea Society
Ryo Sahashi, Assistant Professor, University of Tokyo

A distinguished panel of Asia specialists gathered at Japan Society to share reflections on the state of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, signed 50 years ago to the day.

Moderator Misha Auslin of the American Enterprise Institute began the evening by asking each panelist to tell the audience "the number-one thing they need to know about the Alliance."

For Kent Calder of the Reischauer Center at SAIS, it's the tumultuous political context of the treaty's birth. "We're celebrating the 50th anniversary today. Four months after that, Kamba Michiko was killed in one of the largest demonstrations in Japanese history. A month after that, the Security Treaty was ratified on a forced vote at midnight in the midst of a million people around the Diet," and President Eisenhower's visit to Japan was called off.

"Having grown up in the Vietnam War generation, having been slightly skeptical of the hierarchical dimensions that were embedded in the U.S.-Japan relationship originally, I personally have a sense of crisis that I believe Reischauer," Professor Calder's mentor at Harvard, "shared to his dying day about the Alliance, about the future of U.S.-Japan relations." The "rising economic distance between the U.S. and Japan" only heightens that sense of crisis.

"The bottom line--the political is a context which is terribly important for this alliance. We can deal with it. I think we can stabilize it. We must. But it is not a simple matter."

"What was important probably in our celebrations this week, or what we should think about, is not who was in the room, or how much they congratulated the Alliance, but who was not there."

"I believe that the U.S.-Japan Alliance is a good deal not only for Japan and the U.S., but also for regional security," said Aki Mori, a research fellow at the Ocean Policy Research Foundation and Young Leader at the Pacific Forum-Center for Strategic and International Studies. The ascent of the DPJ "has rattled the foundation of the U.S.-Japan Alliance. Then is the DPJ going to abandon the U.S.-Japan Alliance? Not likely."

It's easy to criticize the DPJ's vision of security policy as "not mature," Ms. Mori went on. In her view, "Japan is in a learning process toward a broader understanding among the Japanese people on possible foreign and security policy," and the U.S.-Japan Alliance remains a core element of Japanese security policy. The DPJ's primary task is to develop "an innovation of the U.S.-Japan Alliance" that deepens the Alliance and adapts it to "the evolving environment of the 21st century."

It may be that security is the single most important dimension of the U.S.-Japan relationship, said Hugh Patrick of Columbia University, "but I think the bilateral economic relationship, really private sector-business-consumers, has been, and continues to be, fundamentally important."

Economic frictions over textiles, machinery, machine tools, steel and autos "were always mediated and held down by the reality that the security treaty was terribly important for both countries."

"Today it's completely changed," Professor Patrick said. "Now it's a good, strong economic relationship that buttresses the security relationship." The economic relationship will continue to grow in the future, "but relatively it's going to become less important, and I think that's the reality that we face."

"Frankly I think the greatest challenge to the U.S.-Japan relationship lies in the very gradual erosion of interest in both countries in each other," he added. "I sense a sort of odd mixture of complacency" and pessimism: for many, "Japan is a very comfortable place to live, as you know, and at the same time these people and others seem to be somehow pessimistic about Japan's future."

"The great question for Japan is, does it want to continue to be a homogeneous Japanese-based society, or will Japanese want to create a more open society through immigration, which means that becoming Japanese will finally become possible for foreigners."

"From a historical perspective, today's strains are nothing compared to what they were in 1960, as Professor Calder already reviewed," commented Leif-Eric Easley, a graduate student at Harvard and also a Pacific Forum-CSIS Young Leader. "Contrasting the situation then to today, the Alliance now has overwhelming support among both publics, and is seen internationally as a pillar of stability."

"Frequent warnings that the Alliance is in crisis are actually testament to the Alliance's achievements, and continued importance for regional stability, and as a platform for further cooperation," Mr. Easley said. "In other words, so many concerns about the state of the Alliance exist because expectations for U.S.-Japan relations are so high."

The tension over the Marine Corps airbase at Futenma "distracts Alliance managers, and delays cooperation, but I do not think that it's an alliance breaker," he said. Governments and citizens alike need to "work to achieve shared visions of global economic architecture and Asian regional integration. This means harmonizing expectations and approaches vis-à-vis the WTO and G20," as well as APEC, the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Plus Three and other bodies.

Evans Revere of The Korea Society, who as a senior American diplomat took part in negotiations that led to the Futenma base relocation agreement, urged that the U.S. and Japan "go back to the basic principles of our relationship with the common concerns and the common sense of threat and the shared values--but even more fundamentally, to go back where we were in 2004-05," when the U.S.-Japan dialogue "was based on a very intense and serious exchange between people of good will maintaining and managing the Alliance on both sides."

His hope is "that we will look at what really this alliance relationship and this partnership is all about, fundamental principles, because if we get that right, and if we reaffirm those principles--and if we have to rewrite the principles and rewrite the page that we were once on, so be it--[then] things like Futenma and the size and shape and color of the runway will be fairly easily dispensed with."

If politics trumps philosophy in shaping the Hatoyama government's foreign policy, after the upper house election this summer, things may well go back to the way they were, said Ryo Sahashi, an Assistant Professor at the University of Tokyo and also a Pacific Forum-CSIS Young Leader. "That is one set of arguments. And I don't deny that. But what I want to propose today is I think beyond that possibility."

Assume that Japan's "economic and social dependence" on Asia generally and China in particular will grow; that there will be "no serious military dispute" between China and Japan; and that security and economic policies can and will become decoupled from each other. "If we have such conditions, what will happen?" Professor Sahashi asked.

In this scenario, the U.S., which during the Cold War was "the only source of economic prosperity" (though now no longer), will still be a "key actor." Japan will put more emphasis on China, India and other Asian countries. China may even be seen as a potential partner for Japan in security matters. Japan's attitude towards China's having a "more equal international status" in regional and international organizations may change.

"So, we will have one very traditional Alliance perspective, but at the same time we will have another counterargument," Professor Sahashi concluded. These are two extremes, but assuming Japan's system continues as a two-party system, "both parties in the two-party system might have these elements."

Dr. Auslin asked the panel:

Have we moved to a different phase for both countries, compared with the golden era of 2004-05 that Evans described?

"In political economic terms there is no question that there's a major change. China, for example, is roughly double the GDP of what it was in 2004-05," Professor Calder responded. "Trade dependence within Asia of course has risen sharply even from what it was then."

There are both a new government and "an active national security debate in Japan, I think to a much sharper degree than we have seen probably since the Vietnam War days, perhaps the days of the Gulf War. Prescriptively, I couldn't agree more, with the rising China, with the rising defense technology, terrorism, there are many areas where the Alliance actually is more important than ever."

"I think in economic and political economic [terms] I tend to disagree a little from what Professor Sahashi says, we can just segment the two," Professor Calder continued. "But if the relationship with China grows so huge economically, in the end ultimately won't China be tempted to try to manipulate that economic dependence to narrow the scope of the U.S.-Japan Alliance, or to turn it into a shell?"

"It worries me that the political changes do make it more difficult to achieve Alliance goals, even as the Alliance itself in defense terms becomes more important."

To the junior members of the panel: Presume you will be the policymakers in 10 years or so. What is your take on whether the Alliance is necessary?"

The Alliance "allows Japan to afford its security, which frankly in its current demographic and financial climate" would be hard for Japan to do on its own, Mr. Easley said. It's "incredibly important as a stabilizing force in the East Asian region." And it's "a very useful and very capable platform for building other mechanisms of multilateral security cooperation" to deal with nuclear nonproliferation, search and rescue, and natural disasters like the 2004 tsunami.

"I think the U.S. has been waiting" for the Japan-China relationship to mature, Ms. Mori said. "The current problem is that the DPJ government caused friction with the U.S., and then at the same time, they tried to push East Asian policies." Japanese politicians should work to stabilize the relationship between the U.S. and Japan, and then work on "more coordination with the U.S., and talk about how we, as allies, engage Asia together."

And others on the panel?

It's "a noble endeavor" for Japan to "pursue a more harmonious relationship" with its neighbors, Mr. Revere said. But recognize that dialogue on basic principles will help us figure out whether "some of the assumptions that we have had about the overall trajectory of China may be a bit off base" and a bit too optimistic.

"To what extent would the current flap over Futenma, and to what extent would the current evident disagreements over the value of the U.S.-Japan security relationship disappear, were the DPRK to launch a Taepodong missile over the Japanese Archipelago tomorrow morning?" he asked.

Responding to the 2004 tsunami involved "moving thousands of U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, a carrier battle group, a Marine Corps amphibious ready group, hundreds of aircraft, thousands and thousands of sorties by aircraft into Banda Aceh and Indonesia. None of that would have been possible without the bases that we have in Japan. We would not have saved the hundreds of thousands of lives that we saved."

It's indeed "very highly unlikely" that Japan would end the Security Alliance in favor of an alliance with China "unless Japan can get strong confidence on China and Chinese leaders"--which there's no reason to suspect is the case, Professor Sahashi commented. "At the same time, the purpose of more friendship with China shouldn't be understood in a negative way always. So, now I think it is a time for the U.S. to understand Japan as a gateway to Asia and Asian dynamism."

Is the DPJ really the driver of these changes in Japan, or instead a reflection of the changed environment?

The DPJ came to power because of voter frustration over domestic policy issues, Mr. Easley replied, including "the relationship between elected officials and the bureaucracy, perceived issues of corruption," and what was seen as the LDP's stale and ineffective leadership.

Several DPJ campaign positions on security policy, including Futenma, the Indian Ocean refueling mission and the neither-confirm-nor-deny nuclear policy, "kind of stirred the pot with the U.S.," he said. These "are issues that I think the two sides can work together on and move past." However, the Hatoyama government's promise to reach out to Asia made things more complicated. "In an environment of strained trust, things can be interpreted very differently than if trust was strong."

"I think many U.S. officials, if you told them" in 2005, when Japan-China relations were at a low point, that "there would be this sort of engagement with China just a few years later, they would say that's great, we're looking forward to that," he said.

"But in the context of these trust problems... when the kind of king-maker behind the scenes of the DPJ, if we refer to Ozawa-san that way, goes to China with this huge delegation, this huge entourage, and also pulls strings to have the successor to Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping, when he comes to Tokyo, meet the emperor in a rush and put pressure on the imperial household to make that meeting happen, those things, which normally wouldn't be a big deal, start to raise some flags for Japan watchers and strategists in the U.S."

"So, that's why trust is so important," not only for the U.S. but also for the Japanese public, who, Mr. Easley argued, "sent the DPJ into the reins of government to resolve many of these socioeconomic issues at home and not to dramatically revise Japan's foreign policy, certainly not to dramatically revise the terms of the U.S.-Japan Alliance."

We shouldn't lose sight of the scope of the political transition, which is "the largest transition in postwar history in Japan," added Professor Calder. In fact, changes of administration elsewhere have also roiled the status quo, creating "major base problems in Korea and the Mediterranean."

"Alliances have to evolve and adjust as conditions change," said Professor Patrick. "The great success of this Alliance is that it has done that extraordinarily well from what started off as a very shaky beginning, as we have heard described." Futenma "is sort of a natural, inevitable blip, and we've had much bigger blips," including the Cold War and the rise of Japanese textiles and other industries.

Professor Sahashi remarked that most discussions "don't deny the importance of the Alliance. They just have a different logic to make use of it." The question in his view is one of identifying priorities and common objectives. Can and should the Alliance be stretched into a global mission, as it was in the Indian Ocean and Iraq, or do regional security threats by North Korea and China now take precedence? "We need to discuss that even with the more China-friendly administration. We have to think, discuss it, very seriously."

"The great debates in Japan over the next couple of years are going to be within the DPJ" rather than between the DPJ and the LDP, Dr. Auslin said. Many DPJ lawmakers in fact "feel locked out of the policymaking process," which is "much more narrow and much more controlled at the top" than was the case with the LDP. And it's "worth remembering that of the 300 seats that the DPJ has in the Diet, half of them are held by freshman legislators."

The Alliance that we celebrate today is a very narrow political instrument, a formal treaty of mutual defense and cooperation. Does stretching the Alliance to cover global interests stretch it too much?

There are still debates on the original treaty's geographic scope, Professor Calder pointed out. And "since the late 1970s there has been very substantial financial support, over $4 billion a year in host nation support." To give the global element "the political legitimacy that it needs, in a world where domestic politics is more important, we need to try to tie those things on. But institutionally, structurally speaking, they're not part of the original treaty."

The Alliance encompasses not just the Security Treaty but also institutional relationships in the UN, the WTO and other bodies, and personal, business and cultural relationships, Professor Patrick said. That's the "structure in which you should think about the Security Treaty. Don't think about it in this narrow technical sense of how many planes are on what runway when."

The discussion in 2004 and 2005 was prompted less by the U.S. than by Japan, which "was interested in playing a much more robust role in the international arena," Mr. Revere said. That dialogue "was aimed at getting at precisely the point that you have made: What can we do with this partnership? Where can we go with this relationship? How far can it extend?" The new government's views aren't fully known, but "we owe it to our Japanese partners... to sit down and talk through these issues with them and see where we come out."

"Once Japan and the U.S. together look around the region, and it's still a very dangerous region, once we look at the issues that we confront, once we look at the challenges that we confront, I think we will come out in a place that's not all that dissimilar from where we've been over the last several years. I'm an optimist," he concluded.

What will be the impact on the Alliance if the Hatoyama government doesn't decide about Futenma by May?

Mr. Revere replied, "If on date X in May we haven't come to a conclusion, on date X plus one, Futenma will still be there--the capabilities, the aircraft, the headaches as well. But that facility will still be there, for better or for worse," and "we can go on."

"It's Japan's turf," he added. "We can only go so far in this relationship as the political traffic will bear in Japan."


Q&A with the audience followed:

Regarding the East China Sea gas field slated for joint development by Japan and China, it's been reported that Foreign Minister Okada told Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi that "Japan will react" if China continues to move construction materials into the area. How would you interpret this?

"I personally think we will not see a breakthrough for the time being" in this dispute, Ms. Mori said, because China is preoccupied with another, more complex maritime dispute with Southeast Asian countries over the South China Sea.

Just after that exchange between the two foreign ministers, the Senior Vice Minister modified the comment, Professor Sahashi said. In any event, a "more dangerous scenario between Japan and China" concerns Chinese military shipments, which "might provoke some near-miss conflict" if they intruded on Japanese territory.

Anderson Air Force Base on Guam and Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa are enormous facilities; I flew into them a couple of times during the Vietnam War. Is the real issue with the Marines that Futenma is their air base whereas Kadena and Anderson are Air Force bases?

"You are obviously very familiar with inter-service rivalry issues," said Mr. Revere, who served in the Air Force during the same period. Guam and Kadena have different types of aircraft; their missions are very different from the transport missions carried out at Futenma, whose purpose is to move Marine troops quickly.

"What you want ideally in the event of a conflict in the region is as many airfields as you can get," he added, "because the more facilities you have, the more likely it is that you've got survivability."

When it comes to hard power and political influence, and security matters especially, the U.S.-Japan relation is paramount and likely won't change at least for the next 50-odd years. How could Japan and the U.S. strengthen their soft-power relations, to better understand each other's security and development needs?

"Once at a meeting Joe Nye was sitting there, and I turned to him and I said, 'You've come up with a great theory here, but I really continue to think that soft power grows out of the barrel of a gun.' He didn't think it was funny," Mr. Revere said dryly.
The premise of the question may be in doubt, suggested Mr. Easley. "For the Alliance to really do what I think both the Japanese side and the U.S. side wants it to do over the coming decades, we need both hard and soft power improvements."

Decision points are coming up for both countries on further investments in missile defense, anti-submarine capabilities, sea-lane security and maritime security. On the soft-power side, China's very active; "you've got Confucius Institutes opening all over the place." So "if Japan wants to remain a leader in East Asia" and the Alliance to continue as an important platform for cooperation, "the Japanese government has to be very careful about where it slashes budgets" for exchange programs, language study, and other educational and cultural services.

--Katherine Hyde
Topics:  Policy

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