United States Senator Daniel Inouye Addresses Japan Society

June 14, 2010

The Honorable Daniel Inouye
, United States Senator

Douglas Peterson
, Chief Operating Officer, Citibank, N.A.

Senator Daniel Inouye visited Japan Society to discuss the military and security relationship between the U.S. and Japan, with a focus on the controversy over the relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma in Okinawa.

In 1977, Mike Mansfield, formerly Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, took office as U.S. Ambassador to Japan, and in his first speech declared that "the U.S.-Japan relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world, bar none," Senator Inouye began.

"Over the years, this Mansfield declaration has become the cornerstone of diplomatic relations throughout the world," and it remains so today, he said. Hillary Clinton's first official visit to a foreign nation as Secretary of State was to Japan. Prime Minister Aso was the first head of state invited to the White House by President Barack Obama. The diplomatic message of these two events is "that we look upon Japan as not only an ally, but a friend. And we wanted the world to know this."

During the 1970s, the U.S. and Japan agreed to build up the American military presence in Japan, including installations at Yokosuka, Yokota and Okinawa, Senator Inouye said. In the economic arena, the U.S. "opened the doors a bit wider for the Japanese, and Japanese products began pouring into the U.S." At one point, it was said that it was less expensive to buy a Japanese-made car in LA than in Tokyo. There was a price to pay in terms of the impact on American manufacturing, but U.S. leaders felt it was imperative to strengthen Japan's economy.

In recent days, the global economic crisis has brought great distress to the U.S., Japan and countries around the world, Senator Inouye noted. He told of a recent trip he made to Detroit, where "what I saw there was much more terrifying and traumatic than what I have read in the papers." There were houses boarded up, businesses closed, "over 10,000 abandoned homes on the verge of being plowed under." With an unemployment rate of 26 percent, Detroit has lost over half its population in the past five years. And "we know that similar things are happening in Japan."

"Now we've had another issue, a place called Futenma," he said. "Very few Americans are aware of Futenma. In fact, not all Americans know where Okinawa is. And as a result of Futenma I'm certain we all realize that that was one of the major reasons why Prime Minister Hatoyama resigned. Prime Minister Kan now has the helm."

"I have done my best to advise my colleagues in the U.S. Senate to be patient, to be sensitive," the senator said. "And I have noted sadly that certain newspapers in Japan, not just weekly periodicals, have even gone as far as to suggest Americans leave Japan."

With a new political party in power in Japan for the first time in 60-some years, "this is not a time for irresponsible, bombastic statements, because in periods of this nature, countries, especially neighboring countries, may come forth with different perceptions," perhaps taking the change in prime ministers "as a sign of weakness. They may look at the discussions on Futenma as a possible wedge between the Japanese and the U.S. on military and security matters."

"And as a result we have seen what I call testing probes. Those things are dangerous. It may begin as a test, but it may end up in violence. I just hope that our leaders will remain a bit more calm, a bit more cooperative, and be willing to discuss these matters seriously."

"The events of the past year have convinced me of something that has been festering within me for a long time," Senator Inouye reflected. "I've told my colleagues privately that if we had lost the war and Japan sent her best troops, the best-disciplined, the best-behaved ones, on the Potomac, or on the Mall in Washington, DC, I don't think we would tolerate their presence for 60 years no matter how friendly they are. And in the same way I think Americans should realize that a large presence, a large footprint, of Americans [in Japan] may not necessarily be in their best interest."

"I think the Japanese should begin to consider building up their defense forces, working out joint arrangements," he reflected. This "may restore some national self-confidence" that years of having occupying forces in the country may have eroded. "And I realize that serious changes must be made, such as possible amendment of the Japanese Constitution, but I think there are ways of bringing about this change without having to go through this drastic step. But that's how serious I think it is."


Presider Doug Peterson of Citi asked the first questions:

In recent months there has been proof that the North Koreans torpedoed a South Korean warship. What are your thoughts on the North Korea situation and the overall balance of power in the region?

"I look upon this as a deliberate testing of the relationship between Japan and the U.S.," Senator Inouye replied. "They want to see what our reaction would be. It's not just an attack on South Korea. We have had similar activities from China. I think these events should be looked upon with great seriousness, because they can be dangerous."

Could you comment on Hawaii's selection as host of the 2011 APEC Summit, and on the growth and trade potential of the Pacific Rim?

"Hawaii was selected because it's in the Pacific--if anything to emphasize that we are a Pacific nation, not just European," Senator Inouye said. As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, "I'm well aware of changes in our military makeup. Some are subtle, but all are done with the intent that others may look upon it and get a message." That there are now more carriers in the Pacific than the Atlantic "may not mean much to you, but to the military--that's a load of a difference."

The audience joined in the Q&A:

All indications are that prices of goods manufactured in China are going to escalate very quickly. Will this bring back a manufacturing culture to the U.S.?

Given China's ability to control its output and cost numbers to an extent, "some of the decisions that have been made by the Chinese have been well thought out and delivered," Senator Inouye commented. "And if you're a corporate head in the U.S. or Japan it is not easy to say no to a bargain."

The 2008 Olympics in Beijing were "China's grand opportunity to have the world stage to demonstrate their power and greatness. Their show was not easy to duplicate. They showed much effort, much technology, and you can't pooh-pooh that."

With China claiming about 80 percent of the South China Sea and building a major military presence on Hainan Island, is the U.S. rethinking its military presence in Southeast Asia?

American defense expenditures in Japan are proportionately greater than Japan's, at over 5 percent of our GNP versus less than 1 percent of Japanese GNP, the senator said. This reflects our desire for a strong U.S.-Japan alliance that will serve as a foundation for stability in the region, a policy that "in many ways has been successful. We have avoided a major war in that area, and you can't just brush that aside... Much as we would like to diminish and lessen our footprint, as we would say, I don't think now is the time."

"That's why I have suggested that maybe the Japanese should consider building up their forces within their constitutional limits," and undertaking whatever activities are needed militarily "to accept possible joint operations. Otherwise we may find it necessary to maintain a large presence in order to maintain the stability, and by doing that in a sense you can't blame the Okinawans to get a little--well, irritated with our long, unending presence on their soil."

If the U.S. were to lose access to the bases in Japan, are you comfortable that there is a sufficient ability for American forces to continue to project capability adequately in the region?

"If we did something that I would consider stupid and begin moving out our forces from Japan, then we should anticipate in the not-too-distant future a massive conflict, something that we would be sorry about for decades to come," Senator Inouye said. "That's why I'm hoping that we can lessen our footprint, while at the same time maintain our strong relationship."

"Incidentally, we have already spent large amounts in Guam to prepare Guam for the Marines and their dependents, a total of about 17,000, and for an island like Guam that is a major challenge."

To what extent do you believe that the inflexibility of the Obama administration regarding the Futenma issue led to Hatoyama's downfall?

This wasn't something our government imposed on the Hatoyama government, Senator Inouye replied. "In fact, I, for one, was very surprised when former Prime Minister Hatoyama came out and said that by the end of May we will resolve this matter. I have no idea of his basis for this. And apparently neither did the Japanese public."

What is the attitude of the U.S. government and U.S. politicians toward preventing the recurrence of war in Asia?

"When I first arrived in the Senate, 95 of us had put on the uniform, out of 100," Senator Inouye reflected. "Of that 95, 50 had seen combat. And, as I said, I'm not suggesting one has to put on a uniform to show patriotism, but you will find that those who have served in war are a bit more inclined to taking steps to avoid war."

Despite being Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, the senator was one of the 23 who voted against going into Afghanistan, he noted. "War is ugly. And I hate to see fellow Americans go through that. But I am also cognizant of the fact that in this moment in history deterrence is very important. And if we don't have proper deterrence, somebody might get a different interpretation of that and begin mischief, which could escalate into collision going further into war. That's what I want to avoid."

--Katherine Hyde
Topics:  Policy

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