Japan-U.S. Alliance Vital for Asia

September 3rd, 2007 the Yomiuri Shimbun 

Regarding the prospect of the six-party talks for North Korea’s denuclearization, I can never be optimistic, though I strongly wish to see the talks successfully end North Korean nuclear development.
The ongoing initial phase toward ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program merely denotes turning back the clock to the status quo ante. It signifies a return to the years of U.S. President Bill Clinton; to be exact, the days prior to the revelation in October 2002 of Pyongyang’s suspected uranium-enrichment project.
While I admit there is a degree of differences in detail between those days and today, the nitty-gritty remains unchanged: North Korea has committed to bringing a halt to the operations of its Yongbyon nuclear facility and having it subject to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, provided Pyongyang is entitled to obtain a range of economic benefits from countries concerned.
Concerning the suspicions about its covert uranium-enrichment project, North Korea assumes no obligation in the initial phase to clarify the matter.
North Korea is believed to have extracted a sizable amount of plutonium in the Yongbyon facility during the four-year hiatus in the talks, and the facility is said to have become obsolete. So the suspension of operations at the facility in the latest deal may well be quite acceptable in the eyes of Pyongyang. Actually, North Korea, in a joint agreement reached in the six-party talks and announced on Feb. 13, accepted the terms of stoppage and sealing of the Yongbyon facility and its inspection by the IAEA.
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Initial steps highly costly
Just for the purpose of having North Korea act in line with the February agreement, there was a time lapse far in excess of the 60-day deadline stipulated in the accord. In addition, the enforcement of the agreed initial steps was at the expense of the lifting of a U.S.-imposed freeze of North Korean accounts at Banco Delta Asia in Macao, a measure not mentioned at all in the Feb. 13 joint statement. Simply in light of this, the six-party talks seem most likely to have a rocky road ahead.
Since North Korea, solely by means of putting into practice the firmly agreed initial steps, has been allowed to win a great deal of concessions that it was desperate for, it now is highly questionable whether there can be any leverage potent enough to prod North Korea hereafter to accomplish the ultimate goal of entirely dismantling its nuclear program.
The indications are that such measures as replacement of the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty and removal of North Korea from the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring states would serve, at best, such limited purposes as disabling the Yongbyon nuclear facility and an elucidation of the suspected uranium-enrichment project.
Should the goal of completely abolishing North Korea’s nuclear arms program be considered unattainable, its act of clearing up the suspicions over its uranium enrichment could give rise to an adverse, concomitant effect of enabling Pyongyang to make a de facto declaration of its status as a nuclear power.
It may be a bit too naive to applaud the North Korean action this time as a “step forward” despite the absence of any solid prospect of getting it to scrap its nuclear program.
The worst scenario for Japan would be to see North Korea make a de facto nuclear power declaration while doing nothing but disabling the outdated nuclear facility, gaining in exchange a U.S. decision to cease labeling North Korea as a terrorism-sponsoring country and thereby shelving the task of solving the problem of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents.
The United States should be well aware that this scenario would plunge the Japan-U.S. alliance into a crisis.
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Making 6-way talks permanent
What concerns me about the six-party talks, however, is not limited to the problems mentioned above.
The trouble is that the way the six-nation talks proceed seems to suggest that not the actual results, but the framework of the talks itself, may have begun to take on a life of its own.
It seems the U.S. State Department may favor seeing the six-way talks become a permanent consultative body, similar to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
I definitely have been aware of this lately: There have been a number of remarks by high-ranking U.S. officials placing unnaturally high importance on the existence itself of the six-way framework.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in a speech on June 2 at the Asia-Pacific security conference known as the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, said, “In Northeast Asia, the six-party process had a stabilizing effect after North Korea’s nuclear test last year, helping to head off a more dangerous reaction from other nations.”
Assistant State Secretary Christopher Hill made a similar statement in his congressional testimony in February.
Hill said in his testimony, “These multilateral efforts have had a stabilizing effect and reduced the negative impact in the region of [North Korea’s] nuclear test last October.”
He went on to note: “The very important alliances we have with Japan and the Republic of Korea are essential to maintaining regional security, but the six-party process also gave people in the region the sense that there was a mechanism to deal with this problem…Without that process we could have seen a much more dangerous counterreaction in the region.”
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Fears of Japan going nuclear
These statements, in the eyes of ordinary Americans not well versed in East Asian affairs, may naturally seem to signify that Japan was prevented from reacting more severely than it did in the face of Pyongyang’s nuclear test–such as by going nuclear–thanks to the existence of the six-party talks.
What gave Japan a sense of reassurance in reality was not the framework of the six-nation talks, but the bilateral relationship of trust based on the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.
What should we do under the circumstances?
Needed at this juncture is not the meticulous tactics of diplomacy. What we need is a broad, historical and strategic point of view.
Nobody can deny that multilateral talks are useful in themselves, or, at the very least, that they should be regarded as not inherently harmful.
The question is whether the framework of the multilateral talks might put at risk the foundation of a bilateral alliance that is the very basis of the balance of power among the nations concerned.
Japan has the memory of a bitter experience in this respect.
A key element of Wilsonianism, or the diplomatic approach pushed by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson after World War I, lay in the denial of the wisdom of bilateral military alliances, on the ground that such bilateral pacts would be prone to sow the seeds of war rather than serving to deter armed conflicts. Championed by the Wilsonian notion was to have the spirit of international cooperation focusing on the League of Nations take the place of military alliances.
Based on this mode of thinking, the United States prodded Japan and Britain to scrap the Anglo-Japanese Alliance they signed in 1902. The two countries eventually complied with the U.S. wishes, terminating the pact in 1923.
What was provided after the demise of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance was a four-country consultative framework comprising Japan, the United States, Britain and France over affairs in the Pacific.
As shown by subsequent historical developments, the four-country pact was of no use at all in terms of either maintaining the security of any one of the four or preventing war.
Japan was not the only country to have been victimized by the Wilsonian way of negating alliances.
For one thing, France, in the belief that the menace of a resurgent Germany would be unavoidable, naturally wished to form an alliance with both the United States and Britain–or at least with Britain.
What actually transpired was the Locarno Treaties signed in 1925 by such countries as France, Britain, Germany and Italy, which also were of no use for the peace of Europe.
Peace can be attained based on the balance of power among nations, and the cornerstone of the power balance is nothing but military alliances.
Should the Anglo-Japanese Alliance have been maintained and the security of France guaranteed by the United States and Britain, there might have been a fairly high possibility of the outbreak of World War II being averted.
The world that was devoid of alliances after World War I was one where the law of the jungle prevailed, with all countries but the United States garbed in the Monroe Doctrine, and Britain, with the strength of the British Empire, having no guarantee of security.
In the case of Japan, the scrapping of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance ushered in a period of predominance in the 1930s of ultranationalism. The end to the alliance was definitely a decisive factor behind the collapse of a balance of policy lines between the Imperial Japanese Army, which exalted a chauvinistic “national self-determination” doctrine, and an approach upheld by Emperor Showa, his counselors and the Imperial Japanese Navy in favor of keeping ties of peace and friendship with the Anglo-American world intact.
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Preparing for the worst
Another highly significant point is that one of the pivotal problems of the world in the 21st century lies in the rise of China, though the United States, having been preoccupied with Iraqi affairs and the war on terrorism, seems to have no time at present to pay attention to this fact.
There can be no telling whether China will grow into a pacifist great power or become a military menace to other countries.
Either possibility, however, could become a reality even in a short period, depending on changes in the circumstances within or without China.
An alliance is meant to ensure the security of countries involved in preparation for contingencies, no matter how small their probabilities may be.
Even in Europe, where there currently is virtually no possibility of war, European nations, in particular Eastern European states, have made the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance the kernel of their security.
Given that there is a fifty-fifty possibility of China becoming a pacifist giant or eventually posing a threat to other countries–in my view, the possibility of the latter seems considerably larger than the former–it should be only natural for us to be prepared for the worst possible course of events.
The balance of power in East Asia rests ultimately on the power balance between the Japan-U.S. alliance and China. That means we should never forget the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance, which is conscious of China’s possible threats.
As long as both Japan and the United States continue to be well aware of the kernel of the bilateral alliance, there will be no problem with a move for creating a broader consultative machinery. In fact, NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have existed together despite the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Going to excesses, however, in forming one multilateral body after another, can cause official schedules of key figures in international relations to be unduly close-packed.
The schedule of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was too tight for her to attend the meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum, a development–along with President George W. Bush’s failure to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ 40th anniversary celebrations–incurring criticism for making light of East Asia.
Considering that the United States played a leading role in creating the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Washington would be well advised not to fail to place priority on APEC in devising U.S. policy toward the region.