Armitage Correct on Collective Self-Defense

December 26th, 2004 


Richard Armitage is leaving his post in the U.S. administration as deputy secretary of state. It is not yet known what he will do in the long term after his resignation, but he seems to be planning to stay out of public life for the time being.

 His contributions to improving Japan-U.S. relations date back to the era of President Ronald Reagan’s administration, but I would like to focus on his achievements in the area of bilateral ties over the past four years.

 This time, his endeavors started with the so-called Armitage report titled “The United States and Japan: Advancing toward a mature partnership,” which was released in October 2000 and postulated a new security agenda for the Japan-U.S. alliance. Armitage prefers to call it the Nye-Armitage report, emphasizing that it was a bipartisan policy proposal.

 When the report was issued, Democratic candidate Al Gore and then Republican candidate George W. Bush were neck-and-neck in the polls. It was too close to call who would prevail in the presidential election that would be held a month later. The report was jointly compiled by Armitage, some fellow Republicans and a group of Democrats that included Joseph Nye and Kurt Campbell, who had served in President Bill Clinton’s administration as assistant secretary of defense and deputy assistant secretary of defense, respectively, before returning to the academic community. Currently, Nye is a Harvard University professor and Campbell serves as vice president of the Center for Strategy and International Studies.

 The report’s analyses of situations surrounding the bilateral alliance were concise and relevant, while its proposals were straightforward. For example, the bipartisan team urged Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense and saw the “special relationship between the United States andGreat Britain as a model” for the future of the Japan-U.S. alliance. The report made a decent reservation that only the Japanese could make a decision on collective self-defense–surely no one else could determine such matters.

 After Armitage joined President George W. Bush’s administration, some people asked me what would happen to the report. I usually answered by saying that the report contained candid views expressed in a private capacity by those who would have found it difficult to express the same views if they were in public posts. Therefore, we should understand that their views really represent those of the United States at heart, even though they could not say so publicly.

 Two or three years later, I learned that my earlier interpretation of the report had been correct. An official at the State Department told me that the Armitage report was “serving as a guidebook for us to map out policies toward Japan.”

 ”Every time there is something we have to deal with, we refer to the report,” the official told me.

 Some Japanese newspapers attempted to bury the report. For example, a Japanese reporter asked the State Department if the report still reflected the views of the U.S. government. How inconsiderate it was to ask such a question! The Armitage report depicted the true thoughts of those who were not able to speak up in their official capacities. The State Department said “no” to the reporter, of course. Based on that reply, the reporter filed a story, but it drew little reaction–such a palpable ploy could hardly mislead Japanese intellectuals anymore.

 After assuming the post of deputy secretary of state, Armitage himself refrained from citing the 2000 report for a while. He broke his silence in late 2003 when he said in an interview that he wanted Japan to raise its alliance to the level of the U.S.-British alliance. Furthermore, when he visited Tokyo in February 2004, he referred to Japan’s right to collective self-defense.

 There were no negative reactions to Armitage’s remarks at all. In Japan today, few would criticize him for making unnecessary statements or interfering in Japan’s internal affairs. In other words, we have finally ushered in an era in which officials such as Armitage can speak freely on such matters.

 In summer, he said in essence that Japan should revise its Constitution if it aimed to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. At the time, Japan was strengthening its campaign to solicit the international community’s support. His remarks prompted a series of serious pro and con discussions. But, again, no one criticized Armitage for interfering in internal affairs. The discussions were centered around the serious question of the necessity to revise the Constitution as a step to gain a permanent seat on the council.

 Later, Secretary of State Colin Powell made similar remarks. The 2000 report said the United States must state clearly that it would welcome Japan in making a greater contribution to security and in becoming an equal partner, but would continue to respect Japan’s right to make decisions internally on revising its Constitution and other factors. The secretary of state’s statements were in line with the report’s suggestions.

 In the postwar era, there were occasions on which leftists in Japan quoted liberal leftwingers in the United States as saying Washington did not want Tokyo to revise the Constitution. The U.S. government for its part was unable to do anything regarding such political ploys.

 Armitage successfully overcame political constraints by fostering a consensus among Republican and Democratic intellectuals, supported by the secretary of state in official remarks. This took him four years to achieve. We do not know whether someone else as devoted to improving Japan-U.S. relations as Armitage will emerge in the future. We should respect and thank him for his efforts and endeavor to uphold his achievements.

 Recommendations stipulated in the Armitage report are exactly what Japan should pursue as its grand strategy.

 Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-American peoples have exerted the hegemony over the world for more than 400 years–ever since the defeat by England of the Spanish Armada in 1588–and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Japan’s history since its opening to the West–which took place about 150 years ago–has evolved within this global framework.

 Over that period, Japan allied with Britain to build the Great Empire of Japan before clashing with it and the United States and falling to ruin, and then enjoying safety and prosperity under the Japan-U.S. alliance, which has lasted more than 50 years. This history clearly proves the simple truth that an alliance with the dominant countries brings safety, while acting against them leads to ruin.

 But there is a problem. While Japan’s alliance with the United States is indispensable and crucial for its very existence, it is only one of many for the United States. Skeptics of the Japan-U.S. alliance typically ask if Japan can trust the United States. They worry that the United States could forgo its ties with Japan for China, reflecting skepticism based on Japan’s experiences in the 1930s and 1940s.

 So Japan’s grand strategy must focus on making the alliance indispensable to the United States.

 An answer can be found in the Armitage report, which recommended that the Japan-U.S. alliance be enhanced to the level of the alliance between the United States and Britain.

 For the United States, a country located on an isolated continent, the most difficult task is to deal with Eurasian powers, such as France, Germany, Russia and China. An alliance with Britain across the Atlantic along with the Japan-U.S. alliance across the Pacific would be ideal to counter powers in Eurasia.

 While France, Germany and Russia have refused to cooperate with the United States on Iraq, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s undaunted posture concerning the deployment of Self-Defense Forces personnel to Iraq has helped to create a situation that is close to the abovementioned ideal. Armitage said at a press conference that he was satisfied with the way the Japanese had followed aspects of the report–except for that referring to the right to collective self-defense.

 He will leave the administration without seeing any progress on collective security. The Ground Self-Defense Force unit in Samawah, southern Iraq, has relied on British and Dutch forces for its safety, but in the event of an attack on British or Dutch troops, its members cannot defend them. Clearly, this is an issue Japan must resolve soon.

 A decision to allow itself to exercise the right to collective self-defense will strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance to the extent that the United States will see it as indispensable.

 Such a decision will be a noble path for Japan to walk, ensuring that the nation will enjoy safety and high living standards for many generations to come.