Japan-U.S. Alliance Serves Everyone

September 5th, 2003

Motoo Shiina, a member of the House of Councillors, recently received the U.S. Secretary of State’s Award for Distinguished Service, the highest award given by the U.S. secretary of state.

Shiina was the first Japanese and only the second non-American to receive the award.

Commenting on his receiving the award, Shiina said: “Since last year I have been a fan of the Hanshin Tigers. They won their latest ball game by scoring a game-winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning. Actually, the Tigers showed skillful performance in the field and prevented their opponent from scoring in the top of the 10th inning. This skillful performance kept the Tigers from losing the game. However, that performance will not be remembered long, because the Tigers did not lose.”

This reminds me of Sun Tzu’s saying to the effect that skilled warriors, when they are successful, enjoy no fame for their victory and no praise for their courageous achievements.

Politicians are usually honored because of their rank, not because of their achievements. For example, if a politician has been prime minister or foreign minister for some time, he may receive an award just because he held such a position, even if his achievements should properly be attributed to the officials working under him.

Therefore, when I first heard the news Shiina had been honored with such a prestigious award, I could hardly believe it. However, I was soon filled with joy and deep appreciation.

This is because I realized that the U.S. State Department possessed enough insight and courage to overcome its usual bureaucratic practice and recognize Shiina’s true achievements. I congratulated the upper house member by saying, “This is a wonderful thing that occurs only once in a century.”

At the award ceremony, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said: “This award is not presented to Senator Shiina because he has many friends in America, though he certainly does. This award is not presented for what Senator Shiina has done for the Untied States, even though truthfully he has done a lot. This award is presented to a Japanese patriot who served his country.”

Armitage’s statement reminds me of what Shiina did at the time of the so-called FSX dispute between Japan and the United States in 1989. Briefly stated, Japan was planning to replace its domestically developed F-1 fighter with a fighter jointly developed by Japan and the United States. But members of the U.S. Congress objected to the terms of the project, saying it would give Japan access to key U.S. technology and threaten U.S. technological leadership. Congress was on the verge of passing what would have basically been an anti-Japanese resolution on this issue. If the U.S. Senate had approved the resolution, Japan-U.S. relations would have certainly come under severe strain. But just in the nick of time, Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., a close friend of Shiina, dissuaded the Senate from passing the resolution. It failed by the slimmest of margins.

Those in Japan and the Untied States concerned about the Japan-U.S. relationship heaved a sigh of relief.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry official thanked Shiina for his behind-the-scenes “maneuvering” and asked him to give his best regards to Sen. Bradley.

Instead of being pleased, however, Shiina was upset. He told the official: “Senator Bradley is not the kind of person who would be happy if I thanked him for doing something good for Japan. He acted as he did out of his belief that it would be in the United States’ national interest for him to do so. There is no reason for my thanking him in the first place, because both he and I only did what we believed was right for our own countries.”

First of all, Shiina is not the kind of politician who engages in “maneuvering.” In the FSX case, Shiina and Bradley each believed that maintaining and strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance would serve their own country’s national interests. And through a brief phone conversation they both fully understood each other’s belief and acted out of that conviction.

The Japan-U.S. alliance can remain strong as long as there are like-minded patriots such as Shiina and Bradley in Japan and the Untied States.

Today, the Japan-U.S. alliance is said to be in its best shape since Commodore Matthew Perry came to Japan, but this is partly due to luck. For one thing, Japan’s value as a U.S. ally was upgraded because France and Germany, traditional U.S. allies, and Russia, a partner that the Untied States had expected to become a new ally, distanced themselves from the Untied States over the latest Iraq war.

Another reason for the good state of bilaterial ties is that several U.S. patriots, who served in the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan and who know Japan well, are now back in office. They and Shiina forged their friendship during the (Prime Minister Yasuhiro) Nakasone-Reagan era. One result of this friendship is that although it ended up taking Japan six months to send an Aegis-equipped destroyer to the Indian Ocean to support U.S. forces in the latest Iraq war, the White House warmly praised Japan’s prompt dispatch of ordinary destroyers and encouraged Japan to promote further cooperation with the United States.

What lessons can we learn from Shiina’s contributions?

We should realize that the Japan-U.S. alliance is now in an exceptionally fortunate situation. However, we should not dwell on this. Instead we should continue to strengthen the alliance by encouraging the younger generations to produce more patriots like Shiina, in Japan and the United States.

It is not difficult to find out what those younger generations should do to strengthen the alliance. It is evident to everyone that the most urgent task for Japan is to solve the issue of the right of collective self-defense.