Japan Must Heed U.S. Advice

November 12th, 2000


The U.S. presidential election was an unprecedentedly close-run contest–so much so that its outcome has yet to be determined.

The presidential race marked the end of a period of turmoil following the Cold War and heralded the advent of a new age in the 21st century.

As far as the Japanese-U.S. relationship is concerned, the eight years of the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton started as a period of bitterness. The prevalent perception in the United States immediately after the end of the Cold War was that the military threat the Soviet Union had posed to the United States had been overtaken by the economic threat posed by Japan.

Under such circumstances, Japan had to endure a crude U.S. demand for numerical targets in bilateral economic talks, while in the United States arguments even brought into question the advisability of maintaining the Japanese-U.S. alliance.

Relations between the two countries in the past eight years were narrowly prevented from collapsing thanks to efforts made by the authorities concerned on both sides of the Pacific to reconfirm the key significance of the Japanese-U.S. alliance.

With the end of the U.S. presidential contest, a new chapter in the Japanese-U.S. alliance is now being opened up.

About a month before the presidential election, the U.S. National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) issued a special report by a bipartisan study group in the United States that comprised both Republican and Democratic experts well versed in Japanese-U.S. affairs.

Among the authors of the INSS report, titled “The United States and Japan: Advancing Toward a Mature Partnership,” were Richard Armitage, former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, and Joseph Nye, a former senior Pentagon official in the Clinton administration who is now dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Harvard University.

Importance of bilateral pact

The report, which can safely be said to be well founded on the basis of a deep understanding of the importance of the Japanese-U.S. relationship, is well worth reading.

The trust and goodwill the authors have toward Japan and their sincerity in apprehending the current state of the Japanese-U.S. relationship deserves special mention.

Regarding bilateral relations after the end of the Cold War, the report says that in retrospect, “As partners in the broad Western alliance, the United States and Japan worked together to win the Cold War and helped to usher in a new era of democracy and economic opportunity in Asia.”

But it goes on to say: “Once freed from the strategic constraints of containing the Soviet Union, both Washington and Tokyo ignored the real, practical and pressing needs of the bilateral alliance. Well-intentioned efforts to find substitutes for concrete collaboration and clear goal-setting have produced a diffuse dialogue, but no clear definition of a common purpose.”

This is not the first time that Japan and the United States have neglected to heed the primacy of bilateral alliances each has had with other countries.

This was the case with Japan after the end of World War I: Japan’s scrapping of its alliance with Britain eventually brought down ruin upon this country.

Worthy of note in this connection is the Nye Report of 1995, in which the author noted explicitly that multilateral forums will “complement, but not supplant” bilateral alliances. Considering that Nye was among the authors of the INSS report, the warning in it to the tendency–both in Japan and the United States–to ignore the importance of the Japanese-U.S. alliance seems to be all the more significant.

Often cited as one of the reasons for the recent waning of U.S. interest in Japan is the decline in Japan’s economic might.

Referring to this, the report says: “For those who argue that Japan is a ‘wasting asset’ in irreversible decline, it might be useful to recall that it has been only a decade since it was taken as an article of faith that American power was ebbing on the international scene. It would be foolhardy to underestimate the enduring dimensions of Japanese power, much as it was unwise for some Japanese to dismiss the latent and enduring qualities of American power in the 1980s and 1990s.”

Whether this assessment is borne out depends on future developments in Japan’s economic situation. However, it is definitely noteworthy that the authors of the report have taken a positive, forward-looking approach to studying Japan’s relations with the United States.

The introduction to the report asserts that “Japan’s society, economy, national identity and international role are undergoing change that is potentially as fundamental as that Japan experienced during the Meiji Restoration…For the United States, the key to sustaining and enhancing the alliance (with Japan) in the 21st century lies in reshaping our bilateral relationship in a way that anticipates the consequences of changes now under way in Japan.”

Undoubtedly, Japan is now undergoing major transformations.

The results of recent elections in this country, for instance, appear to indicate that voters now have no qualms at all in giving the old guard its marching orders. However, nobody knows whether what seems to be a new political current is worthy of being considered truly new. In other words, Japan is now in a state of flux.

Nevertheless, the report’s authors have turned a sympathetic eye toward Japan, as the passages quoted above show.

In its bilateral relations with the United States, Japan has in the past ignored more than once advice by Americans who were well-disposed toward this country.

There even were some instances in which Japan acted in complete defiance of such well-intentioned advice, to the bitter frustration of the well-meaning Americans.

This was just what happened on the occasion of the so-called Reischauer remark. While in office as U.S. ambassador to Japan in the 1960s, Edwin Reischauer repeatedly stressed the U.S. government’s view that calls to Japanese ports by U.S. warships carrying nuclear arms could not be considered to constitute “bringing” nuclear arms into Japan, which the Japanese government would not countenance.

What Japanese government leaders reiterated in response to Diet interpellations on the matter after Reischauer left Japan, however, contradicted what Reischauer actually had said. So it was only natural for him to make the “Reischauer remark” with a view to pointing out the flaw in the Japanese government’s position on the issue.

When Reischauer retired as a professor of Harvard University, the Japanese government at that time went as far as to refuse to do or say anything to acknowledge his wholehearted devotion to acting in vindication of Japan, just because of his remark, though there might be room for the government to refute factual elements of the remark.

Even now, I cannot help but feel sympathy with Reischauer while shivering with shame over the crassness of the Japanese government’s behavior toward him.

Going back further into the past, to the years of the Allied Occupation after the war’s end, a group of Americans, including Harry Kahn, Newsweek magazine’s international news bureau chief at that time, played a major role in shifting the United States’ postwar policy toward Japan from the initial approach of suppressing Japan’s economic growth potential toward helping Japan achieve economic revival.

The endeavors of Kahn and his friends, however, ran contrary to views espoused by those officers of the GHQ dubbed “New Dealers” who were keen to deny Japan’s past in its entirety. Kahn also came under fire from Japan’s so-called progressive intellectuals, who made a point of castigating Kahn, despite the fact that they themselves were beneficiaries of the postwar economic recovery, which had rescued them from penury. Also, as the subject of rumors concerning his suspected involvement in the Douglas-Grumman payoff scandal in his later years, Kahn was treated by Japan’s mass media as if he were the worst among rightist, reactionary and corrupt figures in the nation.

All these developments took place against the background of ideological struggle.

Diplomatic strategies envisioned by Americans who were well disposed toward Japan and at the same time well aware–as a matter of course–of the national interests of the United States, were bound to center around the need to strengthen the Japanese-U.S. security alliance and therefore called for Japan, as the United States’ bilateral alliance partner, to boost its defense capabilities.

Source of deep frustration

During the Cold War era, this approach was a most undesirable development in the eyes of communist forces, simply because it would make it hard for them to achieve hegemony over Japan in the event of the emergence of what they would deem a “crucial moment.”

Aside from the question of whether they were consciously working for communist forces during the Cold War, Japan’s leftists and the so-called progressive intellectuals were resolutely opposed to the Self-Defense Forces and any government move to reinforce Tokyo’s alliance with Washington.

Against this backdrop, a pattern emerged in which Americans who were well intentioned toward Japan were treated with hostility by some Japanese–often with the connivance of the Japanese government. This was a source of immense frustration to Japan’s American friends.

At the height of the Cold War, I raised the following question at a gathering of Japanese and U.S. experts in bilateral affairs: “Those Americans who dare to call for Japan to engage in such complicated tasks as revising the Constitution of Japan should be considered true friends of Japan, I believe. Those who argue that Japan should continue to pursue its present pacifist policy deserve to be called irresponsible. Suppose that a war involving the United States took place and that Japan failed to perform its duties as an ally of the United States in line with the expectations of the great majority of the U.S. public, thus igniting a firestorm of anti-Japanese sentiment among the U.S. public. Would those Americans who now favor Japan’s pacifist stance be ready to take the initiative in acting in defense of Japan under such circumstances?”

The reply from those who described themselves as pacifists at the gathering was that in such a situation, they would find it very difficult to take sides with Japan to that extent.

As exemplified by the Japanese government’s cold-shouldering of Prof. Reischauer, the way Japan treats Americans who are friendly toward Japan understandably can lead them to conclude that it is quite pointless to give Japan advice in the hope of preventing its relations with the United States from deteriorating. This really is a deplorable situation.

With the Cold War having ended and the forces of international communism having been vanquished, it is now time to draw a line under this unfortunate period. At the very least, I would like to be able to persuade myself that such outmoded ways of thinking have disappeared, even if this is wishful thinking.

The INSS report, for that matter, says: “It would be unrealistic to expect the current leadership (of Japan) suddenly to embrace reform or to assume a higher profile on the global stage. The demands of Japan’s parliamentary system make it difficult to implement policies that require short-term pain in exchange for long-term gain.”

In the paragraph that precedes the one quoted above, however, the authors strike a more optimistic note, saying, “The end of bipolar ideological confrontation in Japanese politics and the emergence of a new pragmatism about security affairs among a younger generation of elected officials provide fertile soil for creative new approaches to leadership.”

The old generation of Americans like Kahn and Reischauer has gone, but the dynamism of U.S. society has continued to produce new generations of well-intentioned Japan watchers.

Members of the new generation of Americans with expert knowledge of Japanese affairs–the one to which the authors of the INSS report belong–were, so to speak, comrades in arms during the Cold War.

I still vividly recall the activities in those days of such figures as Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz, former U.S. deputy secretary of defense; James Kelly, chairman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Pacific Forum; Torkel Patterson, former president of Raytheon Co., Japan; and Kent Harrington, former senior analyst for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, all of whom were members of the study group that compiled the INSS report.

In the 1980s, remarkable progress was seen in Japanese-U.S. bilateral defense cooperation. As far as East Asia was concerned, it can safely be said that the outcome of the two countries’ strengthened defense cooperation arrangements brought about a dramatic change in the military balance in the region and functioned to help the West win the Cold War. In fact, Prof. James Auer of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee characterized the increased Japanese-U.S. defense cooperation in the 1980s as a “hidden success story.”

Nevertheless, it should be noted that the continued existence of the various factors that have combined to foster Americans well-informed about and friendly toward Japan should not be taken for granted, though I am not saying that the pro-Japanese generation to which the authors of the INSS report belong will be the last.

Therefore, this country must act now to prevent pro-Japanese Americans from becoming disenchanted.

The most important thing for us is to be well aware thatsuch individuals are placing expectations on Japan in the hope that this nation can play a role that will benefit U.S. national interests. In other words, they will never be at the Japanese government’s beck and call.

It would be a great mistake to assume that Americans can always be expected to echo the replies that Japanese government officials make to questions posed in Diet sessions over bilateral issues so that the government can conduct business in the Diet smoothly. It also would be absurd for the Japanese government to feel resentful in the event of pro-Japanese U.S. opinion leaders making remarks that are inconsistent with policies the Japanese government is pursuing.

If Americans try to persuade the Japanese government of the wisdom of revising this nation’s Constitution, the government should at least be courageous enough to say that the government appreciates the suggestion as a piece of well-intentioned advice from a friend. Given the current realities of this country, even such an inoffensive response would entail a degree of political risk for the government, but the government should have the courage to respond in this manner nevertheless. If it lacks such courage, it will be impossible to achieve any meaningful change in this country.

Do away with absurdity

The INSS report also points out the need for Japan to enable itself to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

The constitutional interpretation that has been adopted by the Japanese government–namely, that Japan has the right to collective self-defense but shall not exercise the right–is simply absurd. Such an interpretation was never arrived at based on any ruling by a judiciary competent to decide on constitutional issues.

Instead, the fact is that the illogical interpretation of the nation’s unexercisable right to collective defense has been parroted by successive governments ever since the chief of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau came out with that interpretation in a Diet session once, at the direction of the government leaders at that time.

Under the existing Japanese-U.S. defense arrangements, should a vessel of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force be attacked, in, for instance, the Sea of Japan, it would certainly be rescued by U.S. warships in the vicinity. However, under the current framework of the Japanese-U.S. security arrangements, should a U.S. warship be attacked in the Sea of Japan, the Japanese government would have to say that it was unable to go to the rescue of the U.S. vessel, given that it deems that it is unconstitutional to exercise the right to collective self-defense. It is also possible to imagine a scenario in which Japan would insist that it had the right to shoot down a missile launched by North Korea if it was directed at this country, but could not do so if the missile was aimed across the Pacific Ocean at the United States, on the grounds that doing so would constitute the exercising of the right to collective self-defense.

Were it to be informed of such arguments, the U.S. public would certainly become indignant over the unreasonableness of the Japanese stance, and the very foundations of the Japanese-U.S. alliance could end up being shaken.

Under its present circumstances, however, Japan can only be changed substantively if its government leaders have the courage to take the initiative in stating that something should be done to bring this obviously unreasonable state of affairs to an end.

I earnestly hope that the government leaders do not waste the opportunity to reform this country.

Irrespective of which of the two parties–the Republican or Democratic–wins the presidential election, the proposals made by the bypartisan group will be reflected in some form in the incoming U.S. administration’s policy toward Japan.

It is reported that a Cabinet reshuffle will take place in this country in the near future. The government should not miss this chance to alleviate the frustration felt by the Americans.

A framework should be created enabling both Japan and the United States to make firm preparations to address the task of jointly hammering out a truly viable security strategy for the Asian region.

In this regard, the new cabinet should be competent enough to accomplish the task in a way that leaves no room at all for doubting that the Japanese-U.S. alliance is the pivot of Japan’s strategy in Asia.