US and Japan Must Forge A True Military Alliance SECURITY POLICY

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During their summit in Tokyo earlier this month, President Clinton and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto took some steps toward modernizing the obsolete US-Japan security relationship.

For the two countries to become genuine allies, however, Washington and Tokyo will have to stop tiptoeing around an intractable issue: How would Japan cooperate with the United States if a security crisis were to erupt in East Asia?

Tokyo says Japan's Constitution permits its military to engage in fighting only to repel a direct attack on Japan itself. Its formidable military is legally barred from even training for any contingency other than an attack against Japan. Japanese forces may cooperate with other countries only to repel an attack on Japan. As things stand now, Washington could count on little more than moral support from Japan if trouble developed on the Korean Peninsula or in the Taiwan Strait. Many US officials acknowledge that the US and Japan have nothing close to a functioning military alliance. The US-Japan Security Treaty commits the United States to defend Japan, but imposes no reciprocal obligations on Japan. Messrs. Clinton and Hashimoto recognized the need to broaden the scope of Japan's security policy by agreeing to review existing guidelines for bilateral defense cooperation. But there is no agreement on whether the review should simply modify Japan's role or more fundamentally redefine the division of labor between the two countries. Moreover, North Korea's continued belligerence toward the South and China's recent bullying tactics against Taiwan underscore the urgency to resolve this issue now, not at some indeterminate time in the future. It is doubtful the US-Japan security relationship could survive American soldiers dying in a region so vital to Japan while Japanese military forces remained uninvolved. Up to now, US and Japanese officials have been far too hesitant in their approach to upgrading the US-Japan security relationship. The agenda in talks held over the past 18 months has been limited mostly to nuclear nonproliferation, assistance to Japanese forces involved in United Nations peacekeeping operations, and the possible placement in Japan of a system to defend against ballistic missiles. Joint responses to a military crisis in Asia have barely been addressed. Summit accord Indeed, the two countries reaffirmed Japan's traditional policy in an agreement signed at the summit governing the exchange of food, fuel, and other commodities. Washington hailed it as a major strengthening of military cooperation. But the agreement applies only to peacetime; Japan still cannot provide logistical support to US forces engaged in combat outside of Japan. The agreement is so limited that it would not have allowed Japan to supply fuel to the US naval vessels that steamed to the Taiwan Strait a few weeks ago, even though fighting did not break out. …