Academic journal article Strategic Forum

The U.S.-Japan Alliance Redefined

Academic journal article Strategic Forum

The U.S.-Japan Alliance Redefined

Article excerpt


* In April 1996, in one of the most important bilateral summit meetings in the history of the U.S.-Japan alliance, President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto convincingly reaffirmed the significance of the security relationship to the emerging security environment.

* Alliance managers in both countries faced growing pressure to reduce U.S. troop presence, particularly in Okinawa. An interim report of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa, released just prior to the summit, recommending the return of one-fifth of the total acreage (including the Futenma Air Station) of U.S. facilities to Okinawa within the next 5-to-7 years, won a ringing endorsement from most Japanese.

* The two leaders were able to focus on a Japan-U.S. Joint Security Declaration on Security which publicly articulated the alliance's goal: to provide regional stability and build a broader, more durable security architecture for the Asia-Pacific area. * Challenges to the summit's success could arise from two sources: exaggerated public understanding within Japan and the United States over what to expect from the other partner, and miscalculations of other regional actors, especially the potential for China to perceive U.S.-Japan collaboration as threatening.

An Historic Summit

The bilateral summit exceeded expectations; it should prove to be a pivotal moment in the alliance's history. Three reasons are fundamental to its success.

The first is rooted in the overlapping national interests of Japan and the United States. Simply put, if the two wealthiest Pacific democracies were to preserve the stability and prosperity of the region on which their countries depend, they would have to successfully mold their Cold War alliance into an effective instrument of policy for the post-Cold War era. That process, spurred by debate over Okinawa and Chinese and North Korean actions, has now begun in earnest.

A second and more specific reason for the success was the dogged preparation undertaken by government officials in Washington and Tokyo. The summit did not occur as a last-minute photo opportunity, but instead came only after 18 months of tireless diplomacy begun by former Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye, and continued by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Kurt Campbell and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Tom Hubbard.

The third reason is the remarkable degree of political consensus achieved in both countries over the past year and a half. Various leading Republican specialists provided a steady stream of ideas to the Democratic Administration; for instance, there was no more forceful advocate for boldly redefining the alliance than Ambassador Richard Armitage, former Assistant Secretary of Defense under the Reagan Administration. On the Japanese side, perhaps the most striking instance of nonpartisanship was the example set by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama. As a member of the Social Democratic Party of Japan, Mr. Murayama actively encouraged the security dialogue and helped to set the mood for the eventual summit by meeting with Vice President Al Gore in November 1995. Yet only two years previously, Mr. Murayama's party had adhered to the dogmatic position that the alliance was unconstitutional.

Trust and Reciprocity

Although the summit achieved several concrete steps, the more essential accomplishments were less tangible: increased trust, and the promise of greater partnership and reciprocity in the relationship. It is because of this larger perception of the relationship that so many see the summit more as a redefinition than a simple reaffirmation of the alliance.

Hence, the foremost achievement of the summit was the restoration of a high degree of certitude in U.S.-Japan relations overall. Trust had been eroding because of the disappearance of the Soviet threat, the rise of trade tensions, and inertia or inattentiveness to alliance management. …

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