Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Northern and Western Asia

The U.S.-Japan Alliance *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Northern and Western Asia

The U.S.-Japan Alliance *

Article excerpt


The U.S.-Japan alliance, forged in the U.S. occupation of Japan after its defeat in World War II, provides a platform for U.S. military readiness in Asia. Under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, about 53,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Japan and have the exclusive use of 89 facilities throughout the archipelago.1 Okinawa, hosting 37 of the facilities, is the major U.S. forward logistics base in the Asia-Pacific region.

The U.S.-Japan alliance has endured several geopolitical transitions, at times flourishing and at other moments seeming adrift. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the organizing principles of the Cold War became obsolete, forcing the United States and Japan to re-adjust the alliance. The shock of the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001 ushered in a period of rejuvenated military ties, raising expectations that Japan would move toward a more forward- leaning defense posture and shed the pacifist limitations that have at times frustrated U.S. defense officials. However, the partnership struggled to sustain itself politically in the late 2000s; a softening of U.S. policy toward North Korea by the George W. Bush Administration dismayed Tokyo, and political opposition to an Okinawan airbase plan disappointed Washington. As the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) came to power in September 2009, some observers noted that Japan may be turning away from the U.S. alliance toward a more Asia-centric policy.

Despite the public flap over the relocation of the Futenma airbase that dominated the relationship between September 2009 and June 2010, regional conflicts in 2010 appeared to reset the relationship on more positive footing. As a result of repeated provocations from North Korea and a confrontation with China over a ship collision in disputed waters, the DPJ seemed to change its approach to the alliance and re-prioritize strong relations with the United States. The focus of the alliance appears squarely set on the changing security contours of the region, with an explicit attention to China's activities. When the alliance appeared to falter in the face of the Okinawa dispute, neighboring countries, including Southeast Asian states, voiced concern, suggesting that the alliance is valued as a stabilizing force region-wide. North Korea's unpredictable course has also driven nascent but promising trilateral cooperation with South Korea. Whereas disagreements over history issues stemming from Japan's colonial policies and wartime aggression were prominent in Tokyo's relations with its neighbors in past years, these concerns, while still present, have receded somewhat as contemporary threats have surfaced.

Problems remain in the partnership. Although Washington and Tokyo have settled on a plan for the resolution of the base relocation in Okinawa, many hurdles remain for implementation, particularly strong local opposition to the base. Japan's overall limitations and resistance to engage more expansively in defense cooperation continue to frustrate U.S. military officials. Japan's constitution-drafted by U.S. officials during the post-war occupation-explicitly bans the formation of military forces, though Japan has maintained a -Self-Defense Force" (SDF) since the 1950s. Over the decades, the United States has generally encouraged Japan to move toward a more -normal" military posture and contribute more actively to international defense efforts. Although Japan has sometimes acceded, it remains conservative in its interpretation of the constitution, including a ban on participation in collective self-defense. More recently, Japan's severe fiscal conditions have placed additional pressure on spending decisions to boost Japan's capabilities in the face of regional threats. Japan's constraints on military activities remain in budgetary, legal, normative, and political terms.


Post-World War II Occupation

Following Japan's defeat in World War II, the Allied Powers, led by the United States, occupied the archipelago from 1945-1952. …

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