Magazine article The National Interest

A Plea for Normalcy: U.S.-Japan Relations after Koizumi

Magazine article The National Interest

A Plea for Normalcy: U.S.-Japan Relations after Koizumi

Article excerpt

THE UNITED States and Japan have cooperated to address East Asian security issues for many years, and the relationship continues to evolve. Policymakers in Tokyo have grown more confident and assertive. By refining the concept of "self-defense", they have redefined the uses of military force that are considered legitimate under Japan's officially pacifist constitution. These are useful changes, but they have not fundamentally altered the character of the relationship as one between a dominant security patron, the United States, and a vulnerable client, Japan. Washington and Tokyo must work harder to establish Japan as a nation responsible for its own security and capable of assuming a wider strategic role in East Asia.

Outgoing Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has set the stage for this transition, strengthening the ties between the United States and Japan, while also carving out a unique role for Japan that could expand in the near future. The prime minister has been one of the Bush Administration's most enthusiastic supporters. In the wake of 9/11, he dispatched Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) ships to the Indian Ocean in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In late 2003, Japan sent over 500 members of the ground JSDF to Iraq--the first such deployment of Japanese personnel to a conflict zone since the end of World War II. These two signature foreign policy initiatives enjoyed only lukewarm support among the Japanese public, but Koizumi's popularity provided him with the necessary latitude to largely define Japan's new security role. His successor will almost certainly lack Koizumi's charisma, and will therefore suffer by comparison; but notwithstanding this handicap, the next prime minister is likely to continue to move Japanese politics, and especially Japan's foreign policy, along the trajectory established by the flamboyant Koizumi.

This prospect worries many in East Asia, where people, especially in China and Korea, fear that Japanese assertiveness is a manifestation of, or a precursor to, Japanese nationalism, or even revanchism. Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine seem to fit a pattern whereby Japan plays down the gravity of the Imperial Army's abuses during World War II. In another well-publicized instance, a controversy over several Japanese textbooks that overlook Japan's past conduct has contributed to a sense in Asia, particularly in Korea and China, that some Japanese have not fully accepted guilt for the war.

But Japan's emergence as a regional power is welcomed in Washington, where the focus is on burden sharing. So Koizumi's successor will have to strike a delicate balance--satisfying American requests for Japan to become a more active player in regional security while assuaging concerns in key East Asian countries that a greater strategic role for Japan does not pose a threat to their national security.

Burden Sharing, Burden Shedding

DESPITE THE popular conception of Japan as a "pacifist" country that is constitutionally required by Article 9 to pursue a peaceful foreign policy, the Japanese boast one of the most capable militaries on the planet. Japan's defense expenditures trail those of the United States, China and the United Kingdom, but are nearly equivalent to France's military budget. Japan spends more than Russia and more than twice as much as India, the country often seen as a rising power (and a prospective U.S. strategic ally) in the region.

While Japan's budget deficits have been the focus of recent attention, the burden of its defense expenditures is not any greater than that born by other liberal democratic states facing a demographic crunch. Japanese per capita defense spending is comparable to that of Germany and South Korea. Citizens in the United Kingdom pay more than twice as much per person, as do the French. In other words, Japan's defense spending could be expanded if changing strategic circumstances so dictated.

The budgetary costs tell only part of the story. …

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