Magazine article Insight on the News

Security Plan Has Less Than Meets the Eye

Magazine article Insight on the News

Security Plan Has Less Than Meets the Eye

Article excerpt

The Clinton administration is expected by Sept. 23 to announce the revamped U.S.-Japan Security Guidelines. The document is notable not because it reconfirms ambiguities -- the leitmotif of U.S. foreign policy -- but because it proceeds from a stunning disregard of history's lessons, while simultaneously missing an Opportunity to avoid misunderstanding and, perhaps, conflict.

After some 18 months, U.S. and Japanese diplomats will announce an agreement on exactly what assistance the United States can expect from Japan in case of war "in the areas surrounding Japan." The United States will have access to Japanese airports and harbors, hospitals, fuel and repair facilities for planes and ships. And there is a possibility that Japan will assist an economic blockade with minesweepers.

The document bravely manages to pinpoint North Korea as a possible theater of conflict - a decreasing prospect fueled by its basket-case status. But what isn't covered in this delphic revelation is the most serious and likely flash point in East Asia -- Taiwan. Perhaps because it rests serenely in the crosshairs of the great game now underway between Washington and Beijing, perhaps because gimlet-eyed Mandarins in Beijing refer to the Hong Kong handover as a model for Taiwan's return to the "motherland," our negotiators thought they would earn their pay by not mentioning the issue. So it turns out we don't know what facilities or assistance will be available to U.S. forces in the event the "security or the social or economic system of the people of Taiwan" is jeopardized.

If that language sounds familiar, you can find the remaining text in Sections 2b and 3 of the Taiwan Relations Act, or TRA, which this administration would like to forget. Unlike the three communiques covering U.S.-China relations signed in 1972, 1978 and 1982, which are not treaties but, as Stephen Yates of the Heritage Foundation points out, "simply statements of a particular administration's policy at a particular time," the TRA is the law of the land: It defines Taiwan's status in terms of U.S.. policy toward China and commits the United States to assist Taiwan in maintaining its defense against possible threats from China.

One might ask how U.S. negotiators could possibly propose a security agreement with our most important regional ally, Japan, without determining mutual obligations in the event this contentious dispute in the area breaks into conflict.

The answer is that reducing the matter to writing is opposed by the Japanese (they barely acknowledge that the Taiwan straits are "in the area around Taiwan"). …

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