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
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
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. …