The US-Japan Joint Declaration

By Chu-Kwang, Chin | World Affairs, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

The US-Japan Joint Declaration

Chu-Kwang, Chin, World Affairs

On the heels of the Taiwan Strait crisis of March 1996, President Bill Clinton of the United States and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto of Japan held a summit meeting in Tokyo. There they put their pens to a U.S.--Japan Joint Declaration on Security--Alliance for the 21st Century, which was announced immediately following the meeting on 17 April 1996. The joint declaration reaffirmed the need for, and outlined the principal elements of, a restructured relationship between the United States and Japan for dealing with the new realities of the West Pacific region. The new arrangements promise a wider, though unspecified, security role for Japan. A joint committee of senior officials of the U.S. and Japanese defense establishments is currently working to define the specific commitments of both parties.

This article is concerned with how the evolving U.S.--Japan security relationship may affect Taiwan's security. The Taiwan issue persists as the principal flashpoint for a military clash in East Asia because of Beijing's relentless threat to employ force "if necessary" to reunify Taiwan with the Chinese mainland, and Taipei's determined effort to lead a vigorous international existence despite an intensive diplomatic blockade by the Peoples Republic of China (PRC).


The Cold War Period

Even after the yoke of the United States military occupation was lifted, Japan remained heavily under the influence of the United States. The U.S.--Japan Security Treaty of 1951, revised in 1960, clearly illustrated that reality by formally placing Japan under U.S. protection. Thus, an asymmetric, albeit symbiotic, relationship developed. The United States assumed the obligations of Japan's security, while Japan assumed responsibility for cooperating with the United States. The United States made Japan an important strategic military base for countering the expansion of the USSR in the West Pacific. However, out of concern that Japan might become entrapped in a U.S. confrontation with the PRC, a series of Japanese governments denied the United States full military cooperation. Japan believed that its best means for acquiring security came through the protection of the U.S. military and its nuclear umbrella. Through its alliance with the United States, Japan would avoid huge military expenditures and be able to focus on economic development and foreign trade.

This situation was acceptable to both the United States and Japan because Article 9 of Japan's constitution limited Japan's military initiatives. But in the 1970s, the United States pressed Japan to assume wider responsibilities. In 1975, negotiations were undertaken that led to the first joint U.S.--Japan military planning exercise. It locked the United States into defending Japan but avoided committing Japan to military involvements not directly threatening Japan. During the 1980s, the United States repeatedly encouraged Japan to increase its defense capabilities and assume greater responsibility for regional security. Japan gradually expanded its original strategic policy from one of "homeland defense" to one that reached beyond its territorial waters. Buoyed by years of benefit from U.S.-Japan defense cooperation, Japan not only established considerable self-defense capabilities, but also began to undertake a greater regional role.

The Post-Cold War Period

With the dissolution of the USSR and the removal of the threat of Soviet military expansion, the U.S.--Japan Security Treaty drifted aimlessly. In January 1992, leaders of the United States and Japan met in Tokyo and proposed the establishment of a "global partnership." It was hoped that such a relationship would construct a new foundation for U.S.--Japan relations in the face of Japan's increasingly autonomous foreign policy inclinations.

But U.S.--Japan relations continued to slide until a concerned Joseph Nye, then assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, stepped into the breach and got the two sides talking again about refurbishing their alliance. …

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