Seventy Years Strong: The U.S.-Japan Alliance in a Time of Global Crisis

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In the early morning of February 25, 2022, Japan time – early evening of the 24th in the United States – four prominent scholars of the United States-Japan alliance and of American and Japanese diplomacy met to discuss the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The event was titled “70 Years: The US-Japan Alliance and Its Implications for Asian Diplomacy”. It was hosted by the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies in Washington, DC.

First, renowned scholar of US-Japan relations Makoto Iokibe, now chancellor of Hyogo Prefectural University in Japan, set the tone in his brief opening remarks. Chancellor Iokibe argued that the true value of the US-Japan alliance must be demonstrated in the face of new challenges, and the way to achieve this is to find ways to evolve the alliance.

Discussion moderator Kent E. Calder, director of the Reischauer Center and acting associate dean for education and academic affairs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, reinforced Chancellor Iokibe’s sentiments. Noting that the institutional structure of Asia-Pacific had changed profoundly, he thus underlined the need for a strong US-Japan relationship.

« SEATO [the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization] collapsed,” Dr. Calder noted, referring to the transnational grouping that disbanded in 1977. Dr. Calder also pointed out that the United Nations has not been particularly effective in Asia since the Korean War ( 1950-1953).

With the rise of new institutions and structures centered on the People’s Republic of China, Dr. Calder continued, the US-Japan alliance faces an additional challenge in the region.

Dr. Kent E. Calder receives the Order of the Rising Sun.
Dr. Makoto Iokibe.

“Japan should act in close cooperation with the United States”

Commenting on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which was taking place while the Reischauer Center conference was underway, Dr. Calder asked the two panelists in the discussion for their views on what Japan’s response to the war should be. Ukrainian crisis. Tosh Minohara, a professor at Kobe University’s Graduate School of Law, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, Ambassador David Shear, were the panelists. Their responses were colored by the fact that the Quad (the informal grouping of India, Japan, Australia and the United States) was not likely to play a major role in events in Eastern Europe. Is.

“Japan should act in close cooperation with the United States,” Dr. Minohara replied, stressing the importance of alliance with the United States to prevent aggression.

Dr. Minohara also stressed that Japan should show strong leadership on the world stage, especially in its role as a G7 country. “I miss former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi,” Dr. Minohara said, due to the strong leadership Koizumi showed during his tenure (2001-2006).

One of the obstacles preventing Japan from flexing its muscles, of course, is the Japanese constitution, in particular Article 9 which limits Japan’s military activities. On this point, Dr. Minohara stressed that Japan should revise the constitution in light of the changing security environment in the region.

“The world is not afraid of a militarized Japan,” Dr Minohara said. He pointed out that the world is afraid of a Japan that does not act and does not lead, and that it is time for Japan to abandon its “middle power mentality” and become a security provider instead. of a safety receiver.

Dr. Tosh Minohara
Ambassador David Shear

Extraordinary progress

Addressing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Dr Minohara warned that if Putin’s “blitzkrieg” were to succeed, the People’s Republic of China would see it as a signal that the status quo can be changed, which which could jeopardize the security of Taiwan.

Ambassador Shear agreed that a strong stance must be taken against Russian aggression and noted that he was encouraged by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s condemnation of Russia’s actions in Eastern Europe.

Like Dr. Minohara, Ambassador Shear also wants to see Japan “in tune” with the United States on the Ukraine issue and other issues.

At the heart of Japan’s leadership, Ambassador Shear suggested, was a more normal US-Japan alliance. The ambassador noted that “extraordinary progress” had been made in this regard during the tenure of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“We must cooperate with Japan” on possible “contingencies” on the Korean Peninsula and in Taiwan, Ambassador Shear continued. The ambassador also noted that he was encouraged by former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s remarks on Taiwan during his first meeting with President Biden.

Ambassador Shear, who previously served as US ambassador to Vietnam, also said he wanted to see Japan work more closely with Southeast Asian countries. Japan’s effort to salvage the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, Ambassador Shear noted, is a good example of how Japanese leadership is meant to benefit the region.

Many challenges remain

The U.S.-Japan alliance remains a force for good in the Asia-Pacific and beyond, speakers affirmed in various ways. However, as the Ukrainian crisis shows, many challenges remain.

For example, Dr Calder asked if there would be ‘echo effects’ across the continent from Ukraine given Russia’s invasion, such as a spike in tensions in the China Sea. eastern.

Dr Minohara replied that just as Vladimir Putin considers Ukraine to be part of Russia, Chinese leader Xi Jinping considers Taiwan to be part of the People’s Republic of China.

On that note, Ambassador Shear remarked that the Chinese side seemed to be the stronger partner in the relationship, a fact reflected in the February 4 agreement reached between Russia and China before Putin’s invasion.

Dr. Calder asserted that, on the Taiwan question in particular, Xi Jinping would not want to risk an invasion before the National Congress of the Communist Party meets in the fall.

Another challenge concerns US domestic politics, Dr Minohara added. Under President Trump, Dr Minohara explained, the United States had become inward-looking and a second Trump administration could exacerbate this trend, he argued.

Japanese domestic politics can also put a damper on the US-Japan alliance. Dr Calder mentioned, for example, Japan’s traditional cap on defense spending at 1% of GDP – a tradition that Prime Minister Abe and another former prime minister, Yasuhiro Nakasone, both broke. Dr. Minohara refuted that the 1% custom is not a rule and that as Japan does more militarily and strengthens the alliance with the United States, budget expenditures will naturally increase.

Finally, Dr Minohara mentioned the crisis in Ukraine in the context of Russian-Japanese relations. Russia continues to occupy the Northern Territories of Japan, islands that the Soviet Union took illegally at the end of World War II.

Dr Minohara said Japan might be reluctant to deal harshly with Russia over Ukraine lest it damage its position in the Northern Territories, but since Putin has no incentive to negotiate a territory, Japan should assert itself without undue fear of reprisals.

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Author: Jason Morgan, PhD

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