Fifty Years After Pearl Harbor: The Future of U.S. Japan Relations

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Fifty Years After Pearl Harbor: The Future of U.S. Japan Relations

December 7, 1991 15 min read Download Report
Richard V.
Visiting Fellow in Welfare Policy

(Archived document, may contain errors)

Fifty Years After Pearl Harbor: The Future of U.S.-Japan Relations

By Richard V. Allen Judging from the avalanche of information, analysis, and retrospective about Japan's unprinci- pled and wanton attack against the fleet at Pearl Harbor fifty years ago, it mi ght be best ff we could pass quietly by December 7th, the day that truly has lived in infamy. This is not to suggest that we ignore the enormous sacrifice, human and material, that this coun- try made to respond to Japan's aggression and to restore peace a nd stability to the Pacific region. Nor is it to suggest that we should lose the opportunity to remind Japan that these memories have very deep roots in our national consciousness, and that the United States, fortunately, would never again permit itself t o be in such a vulnerable military position vis-a-vis a potential aggressor. To be sure, especially for those of us who can actually remember that day, as I can, there is an enormous sense of nostalgic remembrance about December 7th, for it was a turning p o int in our lives, an historical determinant of our future. Three weeks short of my sixth birthday in December 1941, 1 can vividly recall the news of the attack pouring out of the Philco radio in the living room of our New Jersey home. I asked my fa- ther w hat "war" meant, and cannot recall his answer. The next day he bought a rifle and a short- wave radio; our neighbors became air raid wardens, policing the local gentry and making sure our lights were off when the sirens took us into alerts. Forty-eight mo n ths later, in August 1945, while at summer camp in the New Jersey pinelands, I saw a huge headline, which I'll never forget, in the Philadelphia Daily News that said, simply, "A- Bomb May Win War." Within days it was all over, Japan's military power had b e en crushed, and the nation lay in ruins. Little did I realize that my initial, distant, but clearly hostile encounter with Japan during those years of World War would be tempered by the extraordinary opportunity I have had to examine that country, is peop l e, its culture, and its values from the perspective of scholar, government offi- cial, and businessman. Effective Psychological Warfare. Like all children in their formative years during the War, I was deeply influenced by the masterful and massive psycho l ogical domestic warfare campaign against Japan-extraordinarily racist in content and tone-designed to engender hatred and loath- ing of the enemy. It was everywhere-in the comic strips, on the radio, in the movies-and it was intensive. No one in America c o uld withstand the effectiveness of this no-holds-barred campaign against Japan-and, indeed, it provided the nation with the gritty determination to visit massive destruction and grief against the nation that had conducted a cowardly sneak attack against o u r country- Thus, when I first visited Japan in late 1967, 1 was prepared for virtually anything. To my sur- prise and amazement, no one wanted to talk about the past. Only the future mattered to my inter- locutors, some of them of great political stature, and they offered no sips of resentment toward

Richard V. Allen is Chairman of the Advisory Board, Asian Studies Center, The Heritage Foundation; Chairman, The, Richard V. Allen Company; and Chairman, Credit International Bank. He spoke at The Heritage Fo undation on December 3,1991. ISSN 0272-1155. 01991 by The Heritage Foundation.

the United States. By and large, over more than twenty years, and thousands of contacts at all lev- els, the attitude of Japanese I have known has remained constant, in the sense that respect for this country has been a permanent factor. I believe that mo s t Japanese today continue to respect this country, and they hope for American leadership in the world as well as for American prosperity at home. "Communications Gap:' But, as we turn to the theme of this brief discourse, the future of U.S.- Japan relatio n s, we do so in a highly charged atmosphere, laden with emotion and even outright hostility. The atmosphere in this country is thick with suspicion and rancor, and the future of our relationship with Japan even promises to become an issue in the 1992 Presi d ential campaign. From where I sit at the moment, I conclude that this drift, dangerous as it is, is becoming stead- ily worse. Ile so-called "communications gap" that I discovered in the late 1960s is today deeper and wider than it was then, despite all t h at has occurred in the intervening years. If I were an airline pilot, I'd be warning my passengers to buckle in tight as we approach a zone of substantial, if not extreme, turbulence. Turbulence of this type can weaken the structure of an aircraft, or eve n destroy it. Of course, there is very little chance that we will witness an epochal event in Japanese-American relations, or that there will be a single, dramatic moment of catastro- phe. But it is entirely possible that the zone of turbulence will be pro l onged, and that to exit it safely, we may have to, or may be forced to, change course. And if we change course, we will henceforth be on a different footing entirely with Japan. In the more than two decades I have been observing the process of U.S-Japan r e lations, there have been many tense moments. Typically driven by sectoral trade disputes, disagreements be- tween the two countries were usually resolved by negotiations accompanied by pressures and, sometimes, threats. Almost always a solution, or at lea s t a stop-gap remedy, has been found. Whether it was textiles, specialty steel, television sets, consumer electronics, or automobiles, nego- tiators on both sides ultimately worked their way to a form of resolution. It has been interesting to watch, and so m etimes participate in, this never-ending cycle of sectoral disputes: Each time, the Japanese concluded with satisfaction that relations had returned to normal, only to be disappointed by the emergence of another trade dispute that threatened to disrupt th e harmony they prefer in their brand of diplomacy. For our part, while we have not distinguished ourselves by arguing about barriers to U.S. beef, citrus, and now rice exports to Japan, we have become increasingly willing to protect U.S trade interests in s ectors that really do matter, such as machine tools, con- struction, and services. Masking Fundamental Causes. But this kind of wrangling, important as it is, tends to mask what are surely more fundamental underlying causes of discord, and it leads to the question of whether, when all is said and done, the respective national interests of Japan and the United States are essentially similar or essentially dissimilar. Depending on your answer, you can arrive at vastly different conclusions. Diplomats on both sides will insist that the two countries are bound tightly in a natural alliance of interests, and that the constant bickering reflects only the normal behavioral patterns of a mar- riage. Legislators on both sides are not at all convinced of the commonal i ty of interests, and in par- ticular U.S. Members of Congress are increasingly skeptical about, if not downright hostile to, Japan's long-range intentions, which are perceived to diverge from ours. Scholars and specialists on both sides continue to press f or patience and understanding by policy makers, arguing that the situation needs time to right itself, to adapt to the demands of fast-paced global change. Econo- mists, who may also from time to time be classified as scholars, exhibit mixed reactions abo ut the identity of interests, but are clearly concerned about the profound economic imbalances in the rela- tionship. There was once a time in American political life that a national politician would argue for


understanding and restraint in putting t he wood to the Japanese, but in recent years even these fel- lows have disappeared. Vocal Japan Critics. In place of the earlier, more congenial mood of toleration in this country, there is a rapidly growing, vocal, and very effective group of Japan criti c s, ranging from instinc- tive Japan-bashers to thoughtful experts whose analysis leads them to the most baleful conclu- sions. If you've watched this trend develop, you've felt the ground shift and have probably con- cluded that something major is under w a y in how we view our future with Japan. Recalling that consistent U.S. foreign policy has been predicated on the need for a vigorous and strong Japan, and that U.S. defense policy for decades has encouraged Japan to devote a larger share of its annual bud g et to expanding its defensive capabilities and assuming wider responsibilir ties, what are we to do now that the principal threat to U.S. interests in the region, the Soviet Union, has collapsed and is no longer a true challenge? After all, Japan steadily resisted the drum- beat of U.S. pressure to assume greater defense burdens, and only with enormous reluctance pene- trated the self-imposed threshold of 1 percent of GNP devoted to defense. Now, by virtue of its industrial policy, Japan has in place the i n frastructure and the technology to develop a substantial military machine-if it wishes. Although there are no indications at the moment that Japan intends to harness its industrial capability for a military build-up, the mere exis- tence of the capability makes its neighbors increasingly uneasy; they have painful, vivid memories of Japanese military prowess in the 1930s and 1940s. For our part, we are actively searching for ways to cut our overseas commitments. That such cuts are terribly premature is an a r gument few are willing to hear, and the pressures to reallocate scarce resources are heavily focused on the high cost of maintaining the U.S. presence abroad. Why, it is argued, should the U.S. pay the freight for defending the Pacific Basin area, princip a lly Japan, when it is awash in prosperity and enjoying persistent huge trade surpluses with the U.S.- in Japan's case more than $100 billion? Uneasy Asian Neighbors. Complicating the picture is that Japan's neighbors, in whom Japan is investing massively a nd on a scale we will not and cannot match, (a) have the uneasy feeling that the United States is in the frame of mind to withdraw from the region; and (b) are convinced that the United States does not have an articulated, well-thought-out, updated policy for the Pacific Basin. They feel that the. attentions of Washington have been drawn to Europe, Eastern Europe, and what was once the Soviet Union, and that the U.S. is essentially incapable of conducting a dy- namic policy on more than one front at a time . If the United States disengages, or is seen to be disengaging, albeit slowly, from Asia, and if Japan continues its present dynamic regional expansion, the effect may be either that of a vacuum to be filled or a simple lateral placement of one influence b y another. I cannot see how this will benefit U.S. interests, or that of our non-Japanese allies and friends in the region. In fact, once dis- placed for any reason, U.S. influence on the region will not easily, if ever, be restored. Some Japanese obvious l y see this as a great opportunity; others, untroubled by the geographical consequences of economic success, contribute to the opportunity without sensing the disturbance it causes; still others, very few, do understand what's happening, don't like it, but are incapable of doing anything about it. At the extreme. let us consider the prospect of Japan inviting the U.S. to withdraw from the three air bases, the naval base at Yokosuka, and the marine base on Okinawa, perhaps as a result of severely strained re l ations. What signal would that send to the region? To Japan itself .9 For those who subscribe to the "cork in the bottle" theory, as I do, the prospect of U.S. forces being ejected from Japan is almost too unpleasant to consider, and the consequences of n ot doing so under conditions of potential duress are equally unpalatable.


In the era we have recently entered since November 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, an era in which stupendous events are severely compressed in time, decisions with long-lasting consequences must be made quickly. There are also long-term penalties for making the wrong de- cisions. The narrower, sectoral issues in U.S.-Japan relations have diminished, only to reveal the large, structural, systemic differences so large and complex that they seem nearly insoluble. Is it to be our objective to dissuade Japan from continuing its economic expansion, its pattern of heavy long-term investment in Asia (or even in the United States?), its increasing share of the de- fense burde n , its exports to the United States? What is it, exactly, what we'd like to see Japan do or not do? And once we've decided on these matters, how will we communicate them to Japan? How will Japanese react? Will they listen and heed us? Structural Defect. On e very large and important problem is the Japanese system of governance. While some insist it's a democracy, I'm not at all sure that it is, but I am convinced that Karl van Wolferen is right when he says that we make a fundamental mistake by thinking that we can com- municate effectively with Japanese leaders; as he puts it so succinctly, "No one individual and no one interest group has the actual power to initiate a shift in priorities." Van Wolferen agrees that the "structural defecf'in Japan's body poli t ic actually prevents power groups from uniting for "a political change essential to Japan's national interest." If he is correct, then we are indeed on a true collision course with Japan, a course that will make inevitable what George Friedman and Mere- d i th LeBard argue will be "The Coming WarWith Japan." In the early years of serious sectoral trade disputes, even until recently, Japan's leaders ex- pressed the constant concern that such quarrels would affect the basic "security relationship" be- tween th e two countries, and went to great lengths to shield the military link. Now, with the cen- tral threat removed and the prospects for military action in the Pacific (except for the Korean flashpoint) at an historic low point, there is one less reason for Ja p an to come to terms with the United States. Vulnerable Economy. The Japanese perception of the national interest will, under these condi- tions, emerge as one substantially different from our notion of what is good for Japan. Added to the mix that include s what they call the "Japanese way of thinking:' which we have been told we do not, and possibly cannot, understand, a meaningful dialogue with Japan, one leading to con- crete, productive results, seems increasingly difficult to achieve. Indeed, much of J a pan's motivation to achieve what it defines as adequate security derives from weakness, not strength, and fear of the consequences of that weakness informs the policy makers who fashion the nation's dynamic expansion. While Japan does indeed have the worl d 's second largest economy, it is at once a huge and vulnerable structure, completely dependent on outside and frequently distant sources of energy and natural resources, imposed upon a group of islands that cannot naturally support itself. With the disapp e arance of the Soviet military threat, a key element of the U.S.-Japan interde- pendence, it is now very clear that, all along, Japan's notion of "security" has always been rooted in the context of economic security alone. The disappearance of the Cold War , seen by many in the United States as a golden opportunity to lay down arms, withdraw expensive military forces from distant places, and begin a new era of international cooperation on many fronts, will almost certainly be viewed differently in Japan. It i s also unlikely that in these changed circumstances, Japan can long remain a second-class partner of the United States. Apart from a need to consolidate its resource base, Japan must also begin to look elsewhere for markets. The United States has been the destination for one-third of Japan's exports, and Japan has


skillfully exploited the opportunity this open market has offered. There is handwriting on the wall in Europe, too, which has traditionally treated Japanese importsvith a degree of severity . Racing for Markets. Whether we like it or not, we are now in an era of racing to secure mar- kets. It could not come at a worse time from our perspective, but if the United States is to sustain its influence and presence in Asia, we will have to work ve r y hard, economically and politically. Japan recognizes that Asia presents an extraordinary opportunity, and is investing there at an un- precedented rate. Elsewhere in the world, the Japanese economic pressure is expanding, especially in resource- rich un d erdeveloped nations. An external complicating factor in the U.S.-Japan relationship will be the further consolidation of the European Community. The U.S. is not an active player at the forthcoming European summit meeting at Maastricht, where important cha n ges in foreign, economic, and defense policies of the twelve European states will be made. While the U.S. is busily engaged in creating, with Mexico and Canada, a North American Free Trade Area, itself a huge and impressive market, our basic se- curity in t erests are in the process of being reorganized without our influence-or, as Jeane Kirk- patrick has put it, "a new world order is precisely what is emerging on the continent of Europe today, and with minimal American participation." This fact cannot be lo s t on Japan's part. It seems as though Americans are exceptionally well disposed to react to threats to our own se- curity as long as the danger is stark and imminent. Our latest experience in the Gulf War is ample proof of our rapid response to an overt m e nace. I am not ready to declare either European unity or Japan's pursuit of its own interests an actual threat to the U.S.; there is adequate time and there are many opportunities for us to shape whatever form of world order is emerging. Simply enjoying t h e status of "sole surviving superpower," how- ever, will not be enough. High Priority Task. How we organize our relationship with Japan, how we communicate our goals, and how we seek to realize those goals in the bilateral relationship with Japan will be a task of very high priority for the 1990s. We need a new formulation of our long-range objectives in the Pacific Basin. Our relations with Japan are, to be sure, a central factor, but I truly believe Japan should not be the centerpiece of our Pacific dipl o macy. It will not do to attempt to work out with Japan the future of our own policy to- ward the region; if this occurs, or if the impression that it will occur is given to other Asian na- tions, our long-range interests will be severely damaged. No Asian leader wants the protective mande of U.S.-Japanese condominium; Asians recognize the importance of their independent links to the United States, and want no local filter for those relationships. Thus, the United States must concentrate on the bilateral re l ationship with Japan, and the focus of President Bush's forthcoming trip to Japan must be on our basic relationship with Japan, not the "shared responsibility" of Japan and the United States for Asia. We must avoid errors of the type recently committed in the matter of the future security of the Korean peninsula, when our Sec- retary of State unveiled a formula of "two plus four" talks on Korea not in Korea, but in Japan! We should not have been surprised by Korea's flat rejection of the proposal. Deterior a ting Atmosphere. To warn Japan, to criticize Japan, is not "Japan-bashing." This all- purpose term has lost its utility, having become a semantic and psychological refuge for people on both sides who do not want to confront the real, underlying issues in t he relationship. If we just look around us here in the United States, we can see a seriously deteriorating political atmosphere: the protectionist liberals are now being joined by the protectionist nationalists and conservatives. Unlikely, unexpected coop eration from the political flanks will inevitably have an


impact on the mainstream, and no army of lawyers, lobbyists, or public relations specialists will be able to dampen the growing demand for specific, targeted action against Japan. Who wants th is? Who needs it? There is, in my view, ample reason for the United States and Japan to work together. Why are we constantly up in arms about Japan, and why should we, in De- cember 1991, feel outrage against Japan for its wartime aggression against the U n ited States and not against the Fascist and Nazi brigands or wartime Italy and Germany? The problem Hes in our difficultly of forming a national consensus on goals in the U.S.-Japan re- lationship. This is clearly a task for Presidential leadership, based on the recognition that "success" in our efforts with Japan is not measured in press communiques, broad smiles, and declarations of friendship, but in achieving specific objectives such as market opening and observing the ground rules of international tra d e. Working Toward Accommodation. Japan does have time to alter its determined pursuit of its own security interests to the disregard of the legitimate security concerns of others, including its neighbors and the other developed countries, particularly the United States. If it does, if it takes into account the requirements of the United States, it can avoid a series of jarring collisions in the years ahead. Adjusting the national interest to provide leeway for the interests of others has been a characteris t ic of U.S. policy in the postwar period; it has worked to produce the era which began with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Some will argue that it is unrealistic in these times to expect that, since the arguments in the world can be reduced to money and mark e ts instead of merely avoiding military aggression and escaping a nuclear holocaust, nations will change their behavior. It is certainly worth trying to work toward a status of accommodation with Japan, to achieve equilibrium in a relationship that is of c r ucial importance to us, to them-, and to the world. To- gether, Japan and the United States can achieve great prosperity and mutual benefit; divided in anger and misunderstandings, both will lose much, and may be led to an eventual confrontation that neit her had dreamed possible. That would be a tragedy.




Richard V.

Visiting Fellow in Welfare Policy