November 14, 2005 | Commentary on Department of Homeland Security

A Vital Alliance, Built by Bush

When President Bush lands here tomorrow, he deserves a victory lap for a singular foreign policy accomplishment - growing and deepening the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Bush critics bemoan the state of relations with supposed European allies like France and Germany, but overlook the improvements in the Japanese alliance.

Yet Japan is becoming a partner to America comparable only to Britain - a staunch ally in the region, and a global partner in other issues around the globe; two powers that share similar values and vision, willing to pool resources to address daunting political, economic and, even, security problems.

Major challenges haunt the United States in the Pacific - from China's uncertain rise to North Korean nukes. Washington needs as many strong, capable partners as possible. And democratic Japan - with the world's No. 2 economy and a highly capable military - fills the bill quite nicely. Which is why Tokyo is Bush's first stop in his weeklong Northeast Asian jaunt.

The president will be warmly greeted by Japan's plucky Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Their friendship has helped advance the partnership. (It didn't hurt a bit that both love baseball - personal relationships count, even in international affairs . . . ) The U.S.-Japan relationship wasn't always so healthy. In the days after the Cold War, both Washington and Tokyo openly questioned the value and need for the alliance.

In the 1990s, America's attitude went from "bashing" Japan on trade to "passing" on Japan completely. The Clinton administration moved off America's long-standing emphasis on its (anti-communist, anti-Soviet) Pacific allies and centered its future Asia policy on China.

Japan was having second thoughts, too. With the northern Soviet threat gone, Tokyo was reevaluating the social (e.g., sexual assaults), financial (e.g., billions in host-nation support) and the environmental burden (e.g., jet noise) of hosting nearly 50,000 American troops.

But China's rapid economic growth and military buildup and North Korea's "not nearly frozen" nuclear weapons and burgeoning ballistic-missile programs led some in both nations to question the wisdom of going our separate ways.

Running in 2000, Bush promised to reverse course, and strengthen America's Pacific alliances, especially the Japanese relationship. In office, his national-security team did just that.

In fact, the Bush administration has evolved the U.S.-Japan alliance from "grrrr" to "great." For instance:

* Since October 2001, Japan has provided $150 million worth of fuel to the ships of 12 nations supporting Afghanistan and counterterrorism ops in the Indian Ocean. Without this support, some coalition partners simply wouldn't have been able to participate.

*In Afghanistan, Tokyo contributed $1 billion in reconstruction aid. The Japanese are rebuilding the Kandahar-Herat Ring road - in disrepair since the Soviet-Afghan war's end, and desperately needed for economic development and internal security.

*In Iraq, Japan has already spent $1.5 billion of its $5 billion reconstruction pledge. Japanese troops rebuilt/repaired water-treatment plants, power stations and hospitals; provided ambulances, medical equipment and supplies; and aided Iraqi elections.

*Japan plays a role in the Middle East peace process, too, providing nearly $800 million in humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, helping reform the Palestinian Authority and contributing other confidence and state-building efforts.

*The U.S. and Japan, with China, India, Korea and Australia, are looking beyond the failed Kyoto Treaty, working to address pollution, climate change and energy security via the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate.

*Tokyo is also developing/deploying interoperable missile defenses with Washington - improving both nations' security. And Japan, despite a prevailing "allergy" to things both nuclear and military, just agreed to station a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier here, replacing the older, non-nuclear USS Kitty Hawk.

But even though the alliance has strengthened greatly, Japan isn't quite "Britain" yet. While Tokyo's troops can serve in places like Iraq, they can't fight outside Japan: Tokyo's (U.S.-drafted) "pacifist" constitution forbids this.

So the Japanese are considering amending their constitution to allow a greater role in international security. This will make some nervous, especially Japan's neighbors, but as long as Tokyo operates within the U.S.-Japan alliance, things will be fine.

Some friction still comes on economic issues - such as U.S. access to Japanese markets and Japanese restrictions on American beef due to "Mad Cow" concerns. But, overall, The U.S.-Japan alliance hasn't been better in the over 50 years of its existence - and it's mostly due to this White House's efforts.

Fortunately, Tokyo, like London, has been a steadfast ally even when the chips were down and Washington found itself internationally isolated.

Deepening - and broadening - Japanese relations is a smart move. In a world with no shortage of international challenges, from Iran to terrorism to HIV/AIDS, our team's going to need all the "Japans" and "Britains" we can muster.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. His book, "A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States," is just out

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in the New York Post