April 26, 2004 | Backgrounder on Asia
March 31 marked the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Peace and Amity between the United States and Japan. During this period, U.S.-Japan relations have been complex, shifting from friendship to enmity and back to friendship again. Today, Japan is one of America's staunchest allies and is a key strategic partner in Northeast Asia.
Japan's decision in late 2003 to dispatch 1,000 Self-Defense Forces (SDF) troops to Iraq marks an important milestone in the U.S.-Japan alliance and is one example of greater cooperation between the two allies on a range of important security issues. Japan's response--not just its response to regional threats such as North Korea, but also its assistance in global conflicts such as in the war on terrorism and Iraq, as well as its cooperation on ballistic missile defense (BMD)--demonstrates that this alliance is reliable in times of crisis.
Yet, if the U.S.-Japan alliance is to remain strong and endure as a true partnership in the 21st century, the United States should not just rely on common security threats in the present to forge cooperation in the future. To provide vision for and direction to the alliance, the Bush Administration should:
While Japan has risen to the challenges of the war on terrorism and now Iraq, the Washington-Tokyo dialogue on security issues remains overly focused on responding to short-term crises without adequate attention to long-term capabilities and strategies. For example, although Japan's military and financial contributions to the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are significant and important, the two countries have not developed a clear definition of their regional alliance's role in extra-regional conflicts. Moreover, less immediate issues, such as how the alliance should address China's rise as a regional power, have been pushed to the background by more immediate threats such as North Korea.
Rather than drifting along, reacting to crises as they arise, Washington and Tokyo should make concerted efforts to clarify and establish a set of long-term objectives for the alliance that take into consideration the post-September 11 security environment and possible strategic shifts in the region, such as the collapse of North Korea.
Japan can begin to do this by revisiting its 1991 Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation and specifying security threats and interests beyond the current loose application of the "defense of Japan as well as areas surrounding Japan."1 Japan's security commitments have already expanded beyond the strict parameters of previous security frameworks and should be rearticulated to reflect current needs and threats, especially the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, anti-terrorist activities, and peacekeeping and reconstruction efforts.
The United States should do its part by articulating a more clearly defined strategic vision for the alliance, based on the October 2000 Armitage-Nye Report,2 which called for a thorough re-examination of the U.S.-Japan relationship in the context of the uncertain post-Cold War regional environment. The priority goals outlined in the report are a blueprint for developing long-term bilateral strategic relations, which was sidetracked by the events of September 11, 2001, and the ensuing war on terrorism.3
The American strategic policy statement should also go beyond the Armitage-Nye Report by defining the requirements of a more dynamic approach to bilateral defense planning and by more clearly articulating U.S. expectations of Japan as an alliance partner. The leadership in both countries should be prepared to discuss openly how much Japan is willing and able to participate in both military and civilian activities beyond current levels and areas, given legal and political restrictions on greater Japanese participation in collective defense efforts.
Ongoing U.S.-Japanese cooperation in several key areas--such as the North Korean nuclear issue, missile defense, and the war on terrorism--is important to the continued growth and evolution of the bilateral alliance. The two allies should continue these efforts by addressing long-term goals and aligning their strategic visions so that they can rely on each other as true partners. With such a concrete vision, the alliance could shape a stable, peaceful, and prosperous security environment that serves the shared interests of both allies rather than reacting to short-term crises.
Japan's security policy since World War II has largely been reactive, serving the primary goals of ensuring a stable regional and international security environment that is conducive to trade and investment. This has meant relying on the United States to promote stability in East Asia. At the same time, Japan has shied away from activist military and security roles commensurate with its economic might as the world's second largest economy.
Several factors explain this phenomenon. Domestically, Japan developed a profound aversion to militarism and an interventionist foreign policy in the aftermath of World War II. Japan's post-war constitution embedded this legacy in its political institutions, dramatically limiting the power of the military in Article 9. Internationally, the strategic environment in Northeast Asia remained stable during the Cold War, allowing Japan to rely on the United States for its security.
A confluence of recent developments, however, has led Japan to become more proactive in its foreign policies. Economically, Japanese interests have shifted from Southeast Asia toward Northeast Asia, particularly China. In 2003, Japan's trade with China exceeded $132.4 billion, setting a record high for the fifth consecutive year. Japanese exports to China surged 43.6 percent to $57.2 billion, while imports from China rose 21.9 percent to $75.2 billion.
In contrast, Japan-U.S. trade has been declining, with exports falling 2.6 percent and imports increasing by only 1.7 percent in 2003. Since 2002, Japanese imports from China have exceeded imports from the United States.4 South Korea remains an important economic partner. Thus, Japan's interests in promoting and maintaining stable and secure relations in Northeast Asia have never been more important.
Politically, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has been instrumental in promoting a more proactive foreign policy. Since assuming leadership in April 2001, Koizumi has overseen an increasing centralization of policy decision-making amidst the decreasing popular prestige of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the institutions and bureaucracies that have traditionally controlled foreign policy decision-making.
Perhaps most important, Japan's security environment has become more unpredictable and unstable because of North Korea's increased belligerence, including its 1998 test launch of a long-range ballistic missile over Japan and its current nuclear programs. While Japan remains primarily a status quo power, other countries in the region are not. For example, China has territorial disputes with its neighbors and great power ambitions, while North Korea remains dedicated to revisionist goals.
At the same time, Japan's growing economic interaction with China raises troubling strategic issues for the future as China's economy continues to grow while Chinese security objectives in the region are uncertain. In addition, new non-state threats, including global terrorism, have come to the fore.
As a result, the Japanese government has taken unprecedented steps in its foreign policy in recent months. In addition to deploying SDF troops to Iraq and three destroyers to the Indian Ocean, the Japanese Diet in May 2003 passed three wartime preparedness bills that specify the government's ability to mobilize military forces and adopt other emergency measures.
Despite this positive trend toward a more proactive Japanese foreign policy, some significant factors remain that could inhibit Japan's ability to embrace an international role commensurate with its economic power.
First, while popular aversion to an overtly activist role overseas has lessened in recent years, it has not completely disappeared. These sentiments continue to block a vigorous public debate over the constraints imposed by Article 9 of the constitution and some of its more restrictive interpretations, despite new policies such as the deployment of SDF forces to Iraq.
Second, Japan's sluggish economy and the government's inability to institute sweeping political and economic reforms undermine Japan's credibility, both domestically and abroad. In addition, more than a half-century after World War II, Japan's Asian neighbors continue to harbor resentment against Japan's perceived reluctance to own up to its wartime history, further undermining Japanese leadership in the region.
Third, ironically, Japan's close and enduring security alliance with the United States is the greatest constraint on Japanese foreign policy initiatives. As long as Japan relies on the U.S. security guarantee, it has little reason to initiate more active policies.
Thus, both the United States and Japan should work toward transforming their respective roles in the alliance by seeking new areas of cooperation and developing responses to future threats. The two partners have successfully coordinated their efforts in three key areas: North Korea, missile defense, and the war on terrorism.
Of all the countries in Northeast Asia, Japan is probably the most vulnerable to North Korea's missile and nuclear capabilities. The missile threat became clear when Pyongyang launched a three-stage, medium-range Taepodong missile over the Japanese main island of Honshu in August 1998. According to the Japanese Defense Agency, North Korea has more than 100 short-range Nodong missiles that could strike Japan and more than 30 Taepodong missiles5 with an estimated range of 3,500 kilometers, which could reach Alaska and the westernmost islands of Hawaii. The CIA reports that North Korea is developing the capability to miniaturize its nuclear warheads to fit these missiles.
North Korea's shocking admission to kidnapping Japanese citizens and refusal to allow their families to return to Japan, pursuit of clandestine nuclear programs in flagrant violation of international agreements and treaties, withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and proliferation of missiles6 constitute a threat to peace and stability in the region and are intended to undermine America's bilateral alliances in the region.
Thus, any peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue will require Japan's strong support and cooperation in the six-party talks with North Korea. Prime Minister Koizumi made clear his intention to forge a new relationship with North Korea when he visited Pyongyang in September 2002. While North Korea dashed hopes of an immediate turnaround in bilateral relations by mishandling the issue of kidnapped Japanese citizens, Japan will likely play a key role in any future breakthrough in easing diplomatic tensions with Pyongyang.
North Korea's threatening posture has clearly provided the impetus for Japanese cooperation with the United States on missile defense. In turn, missile defense has become a focal point of America's changing relationship with Japan as well as a catalyst for Japan to reconsider its entire security strategy.
Discussions with the United States on missile defense cooperation began in the mid-1980s, but Japan resisted committing itself until North Korea's missile test in August 1998. A year later, in August 1999, U.S. and Japanese officials agreed to conduct joint research on a sea-based interceptor system for deployment on ships equipped with Aegis radar. Japan already has four Aegis destroyers, with two more under construction.7
More recent North Korean threats and the threat of global terrorism have created greater public momentum to consider building a missile defense in cooperation with the United States. A white paper published in August 2003 by the Japan Defense Agency (JDA) emphasized the need to bolster anti-missile measures to counter North Korean and terrorist threats.8 Based on this report, the Japanese Diet has approved $1 billion for ballistic missile defense in its annual budget for the coming fiscal year. The proposed BMD system would consist of SM-3 missiles deployed on Aegis destroyers and land-based Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) anti-missile systems.9 The entire system is expected to be operational by March 2006.
Many difficult issues remain unresolved, ranging from managing costs to legal, policy, and constitutional issues. Legal and constitutional limitations pose impediments to full cooperation in a U.S. missile defense system. Although Japan's constitution does not explicitly prohibit collective self-defense actions, the accepted interpretation of Article 9 since its adoption in 1947 has been non-involvement in such activities.
This interpretation also poses obstacles for Japan's provision of logistical support for joint exercises, maneuvers, and other cooperative activities with the United States, Japan's only treaty ally. For example, under current Japanese law, the SDF cannot intercept missiles unless the prime minister issues an order for defense mobilization. However, a Nodong missile launched from North Korea would take only nine to 10 minutes to reach Japan. Hence, Japan needs to ease the conditions governing defense mobilization.10
In addition, the SDF itself, including its ability to mobilize forces, needs to be reorganized. Since its establishment in 1954, the SDF has existed primarily as an organization with limited capabilities that merely maps out operational exercises.
In 1992, the SDF began to take part in U.N. peacekeeping operations in various parts of the world. Since then, it has been subject to increasing public scrutiny on how it fulfills its duties. Three contingency bills passed in June 2003 improve the legal framework for the SDF to carry out necessary activities in times of civil and military emergencies, but the SDF is still limited in its ability to deploy an effective missile defense system.11
As for constitutional impediments, Japanese officials have, for now, avoided addressing the collective defense issue arising out of the U.S. missile defense strategy and have concentrated instead on protecting Japan's option to acquire a BMD capability. Under its constitution, Japan is allowed to intercept missiles bound for Japan, which would constitute an act of self-defense.
The JDA has now officially stated that intercepting missiles flying over the archipelago but not targeting Japan would not violate the constitution's ban on collective defense,12 although this has been much disputed within the context of a joint U.S.-Japan missile defense system. The JDA has also stated that the planned introduction of the missile defense system would not presume Japan's involvement in the defense of a third country. In other words, the constitution is still interpreted as prohibiting Japan from intercepting a missile that does not fly over the country, even if it is targeted at the United States.
Eventually, the government will have to review the interpretation of Article 9 that Japan cannot exercise the right of collective self-defense. The pursuit of a missile defense system not only reflects, but also requires a broader rethinking within Japan about its defense posture. The country's security and defense policy is already slowly being transformed from a constitutional prohibition on the use of force toward a more active security profile.
Continuing re-interpretation of the constitution may not necessarily result in a re-militarized Japan, but rather a healthy, increased participation in the security alliance with the United States. This trend would not be a source of concern within the region were it not for tensions raised by Japan's refusal to offer its neighbors a genuine and official apology for its wartime wrongdoing.13
For the past half-century, the U.S.-Japan alliance has served as the cornerstone of stability and prosperity in Northeast Asia. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Japan has shown that it can also play a critical role in promoting stability in other regions around the world.
Japan has also been a strong supporter of the war on terrorism. In October 2001, the Diet passed the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law, authorizing more active political and military participation with the United States in the global war on terrorism. For example, this important legislation allowed Japan to send naval vessels to the Indian Ocean to provide logistical support for the war effort in Afghanistan.
In 2003, the Diet enacted further legislation that defined the Japanese military's role in case of foreign attacks on Japan. In July, the Diet authorized the government to send troops to overseas trouble spots to offer medical assistance, repatriate refugees, reconstruct buildings and roads, and give administrative advice.14 This provided the legal basis for missions dispatched in November to provide rearguard support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan, in addition to $500 million in financial assistance.
Prime Minister Koizumi's December 18, 2003, authorization to send 1,000 non-combat SDF personnel to Iraq to assist reconstruction efforts is significant because it marks Japan's first military deployment overseas since World War II.
The deployment is also significant for the U.S.-Japan alliance, due to the political risk that Prime Minister Koizumi undertook by cooperating with U.S. efforts in Iraq. The killing of two Japanese diplomats in Iraq in July 2003 raised overwhelming popular opposition to a Japanese deployment to Iraq, and Koizumi faces increasing pressure from the main opposition Democratic Party, which gained a significant number of seats in the November elections. Nevertheless, Koizumi has stated that Japan will stand firm in the face of terrorist attacks and has pledged $5 billion for Iraqi reconstruction efforts.
Koizumi's firm stance on pursuing a more proactive foreign policy indicates Japan's desire to become a more equal partner of the United States. While some may criticize Japan's contribution to Iraq as stemming from obedience to U.S. demands, it should instead be seen as an important act of foreign policy independence.
Moreover, Japan's active involvement in Iraq lays the groundwork for future contributions to international security not just in the region, but also beyond. The U.S.-Japan alliance has proven the test of time, but both partners must make the effort to ensure that it will remain relevant and productive in the future.
The U.S.-Japan alliance was created in the aftermath of World War II and became the anchor for building stability and prosperity in Northeast Asia during the Cold War. The current security environment, however, is dramatically different. Some Cold War threats such as North Korea persist, while new threats from non-state actors, including terrorists, have emerged. Continued close cooperation between the United States and Japan could prove critical to defeating these threats.
Balbina Y. Hwang is Policy Analyst for Northeast Asia in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.
The October 2000 Special Report on the United States and Japan: Advancing Toward a Mature Partnership, also known as the Armitage-Nye Report, is an independent bipartisan study of the U.S.-Japan partnership. Many of the study's participants are now senior members of the Bush Administration, serving as key policymakers on Asia, including Richard L. Armitage (Department of State); Michael J. Green (National Security); James A. Kelly (Department of State); Robert A. Manning (Department of State); Torkel L. Patterson (Department of State); Robin H. Sakoda (Department of State); and Paul D. Wolfowitz (Department of Defense).
Evaluation. Slow but ongoing progress in instituting economic reforms in Japan. Washington has made much progress on prioritizing the U.S.-Japan alliance but needs to articulate a clearer vision for the future of the bilateral relationship.
"The United States and Japan [should] develop a common perception and approach regarding their relationship in the 21st century...with an expanded Japanese role in the transpacific alliance...and a more dynamic approach to bilateral defense planning." These include:
Implementation of the guidelines is incomplete. Japan has successfully passed several emergency measures, including those to combat terrorism, but is still legally unable to participate in collective self-defense, and a serious national security emergency could precipitate a legal and constitutional crisis. Additional contingency legislation is needed.
Japan has made great progress and was involved in U.N. peacekeeping operations in Cambodia, the Golan Heights, and East Timor in the 1990s. Japan has also deployed non-combatant forces to aid the reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Ongoing progress, especially in missile defense cooperation.
Substantial progress. On March 26, 2004, the Diet approved $1 billion for missile defense in the upcoming fiscal year. In September, the U.S. Navy will deploy an Aegis destroyer to the Sea of Japan as the first step in building a missile defense system.
Slow progress on completing SACO, as part of larger overhaul of U.S. force presence in East Asia. Preparations are currently being made to resume talks to revise the status of forces agreement between the United States and Japan, which governs the activities of U.S. forces stationed in Japan. Talks were suspended in August 2003 after the parties failed to reach agreement on several outstanding issues.
Solid progress. With coordination between National Security Council and Department of State, the intelligence exchange relationship between Washington and Tokyo has been upgraded on issues of mutual interest.
"An economically healthy Japan is essential to a thriving bilateral partnership, and the restoration of sustained economic growth in Japan will depend in large measure on opening markets." Specific measures include:
Greater progress needed. Japan's recent modest improvement in economic performance has raised hopes that economic fundamentals are changing. Japan has made some progress in addressing structural problems, in particular strengthening the banking sector and restructuring the corporate sector, but uncertainty about Japan's economic outlook remains, and much work remains to be done. For example, 70 percent of foreign businesses operating in Japan report that Japan's tax administration policies significantly hamper their business activities and negatively affect their investment decisions in Japan.16 Thus, there is urgent need to streamline tax laws and directives as well as to reduce burdensome taxes. One area of progress is the Diet's Lower House passage in March 2004 of legislation for a new U.S.-Japan Tax Treaty.
Japan has made some progress on negotiating free trade agreements (FTAs). In November 2002, the Diet ratified the FTA with Singapore, and Japan concluded FTA negotiations with Mexico in March 2004. Japan is currently negotiating FTAs with South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia. An FTA with the United States is considered unsuitable at this time, due to Japan's reluctance to open its farm sector.
2. For the full text, see Richard L. Armitage et al., "The United States and Japan: Advancing Toward a Mature Partnership," Institute for National Strategic Studies Special Report, October 11, 2000, at www.ndu.edu/inss/press/Spelreprts/SR_01/SFJAPAN.PDF.
6. In addition to violating the terms of the 1994 Agreed Framework, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the International Atomic Energy Agency Safeguards Agreement. For further detail, see Balbina Y. Hwang, Larry M. Wortzel, Ph.D., and Baker Spring, "North Korea and the End of the Agreed Framework," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1605, October 18, 2002, at www.heritage.org/Research/AsiaandthePacific/bg1605.cfm, and Balbina Y. Hwang, "Resolving the North Korean Nuclear Issue," Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum No. 875, May 8, 2003, at www.heritage.org/Research/AsiaandthePacific/em875.cfm.
8. The overall budget request represents an increase of 0.7 percent over the current year, due to measures to deal with foreign spy ships, invading military units and terrorists, and possible attacks with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Hiroshi Hiyama, "Japan Defense Agency Asks for Budget for Ballistic Missile Defense," Agence France-Presse, August 29, 2003.
9. The PAC-3 system is designed to destroy short-range ballistic missiles in the terminal flight stage, not long before impact. It is an improved version of the PAC-2 system. Japan already has about 120 PAC-2 missiles deployed throughout the country. The SM-3 is a more ambitious system, designed to destroy ballistic missiles in the midcourse phase, beyond the Earth's atmosphere. SM-3s would be deployed on Aegis destroyers reconfigured to accommodate the weapons. Asahi News Service, "Fear Alters Missile Defense Plan," June 6, 2003.