Monday, June 12, 2006

On Japan-U.S. Relationship

I attended an interesting policy forum at the Cato Institute today on Two Normal Nations:Exploring the U.S.-Japan Strategic Relationship. The event marked the publication of a new policy analysis by my colleague, Chris Preble. In Two Normal Countries: Rethinking the U.S.-Japan Strategic Relationship Chris, who is director of foreign policy at Cato, explains that a more equitable U.S.-Japan alliance will provide a durable foundation for addressing the most pressing security challenges in East Asia and beyond. As he argued in his paper and in the event today, Japan’s emergence as a normal nation, one that is no longer dependent upon the United States for its defense, could play an important role in safeguarding East Asian security. While it would be unwise to dismiss lingering concerns in East Asia about Japan’s intentions, he stressed that many of these concerns flow from a period of time that has long since past. See also Chris op-ed on the same topic in the Financial Times Japan's Growing Confidence Should Be Welcomed. His views sound like common sense, but are actually quite revolutionary, if you listened to the two other speakers in the conference today, Michael Green,Senior Adviser and Japan Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Andrew Oros, Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Washington College. Reflecting the conventional wisdom in this city, they argued that all we need to continue maintaining the status quo in U.S.-Japan relationship. I prepared a few questions to ask the two guests but unfortunately, the Q&A session was very short. So here they are:

1. The U.S.-Japan alliance emerged in the aftermath of the U.S. military victory in WWII and as part of the strategy of the Cold War. The Cold War had ended and Japan is an economic superpower with one the world's largest militaries. Isn't it time for Japan to use its military power -- and I don't mean the Kamakize -- to protect its national interests instead of relying on the U.S. military for its security?

2. Japan's economy is totally dependent on energy imports from the Middle East. Why exactly are we providing the Japanese with a "free ride" in the form of protecting their access to the oil resources in the Persian Gulf? Perhaps they are the ones who should be fighting in Iraq and "containing" Iran instead of their mostly symbolic contribution to our efforts there as part of the "coalition."

3. Is it possible that the Japanese people and politicians are not ready to be a normal state and just want to play a Canada-like role of participating in peacekeeping operations and dispensing economic aid. If that's the case, the main question we probably should be asking is the following: Will Japan continue to play the role of a Canada to the U.S. in East Asia -- or to the emerging China? My guess is that Green and the other members of the U.S foreign policy establishment want to prevent the second scenario from taking place.