Excerpt: Alliance Adrift

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The U.S.-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of East Asia's evolving balance of power, has been shaped by broad political and economic trends over the past decade. After the end of the Cold War, economic and trade issues came to the fore while security issues were relegated to the background. As Washington became concerned about the growth of Chinese power, U.S.-Japanese security cooperation revived, culminating in the April 1996 agreement to enhance Japan's role within the alliance. However, with Sino-American ties warming and Japan apparently unable to play a leadership role in rescuing Asia from its economic difficulties, the pendulum may have once again begun to swing in the other direction. The alliance is now confronting the most critical stage since its birth in 1951, with the emergence of rising China, Japan's economic debilitation, Asia's economic meltdown, and Russia's free fall. Its viability as a "constant" is now being challenged in the changing political climate.  

These broad transpacific current events are the result of the myriad actions and decisions of politicians, bureaucrats, and other individuals inside and outside the policy process, where history, geography, and political cultures are interwoven in the dynamics of security policy. In this insightful analysis, Yoichi Funabashi gives us a fly-on-the-wall account of the dynamics driving the alliance's evolution at a time when political realignment in Tokyo, nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula, the rape of a Japanese schoolgirl in Okinawa, and tensions in the Taiwan straits have convulsed U.S.-Japanese relations. Funabashi takes us into the day-to-day world of the people and events that reshaped this indispensable alliance during the turbulent years of the mid-1990s.  

Lawrence J. Korb Director of Studies Council on Foreign Relations


This book is an account of how the U.S. and Japanese governments attempted (or did not attempt) to "redefine" the U.S.-Japanese alliance.  

Four case studies are presented: first, the serious impact of economic and trade frictions on the alliance; second, the question of how the alliance ought to function, as raised by the suspicion that North Korea was developing a nuclear weapons program and the resulting U.N. economic sanctions; third, the diverse protests against U.S. troops stationed in Japan that were triggered by the rape of an Okinawan girl by U.S. servicemen; and fourth, Chinese challenges to the alliance, particularly the strain in Sino-American relations caused by the issue of Taiwan and China's missile tests during the 1996 Taiwanese presidential election campaign, which caused the United States to dispatch an aircraft carrier to the region.  

These events were all part of the "redefining" process, a process which continues to this day and is likely to continue. Thus this book is only a chapter in an ongoing story. Nevertheless, the four cases, which study events that occurred in the mid-1990s, share a common theme that must be considered when contemplating the future of the U.S.-Japan alliance.  

To complete the unfinished task of redefinition, it is vital that both parties reflect on what has taken place, note where the "blind spot" in the relationship was, and identify what the problems are. I strongly believe that the U.S.-Japan alliance will continue to play a key role in maintaining stability and peace in the Asian-Pacific region as well as the world at large, and that the alliance is capable of providing a valuable framework for managing the future U.S.-Japan relationship.

Yet this is not to suggest that the existing alliance should be maintained in its current form, that its structure be set in concrete, or that it be encapsulated in a worn-out intellectual framework. Rather, the alliance must be rearranged to suit the new age, the mutually supportive roles of the two sides must be "redefined," and a framework must be created that will truly contribute to peace and stability in the 21st century.  

Initiatives from both sides for an active intellectual dialogue are indispensable to achieve such changes. No tradition of such dynamic, intellectual dialogue between Japan and the United States exists, such ideas or thoughts having been "contained" during the Cold War. Furthermore, discussions of the U.S.-Japan security alliance have been either excessively ideological or overly emotional, whether conducted in Japan or the United States. Very few journalistic works based on in-depth research have dealt with the dramatic story of U.S.-Japan security.  

Faced with this vacuum, I was determined to break free from the ideological, systemic, and psychological restraints and endeavor to distill the essence of the U.S.-Japan security alliance discourse.  

Luckily, the current era has worked to my advantage. We are now living in an age when security alliances can be discussed freely.  

In conducting my interviews, I paid careful attention to the many factors associated with each decision-making process and the reciprocity of those elements. Particular emphasis was placed on such elements as history, social psychology, political culture, and organizational theory.  

Fortunately the interviewees were not only cooperative; they were also highly appealing people. And many were devoted public servants.  

Another aim of this book was to remove the U.S.-Japan security alliance from a lofty stage where only "security pros" and "high priests" counted and to place it in an arena of free discussion where full participation from ordinary citizens was and could be expected. In other words, I wanted the issue to be taken down to a "civilian" level.  

The U.S.-Japan alliance is not widely understood by the public. A major motive behind the book was my own urge to present the unadorned truth of the alliance to both the American and Japanese publics. This urge stems from my firm conviction that the U.S.-Japan alliance, one of the most successful bilateral relationships in the post­World War II era, may well be relegated to the "used" shelf unless a common ground for intellectual dialogue and a shared understanding of the challenges to the alliance's "mission and role" are developed in both countries.  

While the use of the term "adrift" may strike some readers as overly "journalistic," that term, as is made clear in the book, was first used by U.S. security experts. Blessed with the keenest perceptions when it comes to U.S.-Japan security issues, these people came to feel that the alliance reached a critical moment during the mid-1990s. The term is merely an accurate reflection of their perception of that crisis. As I did my research, it became clear to me that the expression was not hyperbole, a sentiment I believe readers will come to share as they progress through the book.  

I did not want to write a case study merely for the sake of writing a case study. What I have attempted to do is to focus on the moves made by the individual players, in order to extract concrete stories based on their words, their eyewitness accounts, and their recollections. Facts are the most important component of the book, but I have woven in historical and psychological aspects to present a multidimensional story.  

I should note, however, that I did not begin with this approach. The interviewees not only told their stories in a very vivid fashion, but they also provided me with sharp psychological analyses of the other people involved. As my research continued, I increasingly felt the need to include these finer details in the main story. I also felt that this would aid readers in better understanding the material.  

During my research I met a number of government officials, not only from the United States and Japan, but also from Korea, China, and Taiwan. The names of these officials are given in the list of persons interviewed.  

I was able to interview some leaders, ministers, and other high-level officials on the record, but most would agree only to background interviews. Some of the Chinese and Taiwanese authorities did not wish even to be named on the interview list, and their names, of course, are therefore omitted. I am very grateful to all of these individuals who were so generous with their valuable time.  

This book was initially written in Japanese after I completed my assignment as head of the Asahi Shimbun American General Bureau. I am particularly grateful for the cooperation of the publisher and editor of the Asahi Shimbun, who provided me with an invaluable sabbatical. During this sabbatical, my news assistant, Ben Goldberg, devoted himself to the project. Fluent in Japanese, he was always efficient in preparing the much-needed documentation in both English and Japanese. I am very thankful for all his work and effort.  

This book was published in Japan in November 1997 by Iwanami Shoten under the title Domei Hyohryu. It was greeted with an unexpectedly positive response. In 1998, I was honored to receive the Shincho Arts and Sciences Award, one of the most prestigious prizes in Japan for a work in the humanities.  

I am also highly honored that the English version of the book will be published by the Council on Foreign Relations. I am especially grateful for all the encouragement I received from Leslie Gelb, president of the Council. The publication of the book by the Council is all the more personally significant because President Gelb is one of the most prominent experts on issues of diplomacy and international security.  

I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Larry Korb, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, for taking the lead in the actual publishing process and for providing indispensable assistance. I must also thank Professor Gary Hufbauer, formerly the Council's director of studies, who has been an ongoing source of intellectual stimulus since my time as a visiting fellow at the Institute for International Economics. I am very grateful and feel fortunate that he assumed a central role in publishing this book. Furthermore I benefited greatly from exceptional insights and support provided by Dr. Michael Green, Olin Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Mr. Akihisa Nagashima, the research associate for the Council's Asia Security Studies program.  

I received a generous grant for the English translation from the Global Foundation for Research and Scholarship (Tokyo) and the Nippon Foundation. The publication of Alliance Adrift in English is part of Project Alliance Tomorrow, a comparative study project on security alliances. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the Global Foundation for Research and Scholarship for its support. I am also deeply appreciative of the partial grant endowed by the Ito Scholarship Foundation.  

The translation was undertaken by Dr. Wendy Spinks, a professor at Josai International University in Japan. I am convinced that this book would not be here today were it not for her Herculean efforts, sharp insights, and prompt translation. I would like to express my most sincere gratitude for all her work, and I feel especially lucky that despite my missing many deadlines, her fuse was as slow as her work was quick.  

I am also grateful to Mr. Takahiro Suzuki, acting administrative director of the Research Division at the Global Foundation for Research and Scholarship, and Kori Urayama, my research assistant, for their unstinting support in aiding the translation process and fact-checking.  

Yoichi Funabashi May 1998