The issue of the future of U.S.-Japan security ties is an extremely timely one. Events such as the rape incident in Okinawa and massive public demonstrations in Japan against the U.S. troop presence call into question the long-term stability of the alliance between the two nations. This study group is undertaking an investigation into U.S.-Japanese relations with the premise that the United States urgently needs to reexamine current assumptions about this "immutable" relationship.
The study group is cochaired by Harold Brown of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Richard Armitage of Armitage Associates. Its primary mission is to examine what combination of external threats and internal politics could result in major changes in the security relationship. The group's second task is to evaluate how Japan's current political system will cope with the responsibilities and risks of playing an independent security role. The third task is to examine the consequences for U.S. policy of changes in the security relationship with Japan, as well as the emergence of Japan as an independent actor in security affairs. The group's fourth task is to suggest what modifications, if any, could be made in the overall U.S.-Japan security relationship to make it more durable in the face of adversity.
The study group is composed of two dozen U.S. policymakers, opinion leaders, and business executives drawn from the security community, the diplomatic corps, Asian and business specialists, Capitol Hill, academia, and the private sector. There is also participation by Japanese policymakers and academics from Japan's security, business, and diplomatic communities.
Each of the four sessions focuses on a commissioned paper. The final output will be a book incorporating some or all of the revised session papers. In addition, Yoichi Funabashi, the Washington bureau chief of the Asahi Shimbun and a study group participant, will write a book on U.S.-Japan security relations to be published by the Council.
The opinions expressed herein are solely the views of the author. The Council takes no institutional position on policy issues and has no affiliation with the United States government.
This paper is not to be reproduced, quoted, or cited, without the permission of both the Council's Director of Studies and the author.
The starting point for examining the American domestic fault lines that could substantially erode or derail the U.S-Japan alliance is to place the issue in the larger context of U.S. foreign policy and its place in the universe of public policy, where domestic concerns have taken center stage. The radically diminished position of foreign policy in American public life was evident during the 1996 presidential election campaign--it all but fell off the nation's radar screen. Both the sense of mission and of menace--indeed, the Manichean world which animated American international behavior-- is no more. Absent the unifying sense of purpose furnished by the Cold War, domestic concerns dominate public discourse and weigh more heavily in the shaping of foreign policy. It is symbolic that one of the few foreign affairs questions that arose during the presidential debates was about trade with Japan.
Absent the existential threat from the Soviet Union, there is a troubling inattention to foreign affairs, until, of course, a crisis erupts. Despite a general sense of disinterest, however, there is a residual sense of pride and responsibility from the postwar experience that sustains support for the idea of American leadership, and certainly for doing "our fair share" in world affairs. But probably the most prevalent public perception of the impact of the world on U.S. interests is a sense of personal insecurity, whether warranted or not, about the unpredictability of the new global economy.
It is against that backdrop that American attitudes toward Japan must be viewed. This paper explores endogenous forces in the United States that, in response to exogenous factors and/or internal developments, could unravel the U.S.-Japan alliance. However legitimate and accurate the depiction of the alliance as a bulwark of regional stability or that fears of uncertainty may be, they lack the compelling and universal raison d'etre for the U.S.-Japan alliance in the public mind that the Soviet threat provided. This is evidenced on the U.S. side by a more one-dimensional focus on trade issues at the official level during the first two years of the Clinton administration. In Japan, the new focus is manifested in the rising saliency of concerns about the social costs of the U.S. military presence (e.g., the controversy over Marines in Okinawa).
The U.S. image of Japan, deserved or not, is that of a free rider or unfair trader. This, of course, plays out against the more textured and ambiguous reality of some $60 billion in annual American exports absorbed by Japan; Japan as treasury bond holder, financing U.S. consumption habits; ubiquitous Japanese investment in the United States creating thousands of jobs; and the desire of American consumers for competitively priced, quality Japanese consumer goods.
No doubt, the reality of nearly two decades of persistent U.S. annual trade deficits with Japan plays a role in shaping perceptions of Japan. But the media onslaught of the 1980s, dating roughly from the September 1986 Plaza accord to the flattening of Japan's economy (1986-92), cannot be dismissed as a factor shaping both popular and elite views of Japan, any more than can the television images of the lone student facing tanks in Tiananmen Square in regard to images of China be dismissed.
Indeed, from the mid-1980s until its slide into stagnation in the early 1990s, Japan was considered by many the measure of U.S. economic success or failure. "The United States," Congresswomen Helen Bentley was quoted as saying in a 1990 Fortune article, "is rapidly becoming a colony of Japan." A cursory glance back at the cover stories of major periodicals during that period is instructive: "Japan's Clout in the U.S." (Business Week, 1988); "Where Will Japan Strike Next" (Fortune, 1989); "Japan Invades Hollywood" (Newsweek, 1989); "Containing Japan" (Atlantic, 1989); "Yen For Power" (The New Republic, 1990). One could retrieve from the television network archives a wealth of stories about the ominous nouveau riche Japanese gobbling up real estate or whole industries that similarly captured the mood. Then there was the stream of books, some thoughtful and some simplistic "revisionist" analyses of Japan, along with a spate of hysterical agitation-propaganda: The Coming War With Japan, by neophyte academics and Michael Crichton's Rising Sun, the pulp novel and movie, already appear to be period pieces.
Such imagery dovetailed with emerging post-Cold War political currents, in particular what can be dubbed the new nationalists, challenging the postwar free trade consensus. Thus, we have seen improbable left-right coalitions including such diverse political figures as Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader, and Jesse Jackson. (Because China has supplanted Japan as an object of American concern--not least as a result of a rising trade deficit already at $39 billion--this coalition redirected itself toward China and expanded to include conservative Christian groups.) The new "economic nationalists" see globalization as a threat to American living standards and vehemently oppose such trade-expanding treaties as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Some further argue that economic concerns should replace political and military national security at the center of U.S. diplomacy, and tend toward either neoisolationism or a minimalist definition of national interests. At the other end of the spectrum, free market advocates argue that the "revisionist" view of Japan has been proven wrong, and that the Japanese economy is changing and becoming more like that of the United States.
Post-Cold War U.S.-Japan Alliance
It is worth noting that these political currents of economic nationalism and geopolitical minimalism have occurred not at a time of recession, high unemployment, or major losses in foreign military interventions, but amidst a buoyant economy of low employment, steady growth, and no inflation, and an absence of major American political or military setbacks overseas. At the same time, however, five years of near-zero economic growth, natural disasters, financial crisis, and scandals in Japan--not to mention massive losses in controversial U.S. investments--removed the specter in the public mind of a Japan ten feet tall. Moreover, the ascendance of China, as a political-military challenger and. Particularly, in the economic realm, has resulted in Beijing displacing Tokyo as the paramount Asian "threat" or rival in the public mind.
To suggest that the imagery and economic concerns about Japan are flawed or overblown is not to suggest that Japan should be disregarded. In 1996-97, Japan began to resume economic growth of a magnitude, that is the two to four percent one might expect from a mature economy. The point is that Japan is neither ten feet tall nor irrelevant. Rather, it is a healthy six footer and in many sectors remains an important economic competitor, albeit one far less ominous than the post-Plaza imagery would suggest.
The net effect of all these economic and political currents is that Japan generally receded from American public consciousness. Trade issues, such as autos or insurance occasionally flare up, but as discreet trade disputes. While the firewall between the economic and security relationship is long gone, there has been a discernible absence of "Japan-bashing" fervor surrounding trade disputes. Since the Nye initiative restored the balance between the three pillars of the relationship (economic, political, security) there has been little public focus or pressure on the U.S. force presence in or commitment to Japan.
What is the explanation? First, the combination of Japan's flat economy and array of internal calamities and problems has altered its image. The preoccupation with, and contrast to, a nondemocratic China has also helped displace attention on Japan. Moreover, Japan helped insulate itself from congressional criticism by becoming a model ally with regard to burden-sharing (covering 73 percent of nonsalary costs of U.S. troops in Japan). The persistent series of crises surrounding the North Korean nuclear weapons program also served to underscore the case that the U.S.-Japan alliance is key to stability in a dangerous East Asia. Finally, there is a lack of crisis--no American equivalent of the Okinawa rape--and bureaucratic inertia, which tends to perpetuate the status quo. In the absence of a crisis, the force of inertia maintains the security alliance free of undue political pressure.
The April 1996 Clinton-Hashimoto summit served to ratify all these factors for stability in the U.S.-Japan security alliance. But the summit went beyond reaffirming the status quo. It pointed Japan in the direction of assuming more direct responsibility for the security relationship. Moreover, it fueled the debate inside Japan about becoming a "more normal nation." As we saw in the 1990s, however, change in Japan--whether economic, political, or in regard to security--tends to be a gradual, tortuous process. Over the coming decade, the degree to which Japan acts to make the alliance less asymmetrical and demonstrably exercises a greater sense of stewardship over the international economic and political system will affect U.S. public support for the U.S.-Japan security alliance.
Agents of Change: Three Archetype Scenarios
Several possibilities could lead Washington to fundamentally rethink the current U.S-Japan relationship. Previous papers for this group concentrated on exogenous events and/or pressures that could unravel the alliance. This paper explores three archetype scenarios focusing on endogenous changes in the United States that could unravel the alliance. The first revolves around both Japanese behavior concerning military contingencies in Korea, Taiwan, or extraregional (e.g., Persian Gulf) and how it might spark American reactions affecting the alliance. The second type of scenario involves economic nationalist developments that might lead the United States to withdraw from or radically reduce its role in the alliance. Finally, the third type of scenario, and perhaps the more probable of the three, is that of gradual estrangement.
I. Military Scenarios
1. Korea: The Korea predicament is the most likely source of major military conflict in East Asia that would almost certainly involve the United States. Given the degradation of the North Korean military resulting from North Korea's general economic decline, a full North Korean invasion/occupation scenario is increasingly unlikely. The risk of a North Korean use of force as coercive diplomacy, however, is a conceivable, and perhaps the most likely military-related "hard landing" scenario.
In such a case, Pyongyang, facing imminent collapse and absorption by South Korea, might, for example, escalate tensions and in a calibrated manner, fire artillery and/or Scud missiles into the outskirts of Seoul. Using a backchannel the North might then contact the Blue House and seek to mitigate the terms of unification through blackmail. One problem, of course, is that such military engagement is extremely difficult to micromanage, and is subject to escalating uncontrollably through response-miscalculation.
There are in this scenario two interrelated exogenous factors with the potential to alter U.S. internal dynamics affecting not only the U.S.-Japan alliance, but the entire U.S. forward-based presence in the East Asia. Obviously, if this military conflict resulted in significant American casualties and Japan provided anything less than full rear-base support, the security treaty would be at serious risk. But even if Japan did cooperate in supporting a U.S.-R.O.K. (Republic of Korea or South Korea) military effort, a conflict resulting in Korean reunification involving large numbers of American casualties could spark a reassessment of the U.S. forward-deployed posture in East Asia.
One can imagine media frenzy amplifying public and congressional outcry in the event of a military fiasco--Somalia, writ large. Basic questions would be raised such as, "Why are we out there now?" With the North Korean threat vanished, and the cost of a U.S. security umbrella in blood as well as treasure more apparent, pressure would build to pull out of Japan. Such pressures on overseas deployments had mounted as the Bush administration took office in 1989, prior to the Pentagon's first East Asia Strategy Initiative in 1990, which began to articulate a post-Cold War rationale for maintaining U.S. forces in the Pacific, albeit with modest adjustments.
Moreover, in a fiscal environment, with an imperative of balancing the budget, a major military mishap and/or loss of life could spur a tsunami of "Come Home America" sentiment, and cutbacks overseas. Such a scenario could easily gain a critical mass of public/congressional support, particularly if the domestic economic situation were one of recession and unemployment at levels of 8 percent or more. In such a milieu, the combination of resentment toward a perceived unfair economic actor and the absence of a compelling rationale could rapidly undermine the U.S.-Japan security alliance.
2. Taiwan: The March 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis was a harbinger of what impact a military conflict with China over Taiwan might have on the U.S. posture in the Pacific. Tokyo was the only government in the region to publicly indicate support for the U.S. response of positioning two aircraft carrier battle groups in the East China Sea adjacent to the Chinese military exercises and missile firings in the Taiwan Strait.
Taking the scenario a step further, one can envision a Chinese naval blockade and/or attack on Taiwan in the event of a formal declaration of independence. Unlike the case of Korea, such a conflict would not involve a treaty ally per se. Nonetheless, dynamics similar to those in the Korea scenario might occur. A Japanese failure to actively cooperate and/or large numbers of American casualties could result in a media/public/ congressional outcry, which pulls the United States out of its East Asian political-military posture.
3. Extra-regional: The final external development with the potential to decisively alter the U.S.-Japan security alliance is a military conflict outside the Pacific theater in which Japan fails to support American action. U.S. public attitudes towards Japan in the aftermath of the Gulf War--despite Japan's eventual contributions of $13 billion and the deployment of minesweepers to the Gulf--are instructive.
Recall that Japan's initial response was lukewarm. A Harris poll taken in March 1991 asked Americans if, given Japan's dependence on Middle East oil, was its contribution to Desert Storm sufficient. Only 22 percent said Japan contributed sufficiently; 73 percent said no. The same poll found that 56 percent felt more negatively about Japan as a result of its stance in the Gulf War; 68 percent said the United States should take a tougher line on trade issues; and 72 percent said the economic threat from Japan was more serious to the future of the United States than the military threat from the Soviet Union.
The most likely place for such a conflict is the Persian Gulf. A war scenario could evolve through accident or design; for example, by Iran engaging in acts that precipitate a large-scale U.S. military response. A Japanese failure to allow use of bases in Japan, a failure to join any U.S.-led coalition, or Japan's active neutrality could precipitate a domestic U.S. response questioning the security treaty. As in the Korea scenario discussed earlier, if the United States incurs substantial numbers of casualties, American attitudes toward a Japan that did not act as a coalition partner could easily lead to a precipitous schism in the alliance.
In all three of these scenarios, a sense that Japan is an unfair economic player, combined with developments in Japan that are viewed as unfavorable to U.S. interests (discussed next), occurring simultaneously with the military scenarios, would compound the U.S. response. Republican deficit hawks and Democratic defense doves, irate free traders and nationalistic managed traders might coalesce into a powerful force for retrenchment.
II. Economic Nationalist Scenarios
It is more difficult to conceive of economic developments--either internally generated or in combination with developments in Japan--with sufficient probability to cause a precipitous unraveling of the alliance. Thus, as a practical matter, I distinguish scenarios in this category from those under the rubric of gradual estrangement by designating a time frame of one to four years before economic developments would lead to qualitative changes in the political-military relationship. Because in the real world, economic events do not occur in a vacuum, I weave in some political developments.
In one economic scenario, the yen continues weakening or remains in the 120 to 130 yen/dollar range. The U.S trade deficit with Japan balloons toward $70 billion or above. The U.S. economy goes into a recession. Unemployment swells to 8.5 percent. The growth rates of other Pacific Rim economies also cool: China drops to five percent, Korea and Taiwan to three percent, the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) states to four percent. The overall U.S. trade deficit with East Asia grows to unprecedented proportions. At the same time, the United States is running a small, but steady surplus with the European Union.
Stories of Japanese automakers and manufacturers of computer and other electronic consumer goods all lowering prices to recapture market share appear with frequency in the American press. At the same time, China closely cooperates in managing a "soft landing" and gradual reunification process in Korea, and after increased Uighur uprisings in Xinjiang province (where Iran has backed Hezbollah guerrillas), halts arms sales to and nuclear cooperation with Iran. These developments facilitate a stable, if modestly improved U.S.-China relationship. The drumbeat of "China as New Evil Empire" subsides.
By the second year of these persistent trends, Japan skillfully uses the World Trade Organization (WTO) and wins several WTO decisions. Pressure builds to use Super 301provisions and to take other unilateral steps. Year two is also an election year, and elements of both the Bonior-Gephart wings of the Democratic Party, the Buchanan wing of the Republican Party, and the Reform Party, all make a "get tough with Japan" posture a staple of their respective campaigns. Congressional legislation is introduced to withdraw U.S. forces from Japan and receives wide support.
One variation on this scenario is that a slide in the Nikkei triggers a banking crisis in Japan that in turn triggers a rapid downturn in American financial markets. Such a prospect would accelerate the type of scenario discussed above, with "blame Japan" sentiment reconfiguring American political alignments concerning the terms of the entire relationship with Japan. In this case, the constellation of liberal internationalist forces in the financial community, in national security bureaucracy, and in the Congress might fragment, tipping the balance to the new nationalists.
III. Gradual Estrangement
Of all the scenarios that could cause a rupture in the U.S.-Japan security alliance, that of gradual estrangement is the most probable and the least perceptible. It is a course that could grow out of existing political, economic, and military trends and/or tendencies in both countries. Before examining trends on the American side, it is necessary to survey those in Japan that would fuel the American "gradual estrangement" posture.
This scenario begins with a more independent-minded and self-directed Japan. One does not have to look to radical nationalists to see some measure of this political current. It is evident not only in the more extreme "A Japan That Can Say No" mindset, but implicit in some measure in the Ozawa notion of Japan as "a normal country." It is discernable in technonationalist attitudes displayed in MITI and Keidanren concerning sharing defense or dual-use technology with the United States. There is the continuing "Is Japan part of Asia or the West " debate among Japanese intellectuals. This view tends to dovetail with similar attitudes in Japan's business community, and is manifest in Japan's protracted pondering of Malaysian President Mohammed Mahatir's idea for an East Asian Economic Group that would exclude non-Asian Pacific Rim actors.
A brief overview of Japan's growing economic involvement in East Asia--in both relative and absolute terms--suggests a potential material basis of a new Asianist posture. In the 12 years since the Plaza accord, Japan's foreign direct investments have been heavily weighted towards East Asia. In 1994, Japanese investment in East Asia surpassed that in the United States; in 1993, its two-way trade with East Asia exceeded that with the United States for the first time. East Asia has become a larger market for Japanese manufacturers than the United States. In 1995, Japan ran a $71 billion surplus with East Asia.
This is not to mitigate the importance to Japan of more than $25 billion in direct investment in the United States, a $160 billion two-way trade relationship with the United States, hundreds of technology link-ups with U.S. firms, or Japan's substantial portfolio and Treasury market investments in the United States. But the pull of Asia on Japan is unquestionably substantial and growing.
At the political level there are differences more in style and tactics than in objectives, which could, nonetheless, fuel U.S. resentment or nationalistic tendencies. Japan is far more cautious toward Taiwan. For example, although Lee Teng-hui is an alumnus of Kyoto University, Tokyo refused to grant him a visa. Japan has suspended, but not canceled, a large hydroelectric dam loan to Iran, with whom Japan maintains normal trade relations. Another such tactical difference is over how to respond to China's treatment of Hong Kong as China and Hong Kong become more "one country" than "two systems," as the prospect of repealing Hong Kong's bill of rights and other underpinnings of Hong Kong's way of life suggest.
Concerning military affairs, Japan has gradually moved toward a more autonomous defense industrial base. With its H-2 rockets, Japan is moving toward an independent reconnaissance capability. Given the billboard attention the Republican Congress is giving to missile defense, a decision by Tokyo not to codevelop the Navy Upper Tier missile defense system, or does not purchase or coproduce the Lower Tier theater system under license, could have a negative political impact in Congress as well as affect interoperability. Indeed, the missile defense issue holds the possibility of sparking an epiphany about the security treaty in the United States in both parties as an emblem of a more independent, nationalistic Japan.
Such trends have counterparts on the American side, some independent of any Japanese behavior (but which would be accelerated by nationalistic trends in Japan). Politically, there is a tendency toward emphasizing the Western Hemisphere and transatlantic ties as paramount American foreign policy concerns, although rhetorically reiterating the centrality of Asia. Clearly, the administration will put more high-level focus on Europe--managing the Bosnia problem, NATO expansion, defining ties with Russia--over the coming three years than it is likely to place on East Asia (unless North Korea either implodes or launches military aggression).
Similarly, to the degree that there is any inclination to expand or initiate free trade agreements, interest is gravitating towards Chilean accession to North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and to expanding transatlantic trade, while APEC (Asia -Pacific Economic Cooperation) has begun to meander concerning realizing concrete market-opening measures. Moreover, though U.S. trade and investment in East Asia continues to grow significantly in absolute terms, in relative terms, the U.S. share of that trade and investment is diminishing as East Asia's economic growth and parallel expansion of intra-Asian trade and investment forge ahead at a far more rapid pace. Furthermore, as Japan's economy has stagnated, a tendency has developed among American firms to bypass the Japanese market for the faster growing emerging markets of China and Southeast Asia.
There may also be cultural predilections raising the comfort level of a renewed transatlantic partnership. For example, in his book The Clash of Civilizations, prominent Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington recommends bolstering ties among Western Christian civilization, while minimizing intervention in non-Western civilizations. In the case of East Asia, Huntington suggests that China's objective is to recreate a 21st century tributary system. He further suggests that Japan and other actors in the region will gravitate towards such an arrangement, and that the United States would be advised to accept such a future.
Whether or not the United States moves in the direction of greater Atlanticism at the expense of its web of relationships in the Pacific, the tendency toward political and economic nationalism in the body politic has not subsided. An economic downturn would likely raise nationalism's visibility in the form of protectionist legislation in Congress and increased receptivity to such views in state, regional, and national elections.
Similarly, efforts to balance the budget, in tandem with other trends discussed earlier, could turn congressional attention to reducing the defense budget and to the U.S. force posture in Japan, independent of events in the Pacific. In the event of a recession, such inclinations could be more pronounced, particularly if the ambiguous character of the East Asian security environment (e.g., Korean reunification or positive relations with a more cooperative China) became demonstrably less ambiguous.
There is also a less tangible issue that could be a factor in a gradual estrangement scenario. It has become increasingly clear that as we grope our way toward an international system capable of managing contemporary problems, there is no substitute for American leadership. If Japan is widely viewed in the United States as not exercising a larger sense of responsibility for stewardship over the international system, such a perception may, in an amorphous way, contribute to an American perception that the alliance is unfair and should be reconsidered.
All the foregoing scenarios are exercises in imagining the possible. It is always difficult to assign probability to such scenarios. Nor are any of the scenarios necessarily probable or even likely. But it is difficult to avoid sensing that of the possibilities outlined, in relative terms, that of a gradual estrangement appears most likely. One problem is that there will inevitably be areas of difference among allies and friends. No two countries' national interests are likely to be identical. Differentiating between tolerable differences and directions leading to a gradual political distancing may be a difficult task. The health of alliances is best assured when there is a critical mass of common interest and values that can absorb the shock of differences. The idea of a new, more symmetrical bargain between the United States and Japan may be the manner in which the world's two largest economies retool their relationship for a new era.