The Evolution of the US-Japan Alliance

Prof. Shunji Yanai

Lecture 2004-10-27

On a beautiful autumn day, members and guests assembled at the American ambassador's residence for one of the key events of the year, which was hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Howard Baker. Our speaker, Prof. Shunji Yanai, formerly Japanese ambassador to Washington and now a professor at Chuo University, was accompanied by Mrs. Toshiko Yanai and Mrs. Emiko Matsuzaki, mother-in-law of Mr. Shinzo Abe. Other notable persons present were Mrs. Michèle Pranchère-Tomassini, the ambassador of Luxembourg, and her husband, Dr. Pranchère; and Mrs. Carol Smith-Wright, wife of the Canadian ambassador. Our Patron, H.I.H. Princess Takamado, was unfortunately able to attend, but the former Indian ambassador Mr. Aftab Seth had come as her guest; her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Tottori, were also present. We were also happy to have with us our senior member, Fr. Neal Lawrence, accompanied by Fr. Thomas Wahl, the Prior of his community. Ambassador Baker, looking very fit after his recent surgery, spoke some words of welcome, to which our president responded, and then Council member Mrs. Hisami Kurokochi, herself a former ambassador to Finland, introduced the speaker.

Prof. Yanai had taken as his subject "The Evolution of the Japan-U.S. Alliance" and he divided it into five aspects, the first being "The Security Environment of Northeast Asia". The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, with some of the eastern European countries subsequently joining NATO and the EU, spelt the end of the cold war in Europe. However, in northeast Asia the legacy of the cold war remained, namely in the division of the Korean Peninsula and the confrontation between China and Taiwan. Furthermore, the area is threatened by international terrorism carried on by non-state actors, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In addition, North Korea had violated the 1994 Framework Agreement with the United States, and has resumed the processing of spent fuel to produce plutonium, and is suspected of enriching uranium to weapons grade. In the light of this situation the Japan-U.S. Alliance serves as the cornerstone of peace and security in the region.

Prof. Yanai spoke next of "The Strengthening of the Japan-U.S. Alliance". With the end of the cold war, leftists in Japan held the view that the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, signed in 1951 and entirely revised in 1960, had become obsolete. But majority opinion in the country held that the Security Treaty would continue to play a vital role in the maintenance of peace and security in northeast Asia, a view shared by the U.s., and the two sides agreed that the alliance should be strengthened. This, Prof. Yanai felt, had been achieved in two ways. First, the two governments had implemented the Security Treaty through such measures as the Joint Declaration on Security and the New Defense Guidelines. Second, the alliance had been strengthened by external events such as the September 11 attacks and the war in Iraq. On September 25, 2001, Prime Minister Koizumi had flown to Washington and promised President Bush political support for the fight against terrorism. The government's proposed anti-terrorist programme included the tightening of immigration procedures and the dispatch of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Forces to the Indian Ocean. As a result, Japanese naval ships are even now providing the United States, United Kingdom and other coalition forces with fuel and other supplies.

In the case of the war in Iraq, Mr. Koizumi had likewise supported the United States in its use of force. Though the use of force had not been clearly justified under the terms of the U.N. Charter, the majority of Japanese approved of this move, one opinion poll showing 70% of the respondents in favour of removing Saddam Hussein. The government's position was that it could not overlook the possibility of the development of WMD in Iraq, in view of the North Korean nuclear development programme, and this explanation seems to have convinced public opinion. In a further move, Self-Defence Force troops had been sent to southern Iraq to provide humanitarian and reconstruction assistance. Another external factor calling for the strengthening of the alliance was the threat posed by North Korea, which Prof. Yanai felt was more serious today than in the early 1990s.

Prof. Yanai's third heading was "Changes in the Political Climate in Japan on Security Issues". The end of the cold war had put an end to the excessively ideological debate on security issues between the Liberal Democratic Party on the one hand, and the Socialist Party and the Communist Party on the other, which had made it impossible for the political parties to conduct substantive debate in the Diet. The situation had improved after Mr. Tomiichi Murayama, the Socialist Prime Minister of the coalition government, had declared that he supported the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and considered the Self-Defence Forces constitutional.

In addition, there had been four stages in the growth of public awareness of the need to contribute more actively to the maintenance of international peace and security. Initially in 1990 the government's attempts to send Self Defence Force detachments to the Gulf area had been defeated by strong opposition in the Diet; in the end Japan had merely made a financial contribution of US$13 billion, and had been criticized by many countries for not doing enough to restore peace. Then in 1992 the Diet passed the International Peace Cooperation Law, which enabled Japan to participate in U.N. peace-keeping operations (PKO) by sending peacekeepers including Self Defence Force troops. Under this law Japan had participated in PKOs in Cambodia, Mozambique, the Golan Heights and East Timor, and JSDF troops had provided humanitarian relief to Rwandan refugees in the Congo. Since 2001 ships from the Maritime SDF have been dispatched to the Indian Ocean to provide logistical support in the fight against terrorism, and now JSDF troops are in Iraq providing humanitarian aid and reconstruction support.

The next aspect was "September 11 and the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Japan-U.S. Alliance". On September 8, 2001, many Americans and Japanese gathered in San Francisco to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Peace Treaty and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, and the participants agreed that the Japan-U.S. alliance had contributed to the maintenance of peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region, and should be strengthened. Three days later, the September 11 attacks occurred. These attacks put the alliance to the test, and it had come through successfully. As Prof. Yanai had already outlined, Mr. Koizumi assured President Bush of Japan's support. A new law concerning special measures to deal with terrorism was enacted in the autumn of 2001, and Japanese naval ships began their operations in the Indian Ocean.

Every year since 1994, the U.S.-Japan Link, an NPO which of which Prof. Yanai was a board member, had been conducting a "Welcome Marine Program", in which U.S. marines and officers from other services stationed in Okinawa had been given opportunities to learn more about Japan; this programme was intended as an expression of gratitude for the contribution made by U.S. servicemen and women in Okinawa towards the security of Japan and stability in northeast Asia. In 2002, President Bush had sent his personal greetings to the Seventh Annual Welcome Marine Program.

The last item was "The Council on Security and Defense Capabilities Report". This Council, established by Prime Minister Koizumi, had consisted of ten people from varying fields, of which Prof Yanai himself had been one. The government had planned to adopt a new National Defence Program Outline intended to reflect the changes in the global security environment which had taken place since the current NDPO had been adopted in 1995. On October 4, just a few days before our meeting, the Council had presented its report, with a sub-title "Japan's Vision for Future Security and Defense Capabilities", and Prof. Yanai now listed the salient points of the report.

First, Japan faces the possibility of various conflicts ranging from terrorist attacks at one extreme to traditional warfare at the other. A security problem uniquely facing Japan because of its location in northeast Asia was the fact that two nuclear powers, Russia and China, continued to exist, and North Korea had not abandoned its ambition of developing nuclear weapons.

Next, it was recommended that Japan should adopt an Integrated Security Strategy, with the two major goals of preventing a direct threat from reaching Japan and reducing the chances of such threats in other parts of the world reaching Japan or affecting Japan's interests overseas. To achieve these goals, what was needed was Japan's own efforts, cooperation with an alliance partner, and cooperation with the international community.

As far as the defence of Japan was concerned, the risk of a full-scale invasion by a foreign state had greatly receded since the end of the cold war. The more serious problem was the threat of attack by terrorists and other non-state actors. Responding to this required the collective efforts of the whole country.

The Japan-U.S. alliance should be strengthened not only for the defence of Japan but also for the improvement of the international security environment. We should strive to clarify the roles of the two countries and heighten cooperation through closer strategic dialogue between them.

In the context of the Integrated Security Strategy, the Self-Defence Force should become a Multi-Functional Flexible Defence Force. It had to fulfil a number of different functions, such as protecting Japan from threats from foreign states or terrorists, and engaging in peacekeeping operations and other international efforts to maintain peace. Two factors had to be taken into consideration here: the dwindling birthrate and the distressed financial condition of the government.

A further urgent requirement was the strengthening of intelligence capabilities, so that information could be gathered and analysed in time to identify potential threats and and prevent them from turning into real dangers.

Decision-making in a contingency should be executed under the Prime Minister's leadership. A special scheme was needed to allow for prompt and accurate responses to emergency situations such as ballistic missile attacks.

The government should reassess the ban on arms exports that had been in effect since the mid-1970s. This was necessary in order to participate in international joint development projects such as the technological research on ballistic missile defence currently engaged in jointly with the U.S. If this advanced to joint development and production, it would be necessary to ease the ban on arms control.

Finally, the Council noted that in discussions pertaining to national security the issue of the Constitution had been debated on numerous occasions, although this had not come within the terms of reference of the Council. In an addendum it stated that while it was hoped that constructive policy discussions would be furthered, and a consensus reached among the citizens, it was also desirable that the issues should be debated from a broad range of perspectives.

Prof. Yanai concluded his presentation here, and Mrs. Baker rose to her feet spontaneously to offer thanks on behalf of the Society. She began by taking her cue from the humorous remarks Prof. Yanai had begun with; he had said that his wife had complained that he was taking more time over his talk for the Society than in talking to her, and he had replied, "They will listen to me." Mrs. Baker said she herself had urged her husband to have his hearing examined; the doctor's verdict was that there was nothing wrong with his hearing -- the only person he didn't hear was his wife! On a more serious note she thanked Prof. Yanai for the statesmanship he had brought to these complex issues, which have no easy answers. Summarizing a 35-page report as Prof. Yanai had done was not easy! All valued the strength of the Japan-U.S. alliance and what it had meant over the last 50 years. There was also a continued need for the ears and eyes of the diplomatic world, which could not be overtaken or replaced by technology. The only way to achieve success was to continue to communicate realistically and to be open to the support what we could give each other.

It had in fact been intended that there should be some free time for questions before Mrs. Baker's vote of thanks, and time was now devoted to this. To a question of how the U.S. could help against the missiles of North Korea, Prof. Yanai said that Kim Jong-Il was a "smart madman". Japan needed to be able to make quick decisions on missile defence. He welcomed the strengthening of the 7th fleet with Aegis-class ships.

A second question was: Is an amendment of the Constitution required to widen SDF powers? Prof. Yanai said the Council had felt that the SDF could engage in peacekeeping operations within the present Constitution and even within the conventional interpretation of Article 9; but combat forces could not be sent. To go beyond logistical support, it would be necessary to change the interpretation or even to change the Constitution. Up until 1990 it had been impossible to review the Constitution; it was politically taboo. This taboo had been removed after the Gulf War, and the Council had proposed a constructive debate. The Japanese people had the right to amend the Constitution, within the context of defending the country. The essential point was to know what was required to defend the country; if this was not adequately expressed in the Constitution, its interpretation should be changed. But the issue was not only a matter of law.

In reply to a comment that some of Japan's neighbours see the U.S. presence as protecting them, not Japan, Prof. Yanai said that possible realignments should be discussed, but the basic framework of the Security Treaty should not be changed, though its implementation could be improved. One option was to go it alone in defending ourselves. Another was to cooperate with the U.S., in which case we should adjust to the changes in the security environment. Having no arms at all was not possible. Finally, on the Taiwan question, Prof. Yanai felt that this could remain an internal Chinese matter as long as it could be resolved peacefully. An armed conflict in the Taiwan Strait would affect Japan's security, and he hoped the problem could be solved by dialogue on both sides of the Strait.

In conclusion Mrs. Baker invited us all to repair to the dining room for coffee, tea and dessert.