Permissible Arms

Nihonn go wo renshu suru hitsuyou ga arimasu.

Posted in japan, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 5 May 2010

I have to say, there’s some major cognitive dissonance going on for me between watching The Pacific and reading George Packard’s essay, The United States-Japan Security Treaty at 50.

It’s funny–the more I come to learn about World War II, the more I realize how distant it is from me. That is certainly in part due to my age, but also the sheer amount of cultural drift over sixty-five years. I can’t even really conceptualize the Japanese, or the Germans, as a potential enemy. All I think of is nifty gadgets and spending Christmas in Berlin.

I’ve been educating myself about WWII for several years now; you can’t stumble around Britain without hitting a WWI or WWII memorial, and I’ve spent plenty of time stumbling around Britain. But I can understand the political struggles, and have an academic understanding of the conflict, and still can never quite grasp the reality of the past.

Packard tackles the rapidly changing relationship between the United States and Japan. After the 1951 Treaty of Peace with Japan came into effect in 1952, Japan maintained a stable (if asymmetrical) relationship with the United States; that relationship was renegotiated into a more equitable relationship in 1960 with a newly inked treaty. That treaty has remained in effect to date, and largely the current unevenness–meaning, a reduction of US military presence in Japan–is due to unprecedented political shift from within the Diet.

One of the central themes of the Democratic Party of Japan’s rise to power was a promise to address concerns about American presence in Japan. This is a long-nurtured issue, borne of many things but certainly not helped by the rape incident on Okinawa in 1995. Prime Minister Hatoyama took office in September 2009, and nearly from the first week of the DPJ’s government he began to address the potential displacement of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

This has been ongoing for the last six months; heck, talk about moving Futenma has been going on since 2005.

PM Hatoyama clearly saw it as a show of power to readdress Japan’s relationship with the US, particularly the part that concerns national security. But the realities of changing the terms of a sixty-year old agreement are legion, both from a foreign policy standpoint with a long-time ally and internally from the now-opposition party, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the traditional divides of the Japanese (particularly the charged relationship of Okinawans to the rest of the country). The show of power has devolved somewhat.

The thrust of Packard’s analysis suggests a more reduced influence for the US, and a paternalistic pride in Japan’s thriving democracy.

The U.S. government should respect Japan’s desire to reduce the U.S. military presence on its territory, as it has respected the same desire on the part of Germany, South Korea, and the Philippines. It should be willing to renegotiate the agreement that governs the presence of U.S. troops in Japan, which to some is redolent of nineteenth-century assertions of extraterritoriality. It should be aware that, at the end of the day, Japanese voters will determine the future course of the alliance. Above all, U.S. negotiators should start with the premise that the security treaty with Japan, important as it is, is only part of a larger partnership between two of the world’s greatest democracies and economies. Washington stands to gain far more by working with Tokyo on the environment, health issues, human rights, the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, and counterterrorism.

In return for the removal of some U.S. troops and bases from its territory, the Japanese government should make far larger contributions to mutual security and global peace. It should explicitly state that it has the right to engage in operations of collective self-defense. Tokyo would be foolish to establish a community of East Asian nations without U.S. participation. It needs to work with Washington in the six-party talks on how to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The Japanese government should also stop protecting its uncompetitive agricultural sector and join in a free-trade agreement with the United States, an idea that has been kicking around for two decades and that the DPJ endorsed in its election manifesto.

Now, I think it’s more likely that the Obama administration would take a route similar to what Packard describes, more so than previous administrations, but that cedes a lot of military authority–especially given the nascent, if uncertain, threat of Chinese action. And it seems improbable that the US would actively change current foreign policy when it’s in a clearly more favorable position. But I find intriguing the idea that Japan might take a more active role in denuclearization and regional security measures. (There’s a lot to be said regarding Japan’s economy and market practices as well, but I am not as versed in that topic.)

As of this week, PM Hatoyama has walked back his earlier statements about Futenma, which suggests the larger difficulty of balancing external pressures from the US and the internal demands of his constituency. Packard’s end scenario seems rather further away:

Finally, in a grand symbolic gesture, President Obama and Prime Minister Hatoyama should visit Hiroshima together after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Japan next fall and should issue a resounding call to end the manufacture and spread of nuclear weapons, a cause close to the hearts of both men. Then, they should visit Pearl Harbor and declare that no such attack should ever be carried out again.

It’s certainly Obama-like in its idealism; but until Japan has more leverage in its own foreign policy and military-related choices, it seems more likely that Japan will stick with 50+ years of political tradition rather than venture forward standing without intimate support.

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