Is Futenma Really the Litmus Test for Commitment to the Alliance?

Last year’s change of government has lowered the hurdle for shifting the directions of Japan's foreign policy for the first time in half a century. But th should not be seen as a cr for the Japan-US alliance but rather as an opportunity to reaffirm support for it. not a critical concern, since the two countries share the perception that sustaining the alliance requires alleviating Okinawa’s heavy burden.

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The Hatoyama Admintration's vacillation over the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station has given re to the suspicion among concerned circles in Japan and the United States that, unlike the previous LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) governments, th admintration setting out to lessen its commitment to the Japan-U.S. alliance. Th reading far too much into the admintration's intention. It seems unlikely that the Hatoyama Admintration contemplating such a serious and fundamental shift in foreign policy. Nor would it be in keeping with the wh of the people.

For over half a century, with short-lived exceptions, there has not been a real debate in Japan over fundamental foreign policy choices, due in part to the continuation of LDP governments. The last full-fledged debate was the nationally divive one on "Overall Peace" versus "Separate Peace" regarding the peace settlement with the Allied Powers of the World War II, i.e., whether to seek peace with all the Allied Powers including the Communt Bloc led by the Soviet Union or to conclude a peace treaty with only the Free World led by the United States. At the San Francco Peace Conference in 1951, Japan chose to conclude a separate peace treaty with the Free World as well as to enter into an alliance with the United States. As the Right and Left wings of the Japan Socialt Party joined forces to oppose the peace treaty, the two conservatives parties of the time rallied together to form the Liberal Democratic Party in 1955.

In view of th htory, one may well be tempted to think that the deme of the LDP rule may presage the deme of the commitment to the Japan-U.S. alliance. But the Hatoyama Admintration really engaged in such a fundamental rethinking of foreign policy priorities? it really bent on reducing its dependence on the United States, diluting the Japan-U.S. alliance and replacing it with some multilateral framework represented by the idea of an East Asian Community? In fact, such an option had not been presented at all in the course of the general election last summer, nor would it be likely to gain much sympathy given the high degree of support for the Japan-U.S. alliance in public opinion polls.

It true that the first full-scale change of government in half a century has lowered the hurdle for changing the directions of Japan's foreign policy. However, it would be too one-sided to see th as a "cr" for the Japan-U.S. alliance. Rather, if the people's support for the alliance can be reaffirmed, it may even make it easier to bring into reality some ideas that have so far been considered "taboo" politically, such as changing the interpretation of the Article 9 of the Constitution.

It not easy to obtain consensus on foreign policy sues. For example, the Obama Admintration finds itself in a quandary regarding Afghantan. It because the United States dpatched troops to th region where restoration of security and governance are hard to come by, and has involved itself in the difficult task of nation building, for which there no short-term answer. President George W. Bush, who first dpatched troops to Afghantan, was saying in the course of the presidential election debate in 2000 that the United States would not involve itself in nation building anywhere in the world, which could sap its own energy. However, the terrort attacks of 11 September 2001 drastically changed the mindset, and it has been believed since that it vital, ultimately for the United States' own security, not to allow Afghantan to become a hotbed for terrorts. By dpatching 30,000 additional troops to Afghantan th year, the Obama Admintration inevitably involving itself in the country's nation building. Th question of involvement in nation building will probably continue to be a contentious foreign policy sue in future U.S. elections.

If there an sue for continuing foreign policy debate in Japan, it likely to be the future of the Japan-U.S. alliance, under which nearly 50,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed in Japan. There no way that Japan, as an independent sovereign nation, can get around the subject. The key whether Japan can find an optimal solution, which based on a correct perception of the threats to Japan and to the region and takes account of the benefits and costs aring from the alliance with the United States. Already, Japan and the United States share the perception that, in order to maintain the alliance on a sustainable bas, they need to work toward reducing the burden on Okinawa, where more than 70% of the U.S. bases in Japan are concentrated. Given th overall perspective, it would be wrong to focus solely on the current sue of relocation as "the" litmus test for the Hatoyama Admintration's commitment to the alliance.

Reprinted from “ Japan in Their Own Words ,” a column publhed by the Englh-Speaking Union of Japan .

Tsuneo Watanabe

  • Senior Fellow, Tokyo Foundation

    Senior Fellow, Sasakawa Peace Foundation