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Vol. 37, No. 2, April 2010


In the House of Representatives contest held in August 2009, Japan’s voters chose to bring about what was effectively the first real change of government by election in the postwar era. Just as voters in the United States had done in November 2008, the Japanese electorate delivered a mandate for change. The Democratic Party of Japan won an overwhelming majority in the lower house, and DPJ President Hatoyama Yukio took office as prime minister at the head of a coalition government including the Social Democratic Party and the People’s New Party.

It is only natural for the new leaders to reappraise and alter the policies implemented by the conservative camp, centering on the Liberal Democratic Party, that held the reins for so many years. Changes of power in democratic Western countries have in fact led to major policy shifts. But within the new ruling coalition there are major differences of opinion on how to handle Japan’s relationship with the United States, the cornerstone of our country’s foreign policy, and this lack of consensus, combined with the new prime minister’s indecisiveness, has been causing uncomfortable strains in Japan-US ties.

The first article we carry in this section is by Kitaoka Shin’ichi, a professor at the University of Tokyo who has served as Japan’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations. In it he notes that Prime Minister Hatoyama made a creditable debut on the diplomatic stage with his September 2009 trip to the United States, where he attended the United Nations General Assembly and a UN climate change summit in New York and the Group of Twenty Summit in Pittsburgh; he also had his first meeting with US President Barack Obama. What is more, states Kitaoka, Hatoyama "succeeded in giving the international community a much-needed reminder of Japan’s presence."

Kitaoka goes on, however, to express strong concern that following this early success, the Hatoyama administration may be placing the Japan-US relationship in danger with its unpredictable behavior, specifically with respect to three issues: the relocation of the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa, the Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States, and the war on terror. In particular, he argues, the inconsistent statements from the prime minister on the Futenma issue have the potential to shake the mutual trust at the heart of the bilateral security pact. When he met with President Obama in Tokyo on November 13, Hatoyama is reported to have told the American leader, "Trust me." The very next day, though, as Kitaoka writes, "Hatoyama stated that his cabinet would not predicate its decision on Futenma on the existing agreement and that the decision could wait until after the citizens of Nago [the agreed site for the relocated base] made their wishes known in the mayoral election in January 2010." With this, his government abandoned the idea of settling the issue during the current year; instead Hatoyama said a decision would be made by the end of May 2010. Kitaoka views Hatoyama’s inexperience as the cause of his wavering stance, going on to warn: "Japan has earned the world’s trust as a country that honors its commitments. It must do nothing to undermine this trust."

The second essay in this section comes from Terashima Jitsurô, one of Hatoyama’s unofficial advisors on foreign affairs. Arguing that the Japan-US security arrangement was designed against the backdrop of the Cold War and should have been fundamentally reviewed when the world entered the post–Cold War era, Terashima blasts "those who take the Japan-US military alliance as a given that cannot be changed." In Terashima’s view, the people of Japan "should recover their common sense and recognize that it is unnatural for foreign military forces to be stationed in an independent country for decades." Germany, another defeated power in World War II, in 1993 "undertook negotiations with the United States concerning the US military presence in that country, based on which the number of US troops stationed there was slashed . . . and a revised agreement was concluded concerning the status of US forces. Japan should have similarly revised its security arrangements with the United States during the 1990s." In fact, as Terashima notes critically, "the understanding at the time was that the Cold War had not ended in East Asia, and so the existing arrangements were left in place."

Terashima examines the potential threats facing Japan today—specifically Russia, North Korea, and China—and offers his assessment that "the threats that Japan and the United States need to confront together have been changing significantly in nature, and it is not necessarily clear precisely what they are." So what sort of alliance should Japan aim to build with the United States? Terashima declares, "Now that there have been changes of government in both countries, we ought to consider this issue flexibly, moving beyond existing interests and fixed notions," and he offers examples of specific ways to do this.

These two essays show different understandings of the present state of Japan-US relations and the threats facing Japan, reaching different conclusions about what should be done. This debate is not confined to the academic realm, though: We are seeing it played out on the political stage, with the ruling and opposition parties holding divergent views on these foreign policy issues. The result is turmoil in the nation’s diplomatic and security affairs.

When it comes to perceived security threats and solutions for dealing with them, the biggest problem is that there is no way to test the solutions in advance. History teaches us that when a nation judges threats too lightly, it can err in its responses to them, with tragic results. The Cold War did indeed come to an end in the European theater. Japan, however, remains enmeshed in territorial disputes with Russia, South Korea, China, and Taiwan, and is situated in a region home to the continuing standoff across the Taiwan Strait and the "rogue state" of North Korea. Here we have yet to see an end to the denouement of World War II, much less the Cold War. The most important security partner for Japan in this environment has so far been and will continue to be the United States. Japan’s economic ties with China, India, the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and other emerging countries will grow more important, but our most vital bilateral relationship overall remains that with America.

In an increasingly globalized world, of course, the number of problems that can be resolved on a unilateral or bilateral basis is shrinking. Regional frameworks are necessary, as are global frameworks like the United Nations and its specialized agencies. Prime Minister Hatoyama has expressed his hope that an East Asian community can be built in the future on the basis of yûai, the spirit of fraternity. The details of this scheme have yet to be fleshed out, but no single plan or framework will be sufficient to solve all the problems facing the region. Looking at the experience of Europe, we see that it has taken nearly 60 years of producing solid results through dialogue and cooperation, starting with the European Coal and Steel Community, to reach the European Union of today. And the EU is not the only model for regional integration; it is just one benchmark for comparison. There is room for a wide range of regional frameworks in the world, and there should also be room for diversity in the membership of such groupings.

In Europe, a number of organizations with overlapping but not identical memberships have coexisted over the years, each undertaking a certain portion of the common tasks that need to be handled: NATO for security and defense, the EU for economic issues (including the establishment of a customs union; free movement of goods, capital, persons, and services; common policies for agriculture and fishing; adjustment of regional disparities; response to environmental problems; social policies; and monetary policies and a common currency), and the Council of Europe for human rights issues and cultural exchange.

The EU has taken its present shape over the six decades since 1950. The course of this development has not been a straight line: The members of this community have deepened their ties through a process involving many ups and downs during that period. The membership itself has expanded five times, from the original six nations of the ECSC to the present 27 in the EU. The most important thing we can learn from the European experience is the fact that its success stems from European nations’ abandonment of military means and warfare as a way to solve their problems and their construction of what we may call a "non-war community"—their step-by-step creation of a new mode of international relations based on adherence to rules and cooperation. Underlying all of this has been the strong political will of the region’s leaders.

In short, Japan should move to strengthen and make more use of the frameworks that already exist in its regional neighborhood, such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN+3 (which includes Japan, South Korea, and China), ASEAN+6 (those nations plus India, Australia, and New Zealand), the Asia-Europe Meeting, the six-party talks concerning North Korea (among China, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia, and the United States), and the trilateral discussion system among Japan, South Korea, and China. There is no need for the United States to participate in all of these. At the same time that Japan works on forming these regional frameworks, it should also be pursuing free trade and economic partnership agreements with various partners, in particular promoting the early conclusion of FTAs with the United States and the EU along the lines of the agreements South Korea has already inked with them. If we can also add FTAs with China and South Korea, Japan will be making real progress toward the achievement of peaceful coexistence within a web of economic agreements. (Tanaka Toshirô, Professor, Keiô University)

© 2010 Japan Echo Inc.