A More Independent Japan

Back to Contents of Issue: September 2003


Now is the time for Japan to break its ties with a corrupt and confused America, argues Yoneyuki Sugita

by Yoneyuki Sugita

TODAY, THE THREAT TO world peace comes not from Iraq, Iran or North Korea -- but from the United States and its willingness to take unilateral military actions. It is necessary to contain America's behavior. Unfortunately, during the US attack against Iraq, Japan offered unequivocal support to Washington, partly because Japan expected the United States to lead the effort to eliminate the threat that Japan saw coming from North Korea, and partly because the US-Japan security treaty constrained Japan's autonomous decision-making process.

Japan's attitude demonstrates that it has been almost totally dependent on the US for its security since the end of World War II. The US occupation of Japan still lingers in the Japanese mentality. The Japanese people have been brainwashed into believing that Japan is helpless in defending itself without the US. Now is the time for the Japanese people to free themselves from this perspective. US President George Bush has stated that what the world should fear most is "outlaw regimes" that seek to possess and use weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including nuclear weapons. The US, however, has employed a two-faced diplomacy, demanding that Iraq, North Korea and other countries that Washington regards as "outlaw regimes" cease developing nuclear weapons, while at the same time allowing nuclear weapons possession by certain other countries, such as Israel and Pakistan. Moreover, the US itself maintains several thousand nuclear warheads. The blatant hypocrisy of US policies has caused doubt and dissatisfaction with US leadership in the international arena, even among those who call themselves friends of America.

The blatant hypocrisy of US
policies has caused widespread
dissatisfaction with US leadership
in the international arena

The Bush administration named Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil," then went on to announce the Bush Doctrine -- a statement of the US intention to preemptively strike any state sponsoring terrorism, any hostile nation possessing WMD and even any state that might someday pose a threat to US military superiority. It is not unreasonable to expect any nation that feels threatened by this doctrine to try to defend itself. Thus an atomic vicious circle begins. Iraq and North Korea do not deserve to be blamed in isolation. The US must share equal responsibility for encouraging the dangerous military adventurism of these two countries.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks precipitated an upsurge in US nationalism, uniting the country around the Bush administration. Bush is the first US president since 1888 to enter the White House without winning the popular vote. The terrorist attacks presented Bush with a golden opportunity to earn more respect for his presidency by resorting to military action dressed up as righteous American justice. Many high-ranking US officials see international relations only through the lenses of good and evil. These hawks, such as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Richard Cheney, believe that the United States is militarily and morally powerful enough to make unilateral and uncompromising demands for regime change anywhere in the world. The so-called moderates, however, with Secretary of State Colin Powell as the most famous, try to add a dose of international cooperation to US foreign policy-making. In the wake of 9/11, the hawks found themselves with a greatly strengthened hand, which put them in a position to exercise considerable influence over policy. The rise of these unilateralist hawks is attributed to an American intoxication with power that comes with now being the dominant superpower.

In September 2002, Bush asserted that as terrorist organizations were different from nation-states, "traditional concepts of deterrence will not work." Hence, he formally regarded preventive attack as self-defense in dealing with terrorists. Article 51 of the United Nations Charter recognizes that use of military force is legitimate in self-defense, but the US argument substantially deviates from the spirit of this provision. What are Japan's desirable options for crafting a security policy that responds to the current global political realities? An effort by any one country to organize its security structure involves a dynamic process. Japan should nourish a sense of its own independence while simultaneously making continuous efforts to build steadfast forms of cooperation with neighboring countries. One option for Japan is to maintain the status quo. This would mean a sizeable US troop presence and gradual reinforcement by Japan of its defense capabilities. Japan would continue its postwar focus on what has been its top priority, economic growth, and retain a pacifism based on a constitution that contains a peace clause. It would also continue to make as little contribution as possible to its own military defense and to the military programs designed by the US. Adhering to the status quo would mean keeping the same degree of subservience to Washington. If Japan wants to stand on its own two feet in the international community, it needs to reject the status quo. But the memory of Japan's aggression before and during the Asia-Pacific War means that it cannot move toward creating an independent security posture in a vacuum.

During the first 10 years, the central task for Japan would be to involve itself in the construction of an Asian collective security framework that would include some US participation. The framework would have the US working alongside Japan, China and other Asian countries to act in unison on regional security matters. The US participation in this framework would be based on the granting of US forces stationed in Japan's permission from Asian countries allowing active US military contributions elsewhere. At the center of the framework would be the US, Japan and China -- a powerful triumvirate that would focus on regional defense issues by sharing information and creating confidence-building measures. The aim would be to make Asian countries comfortable about lowering military budgets.

Japan should nourish its own
independence while making efforts
to build steadfast cooperation
with neighboring countries

By the end of the first stage, the US would form a clear plan for the complete evacuation of its troops from Japan, to be completed by the end of the second 10-year stage. Another second-stage task would be the phasing out of its participation in the Asian collective security framework. Japan, meanwhile, would become a full participant in the security framework -- a step that would help offset the evacuation of US forces. Moreover, Japan and China would focus on designing joint ways of dealing with regional defense problems.

As the second stage comes to an end, Japan will be resting comfortably inside the regional Asian security framework. At this point, it should start acquiring an independent military. Asian countries, however, would be unlikely to sit by quietly if Japan were to embark on fortifying its armaments industries. Such a step by Japan might trigger an arms race in Asia. Moreover, initiatives to strengthen its armaments potential could breathe new life into Japan's right wing, which supports an expansion of Japan's force capabilities. For this third stage to have any chance of becoming a reality, Japan will have to develop political leaders with enough talent and diplomatic tact to convince the Asian countries that Japan's enhanced armaments are for the benefit of the region.

The US is Japan's largest export counterpart, buying 29 percent of Japan's exports. However, Asia as a region buys 44 percent. Japan is the fourth largest importer of US exports. The US is the second largest exporting country to Japan, occupying 17 percent of Japan's imports. Again, Asia as a region accounts for 44 percent of Japan's imports. These figures indicate that the US is unquestionably Japan's most important economic partner. They also reveal the inequality of the bilateral economic relationship, with Japan as the more dependent. However, in terms of trade, Asia as a region exports to and imports more from Japan than it does with the US. Japan has already begun shifting its economic anchor from the US and is dropping it more firmly in the Asia-Pacific region. As the gradual abolishment of the US-Japan security treaty begins, Washington might resort to putting pressure on Japan to retain the alliance. Economic arm twisting could result in three major developments: Japan may suffer a severe economic crisis for a short time, it may concentrate harder on developing its trade with the Asia-Pacific region and the US business community may suffer serious economic damage.

In the long run, the power of the US business community and the massive economic potential of the Asia-Pacific region will gradually restore close economic relations. The stark inconsistency of US foreign policy provides an opportunity for Japan to reconsider its postwar development strategies. It is time for Japan to put an end to dependency on the US -- brought about by the US occupation of Japan -- and to alter the nature of its half-century of subservience. The gradual abolishment of the US-Japan security treaty may cause Japan to experience short-term economic downturns. But in the long run, Japan will develop a more healthy, mature and truly interdependent economic relationship with the US. @

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