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EDITORIAL | Japan-U.S. Security Treaty at 60: Japan Must Bolster its Capability and Contribute More




Sunday, January 19, marked the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States that replaced the less equal security treaty the two countries had inked at the end of the postwar U.S. occupation of Japan.


Together with that earlier treaty of 1951, the current treaty has formed the bedrock of the Japan-U.S. alliance, and the guarantor of Japan’s independence, peace, and freedom.


The Japan-U.S. alliance has to be considered one of the most successful bilateral security arrangements in world history, and not only because it has provided for Japan’s defense. That is because it has provided the foundation for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, including East Asia and, indeed, the entire world.


In fact, the Japan-U.S. security arrangement is significant as being an exemplar of “international public goods.” As we enter a new era, we should aim to preserve and develop an even more solid alliance.



Further Efforts Toward Global Stability


On January 17, the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee (Japan-U.S. “2+2”) issued a joint statement celebrating the 60th anniversary of the revised treaty. It emphasized, “We also express our gratitude to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces and Japan Self-Defense Forces for their dedicated service in protecting our common values and interests.”


Japan’s postwar peace has not been due to Article 9 of the Constitution, the so-called “war-renouncing clause.”


Rather, this peace has been maintained, thanks to diplomatic efforts as well as the efficient functioning of the deterrent provided by the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military forces stationed in Japan under the mutual security treaty.


The global situation has undergone tremendous changes over the past six decades, while this same security arrangement has remained in place.


For roughly the first 30 years, it had to respond to the threat posed by the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union seemed to pose an existential crisis for the alliance. But our two nations reaffirmed its continued importance in their 1996 Joint Declaration on Security, which redefined the purpose of the Japan-U.S. security arrangement as the foundation of peace and prosperity for the Asia-Pacific region.


Subsequently, new threats arose that provided greater clarity for the orientation of the security alliance. These came first in the form of the snowballing military and economic expansion of China, and second in the development of nuclear and missile capabilities by North Korea. The former increased the importance of providing adequate defense for the Senkaku Islands and the long Nansei island chain, extending from southernmost Kyushu to Yonaguni just off the northern coast of Taiwan.


Other critical situations that demand carefully-crafted responses are the delicate situation on the Korean Peninsula, the recurring crises in the Taiwan Strait, and the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.



Japan Responds to New Challenges


In 2015, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proved able to get the Diet to pass national security legislation, which allows the limited exercise of collective defense. As a result, Tokyo and Washington D.C. can now coordinate their responses when considering issues like North Korea.


Even though the original security treaty of 1951 in the wake of the U.S. Occupation allowed for the continued stationing of U.S. military forces in Japan, it did not clearly spell out a commitment by the United States to defend Japan. There was, however, a clause that allowed these U.S. military forces to be used to suppress domestic rebellion.


Nobusuke Kishi, who was prime minister at the time the treaty was revised, felt strongly that these features of the original treaty were not appropriate for a sovereign nation. Consequently, he defied vehement opposition from leftist forces to sign the present treaty.


The revised security treaty dropped the provision about domestic insurrection and clearly stipulated the duty of the U.S. to defend Japan (Article 5). It also spelled out Japan’s duty to provide facilities and areas (bases) for the stationing of U.S. military forces (Article 6).


Because under the treaty Japan does not have any duty to defend the United States, the overall balance thus achieved has been characterized as “asymmetric duality.”



Reviving the Mettle to Defend Ourselves


Nevertheless, there are some unstable points concerning the Japan-U.S. security arrangement, which demand further efforts to prevent it from hollowing out or even collapsing.


There are excessive limitations on Japan’s exercise of the right of collective self-defense. As a result, structural uncertainties remain that could jeopardize the alliance. For example, what would happen if a prime minister naïve about national security did not honor the Japan-U.S. relationship of mutual protection in the event of a crisis? The fact remains that most of the opposition parties in Japan continue to claim that recognition of the exercise of the right of collective defense is unconstitutional.


U.S. President Donald Trump too has criticized the Japan-U.S. defense arrangement as being “one-sided.” And Washington is increasingly pressuring Tokyo to pick up more of the costs for the U.S. military stationed in Japan. The Japanese government should, of course, continue to emphasize the significance of the bilateral security treaty. But, at the same time, it would be dangerous to ignore factors creating instability.


The Japan-U.S. security arrangement has also had some deleterious side effects. One is that the sense of dependency on the United States grew stronger among postwar Japanese. As it did so, they lost some of their mettle and sense of self-reliance in defending peace for Japan and the world. However, we are now in an era when such an attitude can no longer be countenanced.


The relative power of the United States on the world scene continues to decline. Moreover, that country appears to be increasingly looking inward, as reflected by the statements by both Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama that the “United States is not the world’s policeman.”


Involvement in both the fields of outer space and cyberspace is also increasingly important. And let us not forget the frenzied pace of China’s military expansion.


The Japan-U.S. Security has been a roaring success, but perhaps the time is fast approaching for another revision.


Back in 2011, Sankei Shimbun proposed such a revision. In order to eliminate the unstable elements in the treaty that give rise to the charge that it is “one-sided,” we need the kind of revision that would result in a true mutual defense relationship between Japan and the United States.


It goes without saying that Japan has to strive to bolster its own defense. But, at the same time, we need to increase Japan’s role by switching from an “exclusively defense” posture to a “positive defense” posture that would include the maintenance of the capability to attack enemy installations in the event of a conflict. 


(Click here to read the original editorial in Japanese.)



Author: Editorial Board of the Sankei Shimbun