Japan and the US signed the US-Japan Security Treaty in 1951 and last updated the treaty in 1960. This treaty has provided the framework for the defense of Japan by US forces and the vast amount of land provided by the Japanese for American bases. The Japanese Foreign and Defense Ministers met with their American counterparts in Washington recently to discuss updating the alliance (prior DEL posts here and here).
Many thought the dialogue in DC was principally to sort out the growing unease of American soldiers in Japanese areas like Okinawa and their sometimes criminal behavior that has upset the relationship. These issues are being addressed but would not alone be the reason for such a public meeting of Sec. Rice and Sec. Rumsfeld with the Japanese last month. The US-Japanese strategic relationship is quickly maturing as it has to deal with three primary threats to the security of both nations:
- The Immediate - North Korea, its nuclear weapons program and weapons proliferation.
- Mid-Range to Long Term - Checking Chinese hegemonic goals in Asia and their increasingly belligerent tone and military posture with Taiwan.
- Long Range - Thwarting terrorism and the spread of militant Islam, thereby protecting important oil supplies, and stopping the spread of weapons proliferation and defending against missile attacks (see the Proliferation Security Initiative).
The Taipei Times has an excellent piece by Richard Halloran (also printed in the Honolulu Advertiser) on Monday summing up the progress made between the US and Japan over revising their strategic partnership. This is in sharp contrast to this piece from Lt. Col. William Rapp (US Army) from last summer that argues that the US should de-emphasize its long-term role with Japan and seek more partners (it is a well written and researched piece regardless of its stance).
The US and Japan have agreed to the following joint steps in revising the treaty(Taipei Times):
- "One, roles and missions, in which Americans and Japanese will decide on a division of labor and which forces will be responsible for what missions, to make best use of those forces and to preclude duplication.
- Two, expanded combined operations and training, especially between Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force and the US Army and US Marine Corps. The navies and air forces, which already coordinate many operations, would do more of the same.
- Three, sharing intelligence as the Japanese, in particular, strengthen their ability to collect and analyze information and then to meld it with intelligence produced by US services.
- Four, revised war plans, a touchy subject that officials are reluctant to discuss in public. A US official said, however: "We continually review our bilateral coordination mechanisms and processes."
- Five, moving a US Army corps headquarters to Japan from the US to put it in the region where it would operate and into close proximity to Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force for combined planning, training and operations.
- Six, researching and building a combined ballistic missile defense that would be aimed first at the missile threat from North Korea, which fired a missile over Japan in 1998, and then at the longer range threat from China."
The above concepts point to a deepening relationship as greater intelligence is shared, US and Japanese forces are further intergrated, and long-term strategic defense objectives are coordinated.
The US has to be careful to garner broader support of the Japanese public as it becomes increasingly concerned that it may be drawn into a war because of its alliance with the US. This is tempered by the unpredictable North Korean situation that encourages the Japanese to look to US leadership and security guarantees. The alliance revisions can also be seen as an attempt to contain China.
If the US, along with its allies, can continue to encourage democracy in the Middle East (a big "if" that DEL is optimistic about), the great challenges to US security are likely to come in Asia over North Korea, Taiwanese independence desires, and/or terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism in Southeast Asia. Building upon the 60 years of history between the US and Japan is in the interest of all free people in Asia and beyond.
Update: Secretary Rice said today at the start of a six-nation trip to Asia that includes China: "Certainly, [China's] military spending is concerning because it is taking place at a time when the cross-Strait issue (with Taiwan) is not still resolved and in which the United States has certain commitments to a peaceful solution." - Containment continues