Deputy Defense Secretary William Taft arrived in Japan this week with a seemingly contradictory message. Japan, he told reporters, is a success story in the Reagan administration's efforts to get its allies to do more to share the burdens of their common defense.
At the same time, Mr. Taft was here specifically to tell the Japanese that ``more remains to be done.'' He called for their greater contribution in four areas - enhanced military capability; cooperation on arms purchases and defense technology development; greater sharing of the cost of US forces in Japan; and increased foreign aid, particularly to strategic countries like the Philippines and Turkey.
The audience for Taft's remarks seemed to be in Washington as much as in Tokyo. In recent months, Congressional leaders have assaulted both allies and the administration for failing to address what they see as an imbalance in defense efforts. Such critics link spending for the defense of the alliance to the US budget and trade deficits.
Japan is the last stop on Taft's global tour, dedicated solely to defense burden-sharing. He also visited South Korea and European NATO allies.
Japan, with its huge trade surplus and its low defense spending, draws fire. ``Japan's efforts are too little and too slow,'' said Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D) of Colorado, chair of a House panel on defense burden-sharing, at hearings in February.
Administration officials reject this view. Taft says Japanese defense efforts have expanded greatly during this decade. Japan has stretched its constitutionally limited self-defense role to include responsibility for air and sea-lane defense to 1,000 miles from its coast. Military spending has risen by almost 6 percent a year. Last year Japan junked a longstanding ceiling on military spending.
Japan, Taft also noted, ``spends the equivalent of $45,000 on behalf of each of the 55,000 servicemen and women stationed here - the most extensive host-nation support of any American ally.''
Japanese officials are open, Taft says, to US requests for further action.
Still, Japanese officials point to difficulties in certain areas. Further contributions to US forces, which were again increased this past year, would require revision by the parliament of the bilateral agreement governing the presence of US forces here. Opposition parties could then raise broader issues, warns a top Foreign Ministry official, which ``would lead to all sorts of other problems regarding US forces in Japan.''
The constitutional limits on Japan's armed forces mean spending is unlikely to leap much beyond current steady growth.
A larger Japanese role, officials stress, would best come from the growth of Japan's assistance to developing nations. Japanese aid is restricted, by law, to non-military purposes. But for the past 10 years, the Foreign Ministry official said, ``we are giving to what we call countries located around a conflict area.'' He mentioned Turkey, Egypt, Oman, Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Philippines.