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Japanese Weigh US Military Ties


TOMORROW Japan and the US mark the 30th anniversary of their mutual security treaty that until recently was aimed primarily at a Soviet military threat. But now that the cold war is fading and Japan has become an economic superpower, the Japanese government is stressing that the treaty is not only for defense.

``The security treaty is basically a military alliance,'' says Jiro Hagi, director of the Defense Planning Division of the Japan Defense Agency. ``But it is also a comprehensive system, including political and economic aspects.'' He refers to the treaty's second article, that says both nations ``will seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and will encourage economic collaboration between them.''

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Although the treaty is still widely supported in Japan, the government and some intellectuals say that radical moves in the Soviet Union and changing US-Japan relations could challenge the treaty's support.

The government insists that the Soviet military in Asia has not made the drastic changes needed to ease regional tension and that the bilateral security treaty should be maintained.

``Relaxation of tension in Asia has not occurred at the same magnitude as in Europe,'' says Kazuyoshi Umemoto, deputy director of the Northeast Asia Division of the Foreign Ministry. He explains that the issue in Asia is more complicated than in Europe because of the resiliance of hard-line communist regimes in China, North Korea and Vietnam. ``We should not change anything until the tension is truly relaxed.''

But Nihon University law professor Motofumi Asai advocates abolishing the treaty, while maintaining good ties with the US. ``The basis for the Japan-US relations is not their bilateral security system but the interdependence of the two economies,'' he says. As the combined gross national product of Japan and the US make up about 40 percent of the world economy, ``A threat in this modern era is anything that undermines the world economy.'' (Japan financial ties, Page 8).

The Japan-US partnership, which started as ``a child-parent one,'' has become equal, says Hikaru Oka, executive secretary of the Japan Forum on International Relations, a conservative think tank that advocates continuing the alliance. But for Japan's defense, it suggests improving Japanese defense forces rather than increasing payment for maintaining US forces in Japan.

The Defense Agency disagrees. ``We'd like to respond as much as possible to US demands for sharing the costs,'' says Mr. Hagi. ``That's the cheapest way [to protect this country].'' The US troops have enabled Japan to expand its economy while easing the concerns of other Asian countries that Japan may become a military superpower again, he adds.

At present, the government plans to stick to the existing security framework, although pro-security-treaty officials voice concerns over the future of the Japan-US relations. ``It's wrong to think that just preserving the tie is fine,'' warns Terumasa Nakanishi, professor of international relations at University of Shizuoka.

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Professor Nakanishi urges Japan to further open its market and more seriously cooperate with the US on global issues. Only after these measures are taken, he says, can ``The security treaty ... make sense. Otherwise, there would be no interest by the United States to protect Japan.''

Last month, ruling Liberal Democratic Party politician Shintaro Ishihara published a sequel to his first book, ``The Japan That Can Say `No,''' suggesting that Japan should build up its defense in case the treaty breaks up. The book has been a best seller.

According to a survey by the daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun last month, 48 percent of Japanese responded that the treaty was serving the interests of their nation, compared to 53 percent in 1988. And support for the opposing view shot up from 18 percent to 23 percent, the highest figure in the last 20 years. But on the security issue alone, only 31 percent of Japanese say that the country should continue to rely on the US for its security, while 40 percent answered that Japan should defend itself independently.

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