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As US Defends Japan, Who's Being Served?

A vital investment for the US: Its forces in Japan safeguard American interests in Asia

THERE is no more important bilateral relationship than the one we have with Japan. Our military presence in Japan supports critical American global interests and helps us to fulfill global responsibilities. For these reasons, close security cooperation with Japan is indispensible.

US interests are tied to Asian security because of our economic interdependence with the Asia and Pacific region. We engaged in $373 billion in trans-Pacific trade in 1993. That is twice as much as in 1970, and the amount is growing. We expect trans-Pacific trade to be twice as much as trans-Atlantic trade by the year 2000. Today, about 3 million American jobs can be traced directly to exports across the Pacific, while many million more depend indirectly on Asian economic growth.

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The Japanese archipelago affords US forward-deployed forces geostrategically crucial naval, air, and ground bases on the periphery of the Asian land mass. Under the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, Japan provides a stable, secure, and low-cost environment for our military operations and training. US forces operating from bases in Japan are committed not only to the defense of Japan, but also to the preservation of peace and security in the entire Asian region, and are prepared to deal with a wide range of local and regional contingencies. Given the great distances associated with the Pacific theater, forces maintained in Japan fill the requirement for forces capable of dealing with regional contingencies.

An investment in stability

Increasingly, our military presence in Japan will be less the insurance policy it was during the cold war and more of an investment for the future. Where American alliances used to provide insurance against a Soviet threat, our security commitment to Japan today provides the foundation for the US military presence in Asia. These forces serve as our investment in the continued security and stability of the region.

This relationship receives broad support throughout the region, including long-term Japanese domestic support. The vast majority of Asian countries understand that our bilateral security tie with Japan is a key factor supporting regional stability. Furthermore, the US-Japan security relationship underscores vital American security interests and remains fundamental to both our Pacific security policy and our global strategic objectives.

No multilateral guarantees

Unlike Europe, Asia lacks a strong multilateral system of security guarantees. We will continue to depend primarily on our strong bilateral relationships with Japan and our other allies. Multilateral institutions may develop. In the meantime, we rely on a robust partnership with Japan to advance our regional and global agenda at the UN, in global nonproliferation regimes, and in other multilateral forums.

Japan's global role is evolving toward greater contributions to regional and global stability. Japan has agreed to provide $25 billion to support the presence of American troops over the next five years - making it cheaper to station our troops there than in the US. Japan is also the world's largest provider of official development assistance and has increased its involvement in humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts, including Cambodia, Mozambique, and Zaire. Japan is considering sending a UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) team to the Golan Heights early next year. Japan supports emerging democracies, particularly in Asia.

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The relationship gathers strength from the degree of shared perspectives between Washington and Tokyo. Specific examples include the North Korea issue and the problem of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, coordination on China, as well as other regional and global security and economic issues.

The Clinton administration spent the last year in an intense security dialogue with the government of Japan, designed to reaffirm our security ties. A joint security declaration will be signed by President Clinton and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto this week in Tokyo. This policy of reaffirmation does not come at the expense of national economic policies, but results from trends which necessitated renewed attention to the security leg of the bilateral relationship: questioning in both countries of the continued validity of longstanding relationships overtaken by the end of the cold war; the demise of the Soviet threat; Japan's emergence as an economic superpower; bilateral trade friction without the salve of a common enemy; and concern on both sides of the Pacific about American staying power and Japan's future orientation. The reaffirmed security relationship signifies that the US will remain an Asian power, and that will underpin the prosperity that benefits both the United States and countries in the region.

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