In July, when it emerged that U.S. President Barack Obama was considering declaring no first use of nuclear weapons, a longstanding concern surfaced in the Japanese government.
Japan has been worried that the U.S. will abandon its role as “the world’s policeman” and reduce its involvement in other regions. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has verified the U.S.’s intent through diplomatic channels and attempted to discourage this tendency.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has worked very hard to restore trust in the Japan-U.S. alliance that was damaged during the Democratic Party of Japan administration. He expended a great deal of political energy for the enactment of the security laws and reaching an agreement in the TPP negotiations.
On the surface, Abe’s reaction to the reports on no first use of nuclear arms is that “Japan will continue to communicate closely with the U.S. government.” However, a senior MOFA official revealed that in reality, “the emergence of such a plan alone is annoying for Japan,” since this may result in diminished deterrence.
Even after Obama, whose inward-looking attitude has been a concern, steps down next January, the new president will still be a cause of concern.
Abe sent North American Affairs Bureau chief Takeo Mori and other senior MOFA officials to the Republican and Democratic national conventions in July to find out “who calls the shots in the two camps” and “when a meeting with the new president can be held.”
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump champions an “America first” policy and has mentioned the withdrawal of U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ). This could affect the deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. alliance.
Not only Trump, but also Democratic candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is opposed to the TPP. A MOFA official was shocked when he saw the sea of anti-TPP placards at the Democratic convention in July. He noted that “this is proof that Hillary has shifted her position completely.” If the TPP flounders, it will undermine the momentum of Abenomics.
Changes in the Japan-U.S. security alliance may produce a power vacuum in the Pacific.
North Korea fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on Aug. 24. Ahead of the launch, it had threatened to “make a ruthless preemptive attack” on the U.S.-ROK joint military exercises. A senior MOFA official voiced concern that “there is no mistake that North Korea is escalating its actions based on its observation of the U.S.’s response.”
At about the same time, China was also staging its offensive in the East and South China Seas. President Obama will meet with President Xi Jinping during his trip to China in early September. The above MOFA official said, “While Obama will ask China to exercise restraint in its maritime advances, Xi will turn a deaf ear.”
The U.S.’s vacillation may further rule out a solution to the abduction issue. The U.S.’s inward-looking attitude will be a major risk for Abe’s diplomacy from now on.