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Editorial: Pending Trump presidency forces Japan to reconfirm significance of alliance

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump of the Republican Party ran on a platform of “America First,” focusing on the needs of the U.S. over all else, while spewing xenophobic rhetoric that goes against the traditional American values of freedom, equality and diversity.


The targets of his exclusionist statements include U.S. allies such as Japan, South Korea, NATO member states and, Saudi Arabia. Trump has argued that the U.S. has shouldered an unfair burden for its allies, calling for a review of all its relationships with them and seeking that other countries take on more of the burden.


It remains to be seen to what extent Trump, once he assumes the presidency, will stick to the claims he made during his election campaign. But if he does adhere to them, the Japan-U.S. security alliance could be shaken to its core.


During his campaign, Trump stated that the U.S. protects Japan, Germany and South Korea, and that those countries should pick up all the expenses for that protection. He has also said that unless Japan covers the appropriate costs for U.S. troops in Japan, there was no guarantee that U.S. would protect it.


Trump stated he is seeking a renegotiation of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which he has characterized as unfair to the U.S., and has made statements to the effect that he will pull U.S. troops out of Japan unless it increases its share of the costs for the U.S. military presence in the country by a large margin. He has also made statements indicating acceptance toward the possibility of Japan and South Korea building their own nuclear arsenals. He also said that the United States “is going to have to stop being the policeman of the world.”


The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has upheld a foreign policy of “Asian rebalance,” but if Trump’s statements thus far are any indication, his administration could show very little interest in the world order.


If U.S. involvement in the Asia-Pacific region were to diminish, it could create a power vacuum in East Asia — where the Cold War structure still remains — leading to instability. Such a vacuum could have an impact on the military policies of North Korea, China and Russia.


The Japan-U.S. security alliance does not just benefit Japan and the U.S., but is a public good that supports the stability of the entire Asia-Pacific region. Going forward, it will be crucial for Japan, South Korea and Australia — all U.S. allies — to cooperate in maintaining regional stability and incorporate China into the international order. The security partnership between Japan and the U.S. should be the cornerstone of that effort.


Trump’s reasoning for why he believes the Japan-U.S. security alliance is unfair is his belief that “if Japan is attacked, we have to use the full force and might of the United States,” and that “if (the U.S. is) attacked, Japan doesn’t have to do anything.”


But his belief that the U.S. is bearing an unfair burden in the Japan-U.S. security partnership is incorrect.


Article V of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty stipulates the U.S.’s duty to protect Japan, while Article VI states, “For the purpose of contributing to the security of Japan and the maintenance of international peace and security in the Far East, the United States of America is granted the use by its land, air and naval forces of facilities and areas in Japan.” The roles of Japan and the U.S. are asymmetrical but reciprocal. The Japanese government must carefully seek Trump’s understanding of the contents of the Security Treaty, and confirm the importance of the bilateral partnership.


The Japan-U.S. Security Treaty does not exist solely for the protection of Japan. It has greatly benefitted the U.S. as well; under Article VI of the treaty, the U.S. military has occupied large swaths of land in Japan, and has used those bases in its global military strategy.


As for the costs of U.S. troops in Japan, the reality is that Japan is paying more than its fair share. In addition to the expenditures stipulated under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, the Japanese government allocates approximately 190 billion yen per year as funds for the “Cost Sharing for the U.S. Forces Stationed in Japan” — or what is commonly known as “omoiyari yosan,” or literally, “sympathy budget” — to cover the costs of U.S. bases and troops in Japan.


When Trump won the presidential election, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the president-elect, and the two confirmed they would meet in New York on Nov. 17. From what the prime minister is reported to have said during the phone call, it appears he was trying to convince Trump not to fall into a navel-gazing line of thinking, and that maintaining U.S. involvement in the Asia-Pacific region would be a source of benefits and power for the U.S. We call on the Japanese government to continue such diplomatic efforts.


In Japan, the suggestion that Tokyo cannot avoid paying more for U.S. troops stationed in Japan has been thrown around, as well as the argument that Japan’s defense budget should be greatly increased. Some are calling for Japan to implement policies that would allow it to defend itself independently, and that it should even arm itself with nuclear weapons, while seeking a revision of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution to accommodate such changes.


Considering Japan’s ballooning social security costs and the government’s huge fiscal debt, independent defense is unrealistic. And as the only country to have experienced atomic bombings, nuclear armament is out of the question.


Foreign diplomacy should be the basic tool used under difficult international circumstances. That said, we need further discussion on how much Japan should shoulder in terms of military costs. To respond to the pressing issue of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs, Japan, the U.S. and South Korea need to be on the same page.


It’s possible that the issue of building a new U.S. military base in the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, in exchange for shutting down U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the prefectural city of Ginowan will be affected under a Trump presidency. There is a need to maintain the deterrence power of the U.S. military’s presence in Japan, but the disproportionate concentration of such bases in Okinawa Prefecture must be rectified. This is an opportunity to discuss alternative sites to Henoko with an open mind.


Japan must constantly think about why the Japan-U.S. alliance is necessary, what sort of international order Japan is seeking to create, and what roles it must fulfill to achieve that vision. The pending ascension of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency forces us to consider these things whether we like it or not.


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