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Expert: Devise ingenious ways to maintain Japan-U.S. alliance

  • September 28, 2018
  • , Asahi , p. 17
  • JMH Translation

By National Defense Academy Prof. Yasuhiro Takeda

(Interviewed by Shinichi Ikeda)


Japan signed the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty when it regained its independence. It may have to step up self-help efforts from now on with the relative decline of the U.S.’s international position and changes in the global situation. It should consider enhancing security cooperation with countries like Australia and India. However, it must not forget that unlike other alliance relationships, the Japan-U.S. security alliance is special.


This is because the Japan-U.S. alliance and Japan’s pacifist constitution exist as a set that can be regarded as “inseparable.” Under the pacifist constitution, Japan adopts an exclusively defensive security policy and U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) takes charge of all offensive operations. This is decisively different from the “mutual” defense treaties that the U.S. has with the ROK and other allies. Along with Japan and the U.S. taking up the separate roles of spear and shield, the U.S. also has the obligation to defend Japan, while Japan provides military bases to the USFJ. This is a case of “exchange of manpower and goods.” It is impossible for another country to take up the U.S.’s role, so the bilateral security alliance is irreplaceable.


In a book I published in 2012, I estimated the direct and indirect costs if Japan maintains the same level of security independently. I found that if the Japan-U.S. alliance disintegrates, the cost would exceed 23 trillion yen. This estimate did not even include the cost for Japan’s nuclear armament to replace the U.S.’s “nuclear umbrella.”


If Japan comes to possess nuclear weapons, it will have to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which would entail economic sanctions. The demerits would be incalculable, and even if Japan acquires its own nuclear capability, it might not necessarily be able to ensure a security level comparable to the present arrangement.


This clearly demonstrates that the Japan-U.S. alliance based on the bilateral Security Treaty has been an economically rational arrangement for postwar Japan. For this reason, the alliance must not be treated as something free like the air and taken for granted. Persistent efforts need to be made to maintain the alliance.


Since the 1990s, Japan’s defense budget has remained at a level less than 1% of GDP. This is a very low level compared with the U.S. defense budget of around 4% of GDP. The Trump administration is asking the European allies to spend around 2% of GDP for defense. It is highly possible that the same demand will be made on Japan.


The background to this is not just the peculiar character of the Trump administration, but also changes in the U.S.’s will and capability since the 1970s. After the Vietnam War, the U.S. is less inclined to become involved in international affairs at the expense of the lives of its soldiers. This is evidenced by the declaration of former President Barack Obama, who adopted a very different policy from Trump, that “America is not the world’s policeman.”


Every criticism by a U.S. administration that Japan is getting a “free ride” sparks debate as to the appropriate size of the GDP. The Trump administration’s demand on the allies this time is different in that it is asking for a uniform increase.


Incidentally, I calculated that if Japan pays for all the USFJ’s equipment, the defense budget would go up by over 4 trillion yen, almost double the current budget and making up around 2% of GDP. However, it is not necessary for Japan, which provides the greatest financial support to the U.S. Forces compared with any other country, to meet the demand for budget increase solely through the procurement of equipment.


For example, one step that could be taken with spending an extra tens of billions of yen annually would be converting U.S. military bases in Okinawa to joint use with the Self-Defense Forces (SDF). I believe this option is worth considering as a way to restore a degree of autonomy while maintaining the security level by shouldering the cost of administering the bases. Japan must think of security policies to maintain the bilateral alliance based on estimates of the costs involved. In any case, any proposal would need to win the people’s understanding.

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