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Editorial: Constant effort required to strengthen Japan-U.S. alliance

The Japan-U.S. alliance is becoming increasingly important in maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. The deterrence capabilities should be enhanced through constant efforts by the two countries.


Sunday marked the 60th anniversary of the signing of the current Japan-U.S. Security Treaty by then Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi and then U.S. Secretary of State Christian Herter. An earlier treaty, which took effect in 1952, focused on Japan providing bases for U.S. forces. The revised version stipulated the U.S. obligation to defend Japan.


At that time, there were fears that Japan might get embroiled in a war due to expanding cooperation between the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military, and there were widespread demonstrations against the treaty in Japan. Kishi resigned after the new treaty was approved.


History has proved that revising the treaty was the right choice.


The sphere of activities of Russia’s missile-armed nuclear-powered submarines has been limited to the Sea of Okhotsk. This is a clear indication of the U.S. military’s deterrent effect.


The United States dispatched aircraft carriers to waters near Taiwan to contain Chinese threats during the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis.


The U.S. government has clearly stated that the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture are subject to the U.S. obligation to defend Japan, and it must be said that this serves as a warning to China.


The Chinese military has a total of 2 million soldiers, while the Russian military has 900,000, overwhelmingly higher than the SDF’s 230,000 members. A comparison should not be made simply on the basis of the size of personnel alone, but it is clear that U.S. forces stationed in Japan and the U.S. Navy deployed in the Pacific Ocean are contributing to the safety of Japanese territory and sea lanes.


In 1996, Japan and the United States issued a joint security declaration following the end of the Cold War. The two nations reaffirmed that their alliance is the cornerstone of stability in the Asia-Pacific region.


The administration of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama of the Democratic Party of Japan repeatedly made irresponsible remarks regarding the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture, inviting distrust from the United States.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can be credited with rebuilding the bilateral alliance after returning to power by enacting security-related laws that allow Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense in a limited manner.


According to a recent survey jointly conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun and U.S. firm Gallup Inc., 70% of respondents in the U.S. and Japan believe the security treaty contributes to regional security.


The treaty alone does not make the alliance function. It is necessary to build trust with the United States by constantly working to share an understanding of the role of the alliance and its future vision.


The government must carefully explain the importance of the security pact framework to the public, and gain their understanding of Japan’s duty of assuming certain burdens and roles involved.


The security environment surrounding Japan continues to be unstable.


China is expanding its influence in both military and economic spheres, competing for dominance with the United States on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. North Korea has not abandoned its nuclear development and continues to improve its missile capabilities.


There are growing threats in such new areas as space and cybersecurity, in addition to conventional land, sea and aerial threats. Enhancing the deterrence of the bilateral alliance is indispensable.


It is also important to promote multifaceted defense cooperation with such nations as India and Australia, based on the Japan-U.S. alliance.


It is worrying to note that U.S. President Donald Trump, who continues to tout his “America First” policy, has leveled criticism against the Japan-U.S. security pact. He has insisted that the treaty is an “unfair agreement,” citing the fact that Japan does not have an obligation to defend the United States.


A U.S. military base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, functions to maintain and inspect U.S. warships and other vessels deployed in the Indo-Pacific. The U.S. Marine Corps is in Okinawa Prefecture to cope with emergencies across an extensive region, not just in the area surrounding Japan’s Nansei Islands.


U.S. military bases in Japan support the United States’ efforts to secure its military influence, which in turn benefits the interests of U.S. corporations and citizens in various ways. There are no grounds for the one-sided criticism that the security treaty represents a relationship of asymmetric cooperation or that it is a “unilateral” setup.


In the United States, more and more people are skeptical about the great cost of the country’s role as a “global policeman.” The nation’s inward-looking tendency is unlikely to change easily.


To make the alliance function stably, it is important to further expand the scope of roles assumed by the SDF.


Due to the establishment of the security-related legislation, the protection of U.S. military vessels engaged in exercises, among other activities, has been added to the list of the SDF’s responsibilities. Under a new agreement, the SDF has also conducted refueling operations for U.S. forces. It is necessary to ensure that the range of joint actions taken by the SDF and U.S. forces to deal with a situation is expanded to include the new spheres of threats, thereby facilitating a framework aimed at seamlessly dealing with various situations.


The United States has urged Japan to increase its contributions toward the costs of stationing U.S. forces in Japan, and difficult negotiations are expected over that issue. With respect to a setup in which Japan purchases state-of-the-art military equipment with U.S. government involvement, it will be necessary to secure the transparency of such arrangements, while also ensuring that prices for such equipment are reasonable.


To confront China and Russia, the United States is considering the deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Asia, including in Japan.


The government must tenaciously explain its own position and the true state of affairs to the United States, thereby seeking to solve problems that remain unsettled.


— This article appeared in the print version of The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 19, 2020.

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