Interviewed by Kazuyuki Okudaira in Silicon Valley
[The following is an interview with former U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos.]
Question: It has been 60 years since Japan and the U.S. signed the security treaty.
John Roos: The alliance has played a crucial role not only in Japan and the U.S. but also in Asia and the entire world. The alliance has been the cornerstone of peace and stability in Asia, which is becoming increasingly important. Like many experts, I believe it is a major achievement to have maintained such a relationship for 60 years.
Q: You experienced a change of government and the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 while working as ambassador.
Roos: I worked with five different prime ministers during my tenure. Each government focused on a different theme, but the basic strength of the alliance remained unchanged. Looking back on the 60-year history, both Japan and the U.S. experienced political turmoil. But the two countries consistently strengthened their relations.
The 2011 disaster was the biggest crisis Japan had experienced since the end of World War II. I still remember contacting the White House and other entities from the Embassy’s parking lot immediately after the earthquake and instantly obtaining assurances that we would receive maximum support. The alliance initially began for military purposes, but this showed that we could work together when faced with major earthquakes or other humanitarian crises.
Q: What do you think are the factors that made it possible for the alliance to last for 60 years despite the end of the Cold War and other changes in the external environment?
Roos: Mutual respect and admiration are the foundation of the successful alliance. Also, our common values of democracy and human rights largely contributed to its success. The challenges we’ve faced have shifted with the times, from the threat of the Soviet Union to China’s emergence and responding to North Korea. But I think the alliance’s ability to adapt to the environment is its strength and what makes it so outstanding.
Q: Japan began sending Self-Defense Forces (SDF) overseas in the 1990s and has been broadening the scope of their activities since then.
Roos: The basic idea of the alliance is that the U.S. takes responsibility for Japan’s security while Japan provides the U.S. with bases and other items. This has brought benefits to both countries and become a major factor in the successful alliance. Japan expanded the scope of the [SDF’s] activities as time went by and received international recognition. This was made possible by the decisions made by Japanese people and their leaders. I respect these judgments.
Q: President Trump is insisting that the one-sidedness of the alliance is unfair. Do you agree with him?
Roos: No. Japan has significantly contributed to the development of the alliance up until now. That has created a “one plus one equals three” kind of situation for the alliance. Japan has been playing a very important role for both countries.
Q: What is required of the alliance?
Roos: Cooperation in the cybersecurity field will be important. Cyberattacks have become a reality and this is increasing the need for the two countries to jointly deal with the threat since they have the most advanced technologies in the world.
The Trump administration has decided to withdraw from the Paris accord, but I believe we can cooperate more closely in the [cybersecurity] field than in taking measures against climate change or preventing the proliferation of nuclear arms.
Personal relationships form the basis of security and economic cooperation. Despite this, the number of Japanese students studying in the U.S. is decreasing and young people of our two countries have fewer opportunities to communicate. This worries me.
My concern about this issue led to the launch of the TOMODACHI initiative (to support exchanges between Japanese and American youths). Forging long-term relationships is crucial.