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Be flexible with “shield and spear”: former Ambassador to U.S. Sasae

The following is Asahi Shimbun’s interview with Kenichiro Sasae, former Ambassador to the U.S.

(Interviewed by Taketsugu Sato, senior staff writer)


Q: How will the U.S. engage with the Asian region in the future?


A: The U.S. will not reduce its security presence in the region for the time being. Although the U.S. may deny that it acts as the world’s policeman, it will maintain its presence in regions that are directly linked to U.S. national interests. The U.S. will maintain and reinforce its engagement in Asia to counter China. On the other hand, there is increased recognition [in the U.S.] that the U.S. is compelled to shoulder an excess share of the cost to defend other countries. The trend of the U.S. requesting allies, including Japan, to be responsible for an increased share of cost will continue at some level.


Confrontation and confusion over domestic issues continues in the U.S. Even if Joe Biden wins the presidential election, he will need to focus on domestic issues to ease the internal conflict. China and Russia may take advantage of such a situation. Russia may use the Northern Territories issue to weaken the Japan-U.S. alliance. China may become more active around the Senkakus and the South China Sea, watching U.S. reactions to take an expansionary policy. The Japanese and U.S. governments need to take such matters into consideration in their responses.


Q: The role and duties of the Self-Defense Forces are expanding within the Japan-U.S. security framework.


A: Through the Cold War and beyond, Japan has secured its safety against threats from Russia and North Korea in the form of U.S. protection, including the “nuclear umbrella.” Now that we are faced with China’s military expansion and North Korea, Japan should pay an appropriate level of the cost of stationing the U.S. military in Japan in order to maintain U.S. military engagement. Japan should also discuss what the best defense equipment is within the bounds of the Japan-U.S. security treaty, and install such equipment. It does not run counter to the Constitution or pacifism for Japan to have counteroffensive capabilities.


The “shield and spear” model – in which Japan dedicates itself to being the “shield,” i.e. defense, while the offensive capabilities, or “spear,” are left completely to the U.S. military – should not be adhered to so rigidly. It is perfectly possible for Japan to possess some level of offensive capability to reduce the opportunities for others to attack. Not only the U.S., China, and Russia, but also South Korea is boosting such capabilities. Although Japan advocates ideals and peace, Asia has unfortunately entered the age of China-led military expansion. The view that Japan alone can defend itself with a “shield” is not realistic.


Q: What is the role of Japan in the international community, amid competition between major powers such as the U.S. and China?


A: When the U.S. looks inward, the world loses a pole and the international order becomes chaotic. Japan’s development is based on the benefits of the liberal order, such as freedom, democracy, and rule of law. It is important to take leadership to maintain order by cooperating with like-minded countries that share the same political values, such as Europe, Australia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and South Korea, when authoritarian countries such as China and Russia increase their influence.

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