Redefining the Japan-US AlliancePolitics
In the early 1990s, the Japan-US alliance was facing an identity crisis. What was the raison d’être for the bilateral security relationship now that the Cold War was over and the Soviet Union—the common enemy of Japan and the United States—had ceased to exist? Faced with the necessity of rebuilding their security strategy for the post–Cold War era, both countries set about the task of forging new policies, while maintaining close communication through official and unofficial channels. This process led both to the same conclusion: The Japan-US partnership had a vital role to play in post–Cold War security. The 1996 Japan-US Joint Declaration on Security was an affirmation of this conclusion at the highest level. The following year the two governments followed up this statement with a concrete framework for collaboration at the operational level, the new 1997 Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation. Through this process, Japan and the United States redefined the bilateral alliance for a new era. (*1)
Birth of Japan’s Post–Cold War Security Policy
Under the original terms of the Japan-US alliance, Japan was expected to remain lightly armed and refrain from any overseas commitment. At the same time, it secured the military cooperation of the United States in return for the provision of US military bases on Japanese soil. The asymmetric nature of the arrangement was summed up as follows by Nishimura Kumao, who was closely involved in negotiations for the original Japan-US Security Treaty as director-general of the Treaties Bureau in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “In a word, Japan provides the facilities, while the United State provides the armed forces to defend Japan. The cooperation is between people and things.(*2) Moreover, because Japan’s Constitution renounces the use of force, it was deemed illegal for the Self-Defense Forces to engage in overseas military operations. Consequently, any action in hostile territory was entrusted to the United States, while Japanese forces performed a strictly defensive “shield” function and nothing more.
To be sure, simply by guarding its own coastal waters and air space, Japan was playing an important role in international security during the Cold War era, particularly toward its end. The three narrow passages around the main islands of Japan—the Sōya, Tsugaru, and Tsushima straits—were potential routes for the Soviet naval and air forces in the Asia-Pacific theater. With the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization occupied in containing the massive armies of the Eastern bloc in Europe, it was strategically vital for the Japan-US alliance to maintain a rock-solid defense in the area around the Japanese archipelago. An advisory panel on defense issues (headed by Higuchi Hirotarō) explained this role in the following way in the so-called 1994 Higuchi report, submitted to Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi in August 1994 :
The defense capability of Japan in the Cold War period was build up and maintained for the primary purpose of preparing for attacks on Japanese territory by hostile forces . . . [and] Japan’s mission was to defend the country based strictly on the right of self defense. In light of its geographical position, however, Japan naturally played an important role in the anti-Soviet strategy of the Western bloc.(*3)
This role for Japan ended when the Cold War did. The 1990–91 conflict in the Persian Gulf was a wake-up call for the Japanese, forcing them to confront their diminished importance as a strategic shield. Tokyo responded to the crisis in the Gulf by contributing $13 billion to the multinational effort—or about 20% of the total outlay—making it the third largest contributor after Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. But the international community was decidedly underwhelmed by Japan’s generosity. The decision to send money instead of personnel to support the multinational operation was scorned as “checkbook diplomacy.” When the Kuwaiti government issued a statement through the US media in March 1991 to thank all the countries that had worked to liberate Kuwait, it did not include Japan on the list of contributing countries.
This is when Japan’s foreign-policy makers finally began to think of Japan’s defense capability as a tool for international peacekeeping and peace-building efforts, as well as national self-defense. In 1991, immediately after the Gulf War, the Japanese government sent a unit of the Marine Self-Defense Force to the Persian Gulf on a minesweeping mission. This overseas mission paved the way for the 1992 deployment of SDF troops to Cambodia to participate for the first time ever in a UN peacekeeping operation.
The new direction was articulated as follows in the 1994 Higuchi Report: “It is vital that we include among the key functions of the Self-Defense Forces that of participating as actively as possible in peacekeeping operations and other forms of multilateral cooperation carried out under the aegis of the United Nations for the purpose of international security.” This policy was subsequently incorporated in the National Defense Program Outline (later translated as “Guidelines”) adopted in late 1995. In defining the role of Japan’s defense capability, the 1995 defense guidelines specified not only “national defense” and “response to large-scale disasters and various other situations” but also “contribution to the creation of a more stable security environment” through such means as “participation in international peace cooperation activities.” (*4)
The North Korean nuclear crisis in 1993 and 1994, and the launch of a North Korean Nodong missile into the Sea of Japan in May 1993 gave rise to new concerns over security in the area surrounding Japan and highlighted the need to prepare for situations short of an outright attack that nonetheless posed a real threat to Japan’s security. Accordingly, as stated under the 1995 defense guidelines, “should a situation arise in the areas surrounding Japan that would have an important influence on national peace and security,” the role of Japan’s defense forces is to “take appropriate response . . . , for example, by . . . ensuring the smooth and effective implementation of the Japan-U.S. security arrangements.” Although similar references to “situations in areas surrounding Japan” were to become the subject of considerable controversy in the process of deliberating the Guidelines for Japan-US Security Cooperation from 1996 to 1997, this provision in the 1995 defense guidelines largely escaped notice, perhaps owing to its inconspicuous placement under the heading “Response to large-scale disasters and various other situations.” Be that as it may, the 1995 defense guidelines expanded the role of Japan’s defense capability from the narrow Cold War focus on national defense, recognizing that the country had a role to play in security at the regional and even the global level.
At the same time, the 1995 defense guidelines placed renewed emphasis on the importance of the Japan-US alliance. Under Section I (Purpose), the guidelines stated that “Japan, . . . paying due attention to enhancing the credibility of the Japan-U.S. security arrangements, will strive to ensure its own national defense and contribute to the peace and stability of the international community by appropriately upgrading, maintaining and operating its capability.” Whereas the previous National Defense Program Guidelines, adopted in 1976, referred to the Japan-US security relationship only once, the 1995 defense guidelines mentioned it 13 times. This all attests to the strong emphasis on the Japan-US alliance in the new defense guidelines. (*5)
Birth of the US Post–Cold War Security Policy
The US government gave the first clear indication of its post–Cold War security strategy not long after US President Bill Clinton took office in 1993. This new strategy was outlined in the Report on the Bottom-Up Review released by the Department of Defense in September 1993.(*6) Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, a former chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, had called for a “bottom-up review” of the nation’s defense program in response to calls for sharp cuts in defense spending to realize the “peace dividend” anticipated in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. The report called for a reduction in military personnel from 2.17 million (as of 1987) to 1.4 million by 1999 (actual personnel strength after the reductions was 1.45 million). Taking into account instability in the Middle East and on the Korean Peninsula, Aspin recommended this number as the level needed for the United States to fight two major regional conflicts simultaneously.
The Nye Initiative and the Joint Security Declaration
Recognition of the importance of the Japan-US alliance came from Washington in the form of the 1995 Nye Report and from Tokyo in the form of the 1995 National Defense Program Guidelines. It remained for the two allies to reaffirm this mutual understanding at the top level of government and to translate it into closer collaboration at the operational level. They did so by means of the 1996 Japan-US Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation and the 1997 Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation.
Efforts to reach an agreement on a redefinition of Japan-US alliance actually date back to 1994, when a Japanese government panel was holding discussions to compile the Higuchi Report, with an eye to establishing directions for the 1995 defense outline. The report, issued in August 1994, proposed four basic thrusts for Japanese defense policy going forward: (1) development of Japan’s defense capability for the purpose of multilateral security cooperation, including active participation in UN peacekeeping operations; (2) stronger bilateral security cooperation with the United States; (3) maintenance and qualitative improvement of Japan’s self-defense capability; and (4) development of the domestic defense industry and technological infrastructure. This organizational structure—beginning with the broader international context, then moving on to the Japan-US alliance before concluding with a discussion of Japan’s independent self-defense capability—was perfectly logical to defense policy makers at the time. Moreover, at a moment when Japan—chastened by the experience of the Gulf War—was finally beginning to participate in UN peacekeeping operations, it made sense to begin by setting forth the concept of multilateral security.
However, this organization alarmed some East Asia experts in the United States, including former Harvard professor Joseph Nye, Harvard professor Ezra Vogel, up and coming Japan scholar Michael Green of Johns Hopkins University, and Patrick Cronin of the Institute for National Strategic Studies. To their way of thinking, the decision to place the section on multilateral security cooperation ahead of the section on Japan-US cooperation signaled a shift toward multilateralism at the expense of the bilateral alliance.(*9) In a paper titled “Redefining the U.S.-Japan Alliance,” Green and Cronin warned that “momentum and energy in Japanese policy planning are flowing away from the alliance” and called for a comprehensive dialogue to establish the roles that Japan and the United States would play in the bilateral alliance in the coming years.(*10)) In September 1994, Joseph Nye—newly appointed assistant secretary of state, after a stint as chairman of the National Intelligence Council—began making arrangements for a bilateral security policy review that became known as the Nye Initiative. The goal was to reach a basic agreement in about a year’s time and release it at a summit meeting in the form of a joint statement by the two nations’ leaders. The talks proceeded on schedule, and the statement was set to be released in November 1995 at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Osaka, but domestic circumstances prevented Clinton from traveling to Japan at that time, and the statement had to be postponed until the following year. Meanwhile, however, Washington had already reaffirmed its commitment to the Japan-US alliance in the Nye Report, issued in February 1995, while Japan spelled out its ongoing emphasis on the bilateral security relationship in its 1995 defense guidelines, released that November.
During the same period, simmering discontent over US military bases in Okinawa—where (by acreage) 75% of American military facilities in Japan were concentrated—boiled over in reaction to the September 1995 rape of an Okinawan schoolgirl by three US servicemen. In response, the Japanese and US governments set up the Special Action Committee on Okinawa, or SACO, to formulate measures for realigning the US military forces in Japan and alleviating the burden on Okinawa. One such measure was the April 1996 agreement to relocate US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from its urban site in Ginowan, just outside of Naha.(*11)
The Japan-US Joint Declaration on Security was finally issued at a summit conference between Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryūtarō and President Clinton on April 17, 1996.(*12) The significance of this statement was threefold. First, as an official statement on the post–Cold War redefinition of the Japan-US alliance, it notified both nations and the rest of the world that the leaders of Japan and the United States regarded their bilateral partnership as vital to security in the new era. Second, it went beyond the traditional focuses of Japan-US cooperation—the defense of Japan and bilateral sharing of defense technology—to include security cooperation at the regional and global levels. During the Cold War, discussions of the Japan-US security relationship had rarely ranged beyond narrow bilateral issues, such as the US commitment to defend Japan in the event of an attack and Japanese cooperation with US forces stationed in Japan. The joint statement took a broader view of the Japan-US security partnership by including cooperation on such regional challenges as stabilization of the Korean Peninsula, as well as such global efforts as international peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. Third, the joint statement called for a review of the 1978 Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation, a key step for strengthening cooperation between the US military and the SDF at the operational level.(*13)
The New Guidelines for Defense Cooperation
The original Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation were approved in 1978 by the Japan-US Security Consultative Committee (SCC; also known as the “two-plus-two”) as a result of talks initiated under the leadership of Defense Agency Director General Michita Sakata and US Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger. The document spelled out the division of responsibilities and forms of cooperation between the SDF and the US military under the bilateral security arrangements with the aim of ensuring smooth and effective collaboration. It played an important role in strengthening the cooperative arrangements at the operational level during the 1970s and 1980s. However, because these guidelines were designed to deal with the strategic environment of the Cold War, they clearly needed to be adapted to the dramatically altered environment of the post–Cold War era. New guidelines were developed through extensive consultations (including four rounds of scenario studies), and submitted to the SCC on September 23, 1997.(*14) The 1997 guidelines provided for three basic categories of security cooperation: (1) “cooperation under normal circumstances,” (2) “actions in response to an armed attack against Japan,” and (3) “cooperation in situations in areas surrounding Japan that will have an important influence on Japan’s peace and security.”
As the Japan-US Joint Declaration on Security had placed special emphasis on the need for policy coordination in regard to situations in areas surrounding Japan, this category of cooperation naturally emerged as the focus of consultations on the new guidelines. While the 1978 guidelines had included a section on cooperation in the case of “situations in the Far East outside of Japan,” it was vague and tentative, and only one-tenth as long as the section on cooperation in the case of an armed attack on Japan. In the 1997 guidelines, by contrast, the section on situations in areas surrounding in Japan was longer than the section pertaining to an armed attack on Japan.
The new guidelines provide some 40 examples of cooperation in situations in areas surrounding in Japan, distributed among three subcategories. The first subcategory, “Cooperation in activities initiated by either government,” refers to activities whose effectiveness is enhanced by bilateral cooperation, although either country can engage in them or not, at its own discretion. Examples of this include “search and rescue” and “noncombatant evacuation” operations. The second category, “Japan’s support for U.S. forces activities,” comprises provision of facilities for US use and such rear area support as supply, transport, and maintenance, as required by the American side. The third category, “US-Japan operational cooperation,” includes sharing of information from surveillance or intelligence gathering and measures to ensure navigational safety in Japanese territorial waters and air space.(*15)
Japan needed to pass new legislation to enable the SDF to participate in some of the activities indicated in the 1997 guidelines, especially those relating to situations in areas surrounding Japan. In April 1998, the government submitted a set of bills to the Diet, and by November 2000 the legislature had enacted the entire package, establishing a legal basis for cooperation with the US military in areas surrounding Japan, including rear area support, search and rescue operations, and ship inspections.(*16)
The 1997 guidelines also note that an attack on Japan and a situation in areas surrounding Japan could take place concurrently—if, for example, Japan was the target of a missile or commando attack during an armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula. It was clear that Japan had much to do in terms of fortifying its defense capability in order to be able to cooperate with the United States in surrounding areas while its own security was directly under threat. In the next few years, Japan made rapid progress in this regard. In the late 1990s, it stepped up cooperation with the United States on ballistic missile defense, and in December 2003 it adopted plans for a two-tiered BMD system consisting of Aegis ship-based missile defense system and surface-to-air Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) interceptor missiles. In 2003 the government also succeeded—after 30 years—in passing several key pieces of legislation enhancing the SDF’s ability to respond to emergencies.
The Significance of Redefinition for Japan
Even before the process of redefining the Japan-US alliance began, Japan had made the decision to use its own defense capability for global security through participation in UN peacekeeping operations and other international peace efforts. The 1996 Japan-US Joint Declaration on Security clearly articulated Japan’s commitment to strengthening Japan-US cooperation in such global operations, and also in matters of regional security in Northeast Asia (i.e., “cooperation in situations in areas surrounding Japan”). In deliberating the 1997 Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation, the Japanese were obliged to look more closely into modes of regional cooperation, while at the same time exploring measures to protect Japan itself from new security threats, including ballistic missile and commando attacks. In short, deliberations associated with these key agreements embraced the entire range of security issues facing Japan—from homeland defense to regional concerns and matters of global security.
For Japan, in short, the redefinition of the Japan-US alliance involved not only adapting the alliance to the post–Cold War environment but also formulating a complete national security strategy for the new era. It was, in fact, the first time in two decades—since the formulation of the 1976 defense guidelines and the 1978 guidelines—that Japan had undertaken a complete review of its own defense policy and embarked on comprehensive policy coordination with the United States.
Since then, Japan has twice revised its National Defense Program Guidelines—in 2004 and 2010.(*17) In bilateral consultations held from 2004 to 2006, Japanese and US officials engaged in exhaustive discussion of the two nations’ mutual objectives, roles, and responsibilities in order to hammer out workable solutions for the realignment of US military forces in Japan, including the facilities to replace those at Futenma. At the “two-plus-two” Security Consultative Committee meeting in June 2011, top US and Japanese foreign policy and defense officials agreed on a new set of shared strategic goals and identified areas in which stronger cooperation is required to reach those goals(*18) on the basis of the new Defense Program Guidelines(*19) and the Quadrennial Defense Review adopted the previous year by Japan and the United States, respectively.(*20)
Viewed in this context, the redefinition of the Japan-US alliance can be seen as a template for ongoing bilateral coordination as both sides continue to adapt their security policies to the changing demands of the twenty-first century. With the collapse of the tense yet relatively constant Cold War configuration, the world has entered a period of uncertainty and fluidity that is likely to continue for the first few decades of the new century. Under these circumstances, we can expect the process of adaptation and coordination arising from the redefinition of the bilateral alliance to continue for some time to come.
(*1) ^ For previous analyses of this process, see Shibata Teruyoshi, Reisengo Nihon no bōei seisaku (Japan’s Post–Cold War Defense Policy) (Hokkaidō University Press, 2011); Sotooka Hidetoshi, Honda Masaru, and Miura Toshiaki, Nichi-Bei dōmei hanseiki: Anpo to mitsuyaku (The Japan-US Alliance over a Half-Century: The Security Treaty and Secret Agreements) (Asahi Shimbun Company, 2001), pp. 486–540; Yamaguchi Noboru, “Japanese Adjustments to the Security Alliance with the United States,” in Michael Armacost and Daniel Okimoto (eds.), The Future of America’s Alliances in Northeast Asia (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2004), pp.73–90.
(*2) ^ Nishimura Kumao, Anzen hoshō jōyaku ron (Discourse on the Security Treaty) (Jiji Press, 1960), p.40.
(*3) ^ Cabinet Secretariat, Nihon no anzen hoshō to bōeiryoku no arikata: 21 seiki e mukete no tenbō (The Modality of the Security and Defense Capability of Japan: The Outlook for the 21st Century) (Bureau of Ministry of Finance Printing 1994). The panel was established in February 1994 by the anti-LDP coalition government headed by Hosokawa Morihiro in preparation for the revision of the 1976 National Defense Program Outlook. The panel continued its work after Hosokawa’s resignation in April and that of his successor, Hata Tsutomu, the following June; and on August 12 submitted the co-called Higuchi Report to Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi, who headed a coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party of Japan.
(*4) ^ Japan Defense Agency, National Defense Program Guidelines in and after FY 1996, December 1995.
(*5) ^ Japan Defense Agency, National Defense Program Guidelines in and after FY 1977, October 1976.
(*8) ^ U.S. Department of Defense, The United States Security Strategy for the East Asia-Pacific Region, February 1995.
(*9) ^ Shibata, Reisengo Nihon no bōei seisaku, pp.109–118.
(*10) ^ Patrick M. Cronin and Michael J. Green, “Redefining the U.S.-Japan Alliance: Tokyo’s National Defense Program,” McNair Paper 31, (National Defense University, November 1994
(*11) ^ Special Action Committee on Okinawa, The SACO Final Report, December 2, 1996; The SACO Final Report on Futenma Air Station (an integral part of the SACO Final Report), December 2, 1996.
(*12) ^ Japan-U.S. Joint Declaration On Security—Alliance for the 21st Century, April 17, 1996.
(*16) ^ Most notably, the Act on Measures to Ensure the Peace and Security of Japan in Perilous Situations in Areas Surrounding Japan and the Act on Ship Inspection Operations in Situations in Areas Surrounding Japan.
(*17) ^ National Defense Program Guidelines, FY 2005– (Japanese version), December 2004; National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2011 and beyond, December 2010.