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Sorting out Japan's burden in the US security alliance

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In Brief

As an admirer of Aurelia George Mulgan's work, I want to thank her for the comments on my article with Doug Turner.

Japan’s defence budget at approximately ¥5 trillion (US$ 50 billion) is hardly ‘cheap’ either, nor is Japan’s large sympathy budget outlaid for the costs of the US bases in Japan (more, as a proportion of the total cost than any other US base-hosting country in the world).

Considering that Japan still abides by the one-percent of GDP ceiling for defense spending and has in fact been cutting defense expenditures for nearly the past decade, it is reasonable to argue that Japan has in fact been getting a cheap ride on the US, the sympathy budget notwithstanding. Moreover, while it is difficult to know what Japan’s defense budget would be in the absence of the alliance, or even just forward-deployed US forces, it seems likely that they would be higher than at present. We may find out, if the US and Japan ever manage to implement the realignment agreement.


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Are the authors seriously arguing in favour of a nuclear Japan?

By no means. But surely the US nuclear umbrella has obviated the need for a serious debate about the acquisition of a nuclear arsenal? If nothing else, keeping Japan from going nuclear is a sound basis for maintaining the alliance.

Moreover, to say that the United States has ‘saved Japan from having to think about its national interests’ is both patronising and a travesty of reality.

Once again, I have to disagree. Oftentimes Japanese officials refer to Japan’s national interests without actually specifying what they are, and rarely seem to use these interests as a guide to policymaking. Meanwhile, how can it be patronizing when Japanese themselves bemoan their country’s failure to articulate a grand strategy for the twenty-first century? (I most recently read Nakagawa Hidenao make this argument in his book “Kanryo kokka no hokai.”)

Would the United States seriously ask Japan to discount its legitimate democratic constitutional and political processes?

I think you’ll find that we’re actually in agreement on this question. I have argued persistently that the US should stop pushing for Japan to do more and let Japan decide for itself what it is willing and able to contribute globally. My problem is more with the US for its patronizing treatment of Japan in both constantly pushing for more “token” contributions and for praising Japan for the smallest of contributions, as if rewarding a diligent pupil.

As you noted above, we want Japanese foreign policy to reflect the views of the Japanese public. I have argued repeatedly that there needs to be less emphasis on the security relationship, because there is less support for it than Washington expects. An alliance that rests on a small assortment of elites in both countries while ignoring the wishes of the people who host some 30,000 US military personnel and their equipment in their country is a broken alliance.

There is a groundswell of Japanese political and public opinion that slowly demanding an end to Japan’s ‘subordinate’ relationship to the United States.

Again, no disagreement from me. My hope is that new administration acknowledges this and opts for a new course.

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