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Home > Special Topics > US Report Last Updated: 15:20 03/09/2007
US Report #11: April 8, 2004

After 150 Years, Japan Claims to have more Say in America

John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM; Japan Fellow, Stanford University)


It has been 150 years since Japan and the United States of America signed the Treaty of Peace and Amity on March 31, 1954. Between then and now, this relationship has been through just about everything including war and peace. Today, U.S. president George W. Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi describe their bond as being "stronger than ever." The two countries have come a long way from their state of relations during the Pacific War, when both sides promised to annihilate the other and engaged in an exercise of dehumanization where names as "monkey-men" and "barbarians" were ascribed to each other. Another example of just how far the relationship has come is evident in the fact that under the occupation, Japan's association with the U.S. was asymmetrical in nature, characterized by an association between the victor and the vanquished. Since then, both countries have worked hard to rectify this imbalance and are today, members of the same elite group of nations that command the maximum amount of power globally. Although, US supremacy vis--vis Japan and the world at large are undoubted, it cannot be denied that Japan has an influence over US policy no matter how limited. This report hopes to highlight one recent example of this fact.

This relates to Japan's increasing involvement in the realm of security. Japan's security is guaranteed by the United States under a mutual security agreement that allows the US to station troops in Japan and requires America to come to Japan's rescue if attacked or threatened by a foreign country or entity. In Japan, the United States armed forces represent the country's first and last line of defense. Although, Japan's Self-Defense Force (SDF) is formidable in its own right, the principles enshrined in Chapter II, Article 9 of Japan's postwar constitution places the SDF in a secondary role behind the US military when it comes to security issues, both in Japan and in the East Asian region. Japan's "subordinate" security position toward the US, however, has not stopped SDF and Japanese government officials from trying to affect US military policy.

A recent series of articles in The Asahi Shimbun indicates that American's listen if Japan speaks up. According to this series, Japanese SDF personnel are speaking up as they participate in the "coalition of the willing." In contrast to the common Japanese sentiment that 'silence is golden,' an article published on April 6, explains that the motto among men interacting with the US Central Command based in Florida is that, "silence does not translate into gold." (See: "Zero Hour: Taking part in the war on terror has helped define the SDF's place in the world"). Proving its point, the article highlights important roles fulfilled by people such as Ground SDF Colonel, Ichiro Yamada, who has taken charge of research and is responsible for giving regular briefings at a subcommittee on disarmament and rehabilitation in Afghanistan. It also introduces Air SDF Lt. Col., Yoshinori Ozaki, who has been appointed to chair a subcommittee on humanitarian aid and has put together an aid project at the Central Command. These people argue that they are making an impact on US policy in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Closer to home, Japanese officials have reached an agreement with their US counterparts that more or less formalizes judicial access to US troops station in Japan who are suspects of a crime committed on Japanese territory. Ever since tragic crimes committed by US forces stationed in Japan in 1995, Japanese authorities and civic groups have been struggling to get the US to reform the Status of Forces Agreement, which governs the management and operation of US troops in Japan to allow the interrogation of US suspects. As of April 2, the US has, in principle, agreed to hand over these suspects on the condition that they be accompanied by US officials when interrogation takes place. While there is no guarantee that a speedy hand over will take place in the event of a crime, this agreement removes a main obstacle that has caused delays in the past and should be considered as an example of Japan's ability (largely as a result of popular mobilization) to influence US policy and behavior.

No one in Japan suggests that their country has an overriding influence over the US' military agenda, not even the EU or the international community can make that claim. However, what an increasing number of Japanese who support Japan's heightened military involvement in international security missions suggest is that Japan's military contribution translates into increased influence and say in the US as well as flexibility when it comes to its own foreign policy. Japan's recent signing of an oil deal with Iran may be a case in point. Limited condemnation of the deal by the US may have been mitigated by Japan's troop dispatch to Iraq.

In conclusion, the above is evidence that Japan has come a long way since 1854 when it was forced to open up by William Perry's Black Ships and from the time when it was occupied by the United States following the Pacific War. However, one must also question whether Japan's increased say in the realm of security is not leading the country in a direction that runs contrary to its constitution and more importantly, is contributing to a US-led policy that serves to destabilize an already insecure world.

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