The US-Japan Alliance as a Global Alliance
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
During her recent trip to Japan, the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice praised her country's partnership with Japan. Her speech at Sophia University on 19 March outlined her nation's vision for transforming the US-Japan Alliance into a global alliance that extended beyond the Asia-Pacific and East Asia. She highlighted Japan's involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine as demonstrative of Japan's willingness to "step up to wider global responsibilities." As part of this vision, Rice tossed in the idea of creating a "Strategic Development Alliance" between Japan and the US that would advance "common" objectives on the development front.
These words were likely encouraging to Prime Minister Koizumi and the ruling coalition government who seek to secure a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council and are mulling over the idea of amending the constitution in an effort to loosen the limits placed on Japan's Self-Defense Forces. However, for those of us who value the lessons of war in 20th century Asia, Rice's suggestions bring much concern. The idea of extending the US-Japan military alliance beyond its traditional sphere of application to cover all of Asia, including the Middle East and beyond, not only remind us of Japan's colonizing brutality but also directly implicates the Japanese in US military and strategic objectives. Not only would this increase US influence over Japanese foreign policy and decision-making, but it also would fly in the face of Japanese public opinion, which does not agree or identify with the US on many fronts. The majority of Japanese objected to the invasion of Iraq, the majority are unhappy with the US' posture vis-à-vis North Korea, they are concerned by the increasingly antagonistic tone taken by the US toward China and are of course opposed to the burgeoning nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional weapons arsenal that the US possesses and intends to use.
Rice suggested that, "America is a pacific nation." However, this notion rings empty considering that the US has been at war during much of the past 60 years. Although her message was packaged in the form of a struggle for liberty and freedom, global public opinion interprets the spread of US influence around the globe as constraining and threatening. The US is seen as flaunting her military and economic might in order to coerce others into doing what the US government wants. Despite Rice's rhetoric, the US is not viewed as a compassionate country that spreads prosperity and peace around the world. Japan's identification with the US would not change that worldview and in effect would portray Japan as engaged in the same enterprise.
Most troublesome was Rice's amnesia and cognitive dissonance expressed toward the toll of human suffering caused by war and conflict in Asia over the past fifty years. In her speech, Rice stated that, "there has not been a single major conflict in Asia for more than three decades." What would she then call the conflicts in East Timor, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Nepal just to mention a few?
Finally, the application of the US-Japan Alliance around the world and the establishment of a "Strategic Development Alliance" would create more divisions among nations, continue to undermine international organizations such as the United Nations and enforce a single, US, agenda on development. For Japan, which has traditionally taken a UN centered approach on development issues, this would mean a dramatic policy shift and would make ineffective Japan's desire to secure greater independence, impact and voice in international affairs.