The US-Japan Alliance Must Evolve: The Futenma Flip-Flop, the Hatoyama Failure, and the Future


August 9, 2010

The US-Japan Alliance Must Evolve: The Futenma Flip-Flop, the Hatoyama Failure, and the Future
The US-Japan Alliance Must Evolve: The Futenma Flip-Flop, the Hatoyama Failure, and the Future

Volume 8 | Issue 32 | Number 4

Article ID 3398

The US-Japan Alliance Must Evolve: The Futenma Flip-Flop, the Hatoyama Failure, and the Future

Terashima Jitsuro

Translation by John Junkerman

After meandering through the course of some eight months, the administration of Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio collapsed. It was as if, true to his “alien” nickname, Hatoyama disappeared into space with his plans for a game-changing paradigm shift, wearing that expression of sublime pleasure far removed from the fetters and hardship of earthlings, and taking with him the man who performed as the true authority, Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) secretary general Ozawa Ichiro.

But history is harsh. Hatoyama left the stage, with the problem of the US marine base at Futenma unresolved and having failed to set a course for Japanese diplomacy after his party’s defeat of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). I have been friends with Hatoyama for many years and, until the launch of his administration, often shared thoughts with him about the foreign policy Japan ought to pursue. But watching from afar as reasoned debate over Japan’s diplomacy was waylaid by the prime minister’s tug-of-with the staff bureaucrats of foreign affairs and defense ministries and by the inward-looking national media, I could not help but feel profound despair and anger at the depth of the maladies afflicting Japan.

Suppressing my anger here, I would like to assess the Hatoyama administration and attempt to work out the foundation for new steps forward. In the February issue of Sekai, I published an essay entitled “The Will and Imagination to Return to Common Sense: Toward a Restructuring of the US-Japan Alliance,” a reexamination of the entire US-Japan alliance, including the Futenma problem. This essay is a sequel, in which I will look at developments over the ensuing six months and present a more structural analysis of the nature of the problem.

In the raging currents of world history, the framework of Cold War-style “alliance diplomacy” has reached its limit. In particular, the mechanism of the US-Japan alliance that has become fixed by inertia and vested interests in the 65 years since the end of the war has clearly begun to squeak, and the need for the rejuvenation of this alliance is becoming sharply visible.

The tale of a new era has only just begun.

Why Hatoyama’s Foreign Policy Failed: The Structure of the Flip-Flop

The reason for the failure of Hatoyama’s foreign policy is clear. He positioned the Futenma problem as an issue of reducing the burden of the US bases on Okinawa, and he was never able to get out of that box. In a sense, Hatoyama is a man of great benevolence, and he is deeply troubled by the fact that more than 70 percent of the US bases in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa, placing an extreme burden on the people of the prefecture. He was thus seriously committed to finding a site outside of Okinawa for the relocation of the Futenma base.

But moving the base out of the prefecture, to Tokunoshima for example, would not solve the problem; it would simply diffuse the bases, something even people in Okinawa recognize. It would be easier for them to understand, however begrudgingly, if the DPJ government had accepted as a fait accompli the agreement to move the base to Henoko negotiated by the previous LDP government, but had placed the Futenma problem in the context of a long-term vision of dealing with the overall issue of the bases in Japan. Instead, it became a dispute over finding a substitute site and degenerated into a foolish game of holding out one piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

The Futenma problem emerged after the 1995 rape of an Okinawan girl by US soldiers, followed by the 2004 crash of a large helicopter. It is essentially a problem of the safety of the US bases. As such, the party that caused these incidents-the US military-would be expected to take responsibility for resolving the problem, including finding a replacement site. Instead, the US took the stance, “We’ll be happy to move if we like the new site,” and stood by waiting for the Japanese to resolve their domestic dispute, implicitly allowing pressure to build as time passed.

Japan should have engaged the US directly. Of course, there were consultations between the two countries over the replacement site, but these talks took place within the confines of the present security framework. Since the future of the US-Japan Security Treaty was not under consideration, there was no possibility of a paradigm shift. When the discussion is stuck at the micro level, the technical opinions of staff bureaucrats close to the scene take precedence, and the question becomes whether an option is “realistic” or not. The policy of reducing the base burden on Okinawa was strait-jacketed by foreign affairs and defense bureaucrats, who give priority to the views of the US. The prime minister’s office never achieved a united front with the defense and foreign affairs ministries, because the bureaucrats in these ministries steadfastly believe that no changes should be made in the US-Japan security alliance or in the present state of the bases.

In the wake of the DPJ-led regime change, there has been talk of a transition from a bureaucracy-led government to political leadership. But there are two ministries where political leadership is not operational: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense. This is not because the political executives in these ministries are weak. It is because there is an unbudgeable determination, like a thick layer of bedrock, among the key bureaucrats in these ministries: solicitude toward the intentions of the US. Throughout the postwar period, these bureaucrats have established their careers through training and administrative experience in the US, where they developed a shared understanding. To them, “consideration of the US” and “gaining American understanding” are the most natural, realistic choices.

Many of these bureaucrats are highly capable, with good balance and rich humanity, but engaging in serious discussion with them brings to mind the spirit of the Chinese bureaucrats who led their country to ruin at the end of the Qing dynasty. To the Qing bureaucrats in 1900, at the time of the Boxer Rebellion some 60 years after the Opium War, the British Empire was an indisputable proposition. In others words, the Qing dynasty was run by specialists who regarded pressure from Britain and the other great powers as a given, and had fallen into the psychology that, rather than seeking a breakthrough, it was better to accept the existence of the great powers as a natural fact and to hope that the situation would resolve itself peaceably. The bureaucrats were well educated and knowledgeable, but they were mired in a rigid understanding of the era. They became captives of the incident, exhausted by repeating their daily routines, and their inertia brought about the downfall of their government. In today’s Japan as well, rather than deciding policy based on an objective evaluation of conditions, policy is first assessed for its impact on US-Japan relations. As such, there can be no expectation of a tough and flexible foreign policy, responsive to changing conditions.

The lesson of the recent flip-flop drama was the realization that the mechanism for determining Japan’s foreign policy is rigid and constrained. Hatoyama and many of the prime ministers that preceded him lacked the imagination and statecraft required to guide the country as its top leader. One can only nod in agreement when The Economist titles a special report “Leaderless Japan” (June 3, 2010 edition).

“My words didn’t reach the Japanese people,” Hatoyama declared at the press conference where he announced his resignation. In his last moment in office, he finally spoke from his heart, but in office he never once expressed his ideas for the future of the US-Japan alliance. Foreign policy requires an understanding of global conditions and the historical context of the times. This awareness was evident in the foreign policy of Yoshida Shigeru in the early postwar period; of the Hatoyama Ichiro administration at the time of the Bandung Conference in 1955; and of the Kishi Nobusuke administration at the time of the revision of the US-Japan Security Treaty in 1960. The Hatoyama administration, lacking strong leadership based on a clear understanding of the historical era, was quickly swept up and immobilized by the “maintain the status quo” momentum on both sides of the Pacific.

But what a low-level political game was played out for all to see! The prime minister declared he would fulfill his promise to move the base out of Okinawa. The media pressed for a date, and he committed to the end of May. “You made the commitment, make good on it” the media demanded. In the process, all perspective on the heart of the problem was lost, and it was reduced to a hollow burlesque. The US and the rest of the world looked on from the sidelines, unable to suppress wry smiles.

What is this pervasive sense of impotence? Even among the DPJ members of the Diet, there’s a mood of “Don’t step on the American tiger’s tail” and “Touch the US-Japan alliance and the status of the bases, and you’ll get burned.” Unless we can somehow get beyond this impotence, Japan’s postwar era will never end.

What the Flip-Flop Revealed: America’s True Colors and the Reality that Must Be Faced

Examined in depth, the Futenma flip-flop reveals a number of matters, and these will provide food for thought in considering future developments.

  • Revelation #1: The US is also under the spell of the US-Japan security system.

In the face of the regime change in Japan and concern that the Futenma problem might lead to wide-ranging reconsideration of the US bases, the US military’s true colors were revealed. Previously, the US spoke with bravado about bearing all the risk of defending Japan. Now the US began to make a different claim: The US bases in Japan are essential to the stability of East Asia. Maintaining permanent bases on the Japanese islands also serves American interests.

The revelation that the US military genuinely wants to stay in Japan is significant. The reason is quite clear. There is no other country in the world where the host nation bears 70 percent of the cost of basing foreign troops and where those troops operate under a status of forces agreement that is virtually that of an occupying army. There may be other valid reasons for the US presence, such as US global strategic considerations and alliance responsibilities, but the immediate economic interest of dependence on Japan’s cost-sharing has cast a spell over the US. Japan’s “sympathy budget”, which began in 1978 with a payment of ¥6.2 billion (approx. $27 million at then current exchange rates) and peaked in 1995 at ¥271 billion (approx. $2.9 billion). Japan continues to foot the bill for everything from utilities to recreation expenses, costs that the host nation of a foreign military base should not have to bear. The bill was pared to ¥188.9 billion (approx. $2.1 billion) in the 2010 budget, but the structural arrangement remains unchanged.

It is now some 20 years since the end of the Cold War, and during these two decades Japan has paid an estimated ¥15 trillion (approx. $167 billion at current exchange rates), for the maintenance and recent restructuring of the US bases, its contribution to the cost of the first Gulf War, the cost of dispatching the SDF to the Indian Ocean and Iraq, etc. The US itself has become shackled to this alliance relationship.

At the time of the regime change, specialists in US-Japan relations in Washington started to squirm, out of concern for the future of their vested interests. Together with their counterparts in Japan, they began to scream that the “favorable US-Japan relationship” must not be upset. Any change in the status quo represents a loss to them. The key word they have put forward in support of maintaining the status quo is “deterrence.”

In fact, during the eight months of the Futenma flip-flop, American defense strategy has shifted substantially. The outlines of the Obama administration’s defense policy have become clear. In March, Obama acknowledged that the role of nuclear weapons in national security strategy has diminished and pledged to put an end to Cold War thinking that tied security to the balance of nuclear threats. In April, he announced that the US would not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to and in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In May, the US hosted the NPT review conference in New York and led the effort to obtain approval of an action plan that charts a commitment and a framework for achieving a world without nuclear weapons.

Further, from reading the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review issued in February and the National Security Strategy report issued in May, it is clear that US national security strategy is at a major turning point. This was also evident in an essay, “Helping Others Defend Themselves, that Defense Secretary Robert Gates published in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs. These documents indicate that the American ability to mount large-scale military operations overseas has diminished, forcing a shift toward a policy of supporting from the rear as allied countries and countries in conflict defend themselves. The Pentagon has also announced a program of budget cuts over the next five years, an indication that the US can no longer fiscally sustain the high level of military expenditures that have accompanied the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After the end of the Cold War, the Clinton administration cut the military budget steadily, and it had been reduced to $294.5 billion in fiscal year 2000. Expenditures ballooned after 9.11 until they reached $728 billion in 2010. With the plan to reduce this spending in the coming years, it is clear that the policy of the Obama administration is aimed at ending the Cold War policy of nuclear deterrence and cutting military spending.

However, when it comes to Japan, this shift in American defense strategy appears in a different light. Japan is the exception; there will be no base closures or spending reductions here. Rather, one can expect demands for Japan to increase its burden-sharing. Since Japan bears 70 percent of the costs of American bases, it is less expensive to maintain bases here than in the US mainland, and keeping as many bases as possible in Japan avoids the necessity of reducing spending. As America’s global strategy shifts, the wisdom of Japanese strategic thinking will loom important.

• Revelation #2: The structure of petrified thought in the Japanese media

Figure 1: US bases in Japan and South Korea

The Futenma flip-flop exposed the reality that Japan does not confront problems by considering their essential character. It confirmed, first of all, that there is no place in Japan outside of Okinawa that will agree to host an American base. At the end of May, Hatoyama requested the members of the National Governors Association to host a replacement base for Futenma, but not a single prefecture volunteered. The fact is that a base is a problem that no one wants nearby. At the same time, the pretense that the bases ensure the security of Japan and Asia goes unquestioned, and many Japanese are swayed by the argument that the continued presence of the bases is unavoidable, given the threat from China and North Korea. In short, one must acknowledge that Japan exists as a country by the warped reasoning that “We don’t mind the bases as long as they are in Okinawa.”

I’d like to touch here upon the Japanese media, which by all rights should provide the citizens with some perspective on the issue. The waffling of the nation on the Futenma problem is shared by the Japanese media. I went back and read newspaper commentaries on foreign policy disputes in the past decades, including the San Francisco Peace Conference, the Bandung Conference, and the 1960 revision of the Security Treaty. The deterioration of the intellectual quality of the writing is undeniable. One can only conclude that journalists have abandoned the pursuit of the essence of problems.

Figure 2. US bases in Okinawa


For example, the commentary on Futenma and US-Japan security in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, which provides many in the business world with their perspective on the world, has not advanced one step beyond the Cold War paradigm. The newspaper supported the Iraq war and the dispatch of the SDF to Iraq. Far from acknowledging failure of the Iraq war, the paper continues to insist that US forces in Japan are an investment in the stability of Asia and that the US-Japan alliance is the cheapest way to ensure Japan’s security. While reporting that, in the business realm, the Japanese economy must function in a relationship of mutual dependence with the rest of Asia, it continues to argue that, in the political realm, the US-Japan alliance must be prepared to deal with the threat posed by Japan’s Asian neighbors. The chasm between these two lines of thought is almost ridiculous.

One has come to expect this kind of embrace of the status quo from the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, but it was the liberal Asahi Shimbun that drove the media’s equivocation on Futenma. This was epitomized by an open letter to the prime minister by editor-in-chief Funabashi Yoichi on May 5. In one sense, it was written with balanced consideration, as might be expected from Funabashi, a former correspondent in Beijing and Washington. But as the essay unfolds with its careful balance, it becomes ambiguous, muddling the thrust of his argument.

Figure 3: Funabashi Yoichi, Editor in Chief, Asahi Shimbun

This is Funabashi’s argument: “US bases in Japan are not only meant to protect Japan, but also contribute to peace and stability in the Far East. Japan’s neighbors and the US are worried about any weakening of that role, which serves as a deterrence in the region. … To incorporate China within a liberal internationalist order, a solid US-Japan alliance in the Asia-Pacific region is indispensable.” He proceeds to introduce the comments of a US administration official: “What do you think would happen to the Senkaku Islands if the Marines left Okinawa? From the very next day, a Chinese flag would be flying over those islands.” He counters that “the role of protecting the Senkaku Islands should be handled by the Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard,” but notes “the growing frustration in the US, which feels it must use the Senkaku Islands card to awaken Japan from its ‘peace stupor.'” Funabashi is fully aware that it is not certain that the US would defend the Senkaku Islands, given the “strategic ambiguity” of the US-Japan alliance. But what we should be doing today is examining the real meaning of “deterrence.” We need to free ourselves from the state of mind that freezes the status quo, and chart a framework for regional stabilization that is appropriate to a post-Cold War international order.

Funabashi’s essay was meant to inspire the prime minister with the courage to affirm the status quo, not to push Japanese politics toward changing it. What dynamic is it that leads Funabashi, a man who advocated “proactive global civilian power” as his vision for Japan’s post-Cold War diplomacy in a 1993 book, to now embrace the status quo? This is what we need to ask ourselves.

• Revelation #3: The US-China relationship has deepened, amid global structural change

The US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, held in Beijing in late May 2010, confirmed that the two countries aim to avoid confrontation and strengthen their relationship. The Obama administration has expanded the cabinet-level exchange begun by the Bush administration to include national security affairs. It goes without saying that there is a mountain of issues that could cause serious confrontations between the US and China: the exchange value of the yuan, Tibet and human rights problems, US arms sales to Taiwan, nuclear weapons development in Iran and North Korea, and most recently the issue of sanctions against North Korea for the sinking of the South Korean ship Cheonan.

The US has previously shown consideration toward China and avoided confrontation over such issues as North Korea’s missile launches and nuclear weapons tests, and in this recent case the US was steamrolled by China’s tough stance, shielding the North Korean state as a veritable protectorate, and the sanctions imposed by the UN ended up tepid and toothless. Some have suggested that, while the unipolar American world has become increasingly multipolar, a G2 framework of actual power is emerging. In other words, the rise of China has made the coordination of American and Chinese interests increasingly important to achieving global consensus. While the notion of a G2 is partly journalistic hyperbole, the consideration that the US pays toward China is pronounced.

According to American statistics, US-China trade (imports and exports combined) amounted to $365.9 billion in 2009, or some 2.5 times greater than US-Japan trade ($146.9 billion). Another surprising statistic is that, while 700,000 Americans visited Japan last year, 1.71 million visited China. Whether in the movement of people or goods, the foundation of the US-Japan economic interrelationship is swiftly changing.

The idea of using the American deterrence to contain China is not to be gainsaid, but the notion that the Chinese threat will be met by the US-Japan alliance is off the mark. This is because the US is trying to establish a much deeper level of understanding with China than with Japan. Meanwhile, the US is using Japanese dread of being left out as the US and China draw close to play mind games with Japan, such as “Obama only gave Hatoyama 10 minutes at the summit, but he gave the Chinese…,” instilling the fear that Japan will be isolated if it doesn’t play along with the US. As has long been the case, Japan is naïve enough to make these ploys effective. Japan should be the one proposing, without trepidation, a cabinet-level strategic dialogue with the US, where the future status of the US-Japan alliance can be addressed directly.

50 Years After Renewal of the Security Treaty, an Indispensable Sense of Historical Direction

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the trip across the Pacific of the Kanrin Maru, carrying Japan’s first official delegation to the US. And 100 years after that voyage came the heated political confrontation over the extension of the US-Japan Security Treaty in 1960. Not one Japanese living during the time of the Kanrin Maru-the late Edo period and the Meiji era-ever considered relying on another country’s military to maintain the nation’s security. Japan’s defeat in the war weighed heavy, but now, 65 years down the road, how slovenly have the Japanese become?

From the standpoint of postwar Japanese diplomatic thought, we continue to search for a way to advance beyond the diplomatic framework of Yoshida Shigeru (prime minister, 1946-47, 1948-54). With the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, Japan made an accelerated return to international society as a wing of the Western camp and embarked on the path of existence as a lightly armed economic state, partnered in an alliance with the US. The first turning point came during the administration of Hatoyama Ichiro, who succeeded Yoshida as prime minister in 1954. Seeking a departure from Yoshida’s foreign policy, the administration made a return to the Asian stage, albeit timidly, at the Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955, where a meeting with Chinese premier Zhou Enlai led to resumption of trade with China; restoration of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union followed the next year. There were limits to how far Japan could pursue a foreign policy independent of the US, and the “return to Asia” took place within the confines of the US-Japan alliance, but these were nonetheless new developments. 

Then came the 1960 revision of the US-Japan Security Treaty, first negotiated in 1951. Some 5.8 million people are said to have demonstrated against the treaty throughout Japan, culminating in the tragic death of University of Tokyo student Kamba Michiko outside of the Diet on June 15, 1960. Japan was engulfed by an extraordinary passion, as young people took to heart the teachings of political theorist Maruyama Masao and were spurred by the “logic of action” to participate in the citizens movement. Japanese leaders of the time, from Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke on down, shared with the opponents of the security treaty a deep concern for rationalizing the alliance relationship with the US.

One should not misunderstand the essence of Yoshida’s foreign policy. He did prioritize harmony with the US, but this did not mean he endorsed extreme dependence on or subordination to the US. It was his firm belief that “there can be no state without a spirit of independence,” as his memoirs and the accounts of those around him attest. Until the revision of the treaty in 1960, his successors continued his efforts to move toward a more equal military alliance, including the introduction of a system of prior consultation regarding the American bases in Japan. But as Yoshida’s figure receded after his death in 1967, imitators began to abound, purveying a distorted version of his foreign policy. By the time the security treaty was renewed in 1970, the will to reexamine the relationship with the US had slipped from the national consciousness.

To be sure, the 1970 renewal was opposed by an even more radical New Left student movement, but the primary focus of the struggle was on the universities themselves. It did not become a popular national movement targeting the Diet. The effort to restructure Japan’s international relations was abandoned. The fact that 1970 was also the year that Japan mounted the Osaka Expo is symbolic. Politics had taken a back seat. The 1960s had been a decade of rapid economic growth, and the people, intoxicated with the economic times, no longer burned with political passion. In 1960, per capita GDP had been about $500. It passed $1000 in 1966, and by 1981, it had reached $10,000. The 1970s were a veritable Golden Age.

Even so, political scientists like Nagai Yonosuke continued to write probing analysis of foreign affairs. In his Heiwa no daisho (The Price of Peace, 1967), he acknowledged that “After its defeat, Japan became entwined in the bipolar structure of US-Soviet confrontation not by choice, but by fate.” In order to develop a “diplomatic strategy with diverse options,” he proposed Japan restore diplomatic relations with China and establish a normal foreign policy. Within the confines of the Cold War, “in order to deter attacks by enemies and to obtain freedom of action,” he advocated Japan pursue a toughness based on what might be called “cunning” and “extortion by the weak.”

After the Nixon Shock (US President Nixon’s sudden announcement that he planned to visit Beijing) in 1971 and facing the prospect of a US-China rapprochement, Nagai published the insightful “Pitfalls of Alliance Diplomacy” in Chuo Koron magazine. One can’t help but grimace at the fact that, almost 40 years later, Japan still dreads being left out as China and the US converge, but I admire the intellectual suppleness of Nagai’s attempt to find a way to increase Japan’s freedom of choice within the confines of the Cold War, while struggling with the conflict between “security (the value of welfare)” and “independence (the value of honor).”

I was surprised to learn that new prime minister Kan Naoto noted in a speech that, as a university student, his thinking on international relations had been influenced by Nagai. “As a youth I participated in numerous study sessions centered on Professor Nagai Yosuke, whose famous book Heiwa no daisho had argued that international affairs should be based on realism, not ideology,” Kan said, in defense of his intention to pursue policies grounded in realism. But if “realism” means taking the status quo as a constant and seeking no change, that is a clear misreading of Nagai.

Twenty years after the world was freed from the constraints of the Cold War, when the “diplomatic strategy with diverse options” that Nagai envisioned has become a possibility, one realizes that Japan does not aspire to flexible diplomatic options but remains bound hand and foot by the Cold War worldview. The absence of political scholars animated by intellectual vigor and the languor of the media are disturbing.

What Should Be Done-Demand the Step-by-Step “Evolution” of the US-Japan Alliance

What is in order is not the facile “deepening” of the US-Japan alliance, but its “evolution,” based on profound insight. This is what we need to engage with thoughtful deliberation. Based on the lessons we have learned during the course of the Futenma flip-flop, one can conceive the following step-by-step approach to bring about an evolution of an alliance that Japan can embrace.

Step One: Create a US-Japan Strategic Dialogue as a Platform

In place of the staff-level discussions regarding the relocation of the Futenma base, a cabinet-level US-Japan Strategic Dialogue should be created that includes economic ministers as well as those from defense and foreign affairs, to construct a vision of a comprehensive alliance relationship. The alliance is presently a one-dimensional military alliance, and the US and Japan have not even signed a Free Trade Agreement. The aim should be to deepen US-Japan economic cooperation through mechanisms such as an Economic Partnership Agreement that can serve as a model for cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region, while on the defense front, to reexamine the relationship in the context of new conditions in Asia, moving in the direction of eliminating the structure of excessive dependence.

Step Two: Examine the “deterrence” provided by US bases in Japan and move toward shared use of the bases

Just as, in 1993, Germany placed the purpose and actual function of all of the US bases in that country on the table and achieved a gradual reduction of the bases and a revision of the status of forces agreement (SOFA), all of the US bases and facilities in Japan should be examined from the perspective of deterrence and, as provided for in Article 2 of the SOFA, those that no longer serve a purpose should be returned to Japan. If a majority of the Japanese people still feel that eliminating US bases is risky in today’s Far East, even if their deterrent effect is ambiguous, then bases should be shifted from exclusive American use to joint US-Japan use under Japanese control. This is the setup employed in Singapore. When the US was forced to abandon its bases in the Philippines, in order to avoid a military vacuum in Southeast Asia, Singapore agreed to allow the US to share its facilities while Singapore maintained control.

The character of the present SOFA is clearly an extension of the status of the bases during the US occupation, and the agreement needs to be revised to give Japan sovereignty. In fact, the joint declaration issued in late May regarding the Futenma issue states that “The two sides intend to study opportunities to expand the shared use of facilities between US forces and the SDF,” and this is an important first step toward reexamining the relationship. Even those who count on the deterrent power of the US military can understand the importance of restoring sovereignty.

Step 3: Establish a US-Japan alliance without bases and a proper structure of self-defense

In the next stage, while closely monitoring developments in East Asia (for example, reunification of the Korean peninsula), move toward the withdrawal of US bases to Hawaii and Guam. In this scenario, one possible option, in order to respond to crises in the Far East, would be to maintain an emergency dispatch force as a military deterrent, with Japan providing some of the funding and facilities. This represents an evolution toward a US-Japan security alliance without bases.

Of course, in order to move in this direction, a concrete plan for Japan to take responsibility for its own defense will be required. It must be a scenario that is exclusively defensive, renouncing the temptation to become a military power and posing no military threat to Japan’s neighbors. A necessary prerequisite will be a tenacious diplomatic strategy in which Japan takes the lead in building a foundation for peace in East Asia through such measures as a treaty establishing northeast Asia as nuclear-free zone.

What must be kept in mind is that the era in which Japan’s security and stability was insured by maintaining Cold War-based alliance diplomacy is certainly coming to an end. Alliance diplomacy functions when there is a clearly defined enemy camp, but in an era of universal participation in the world order, the concept of the enemy becomes complex, and planning must become more flexible.

When I travel overseas, I am increasingly asked about the contrast between China’s rise and the diminishing presence of Japan. There are numerous reasons for this, but as a Japanese I think it is important to observe the self-confidence in the historical consciousness that underlies China’s forceful diplomacy. In the 170 years since the Opium War, there were periods when China suffered degradation at the hands of great-power colonialism, but during the course of history from the 1911 Xinhai Revolution and the establishment of the Peoples Republic in 1949, to the reversion of Hong Kong in 1997, Chinese sense of independent self-reliance was gradually restored. It is that very spirit of self-reliance that has been lost in postwar Japan.

Now is not the time for self-satisfied parroting of the “favorable US-Japan relationship,” premised on the US military bases as they are today. What we need to do is achieve stability in East Asia while reducing the US bases, making the US-Japan alliance evolve into something truly deserving of trust.


Terashima Jitsuro is the president of Tama University, as well as president of the Mitsui Global Strategic Studies Institute and chairman of the Japan Research Institute. His work has been regularly featured in Chuo Koron, Sekai, Forbes, PHP, and Asahi among others, and he has his own monthly TV program.  A foreign policy advisor to former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, he was touted as a possible foreign minister. This is a slightly abbreviated translation of an essay that appeared in Sekai (August 2010), devoted to the Futenma base relocation issue.

John Junkerman is an American documentary filmmaker and Asia-Pacific Journal associate living in Tokyo. His most recent film, “Japan’s Peace Constitution” (2005), won the Kinema Jumpo and Japan PEN Club best documentary awards. It is available in North America from First Run Icarus Films. He co-produced and edited “Outside the Great Wall,” a film on Chinese writers and artists in exile that will be released in Japan and abroad later this year. John Junkerman translated this essay for The Asia-Pacific Journal.

Recommended citation: Terashima Jitsuro, “The US-Japan Alliance Must Evolve: The Futenma Flip-Flop, the Hatoyama Failure, and the Future,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 32-4-10, August 9, 2010.


Texts on related subjects:

The Will and Imagination to Return to Common Sense: Toward a Restructuring of the US-Japan Alliance.

Gavan McCormack, Ampo’s Troubled 50th: Hatoyama’s Abortive Rebellion, Okinawa’s Mounting Resistance and the US-Japan Relationship



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Article ID 3398

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