The Japan-US Alliance

21st Century Challenges in East Asia

H. D. P. Envall, Department of Political Science, University of Melbourne [About | Email]

Volume 1, Issue 1 (Book review 2 in 2001). First published in ejcjs on 10 October 2001.

Review of: Nishihara, Masashi (ed) (2000) The Japan-US Alliance: New Challenges for the 21st Century, Tokyo: Japan Center for International Exchange. ISBN 4-88907-034-6, Paperback, 200 pages.

It is true that more than ten years have passed since the Cold War and also that the Japan-United States alliance is now fifty years old; however, the alliance continues to be the most prominent, as well as the most influential, politico-security partnership in East Asia. The alliance has always been more than a bilateral affair. It has played a key role in the regional security framework throughout the Cold War and beyond, a fact which implies that, to properly analyse the alliance, researchers should also include the regional context. Simply, analysis of the alliance is most illuminating when it studies the alliance in the light of the East Asian security environment. Consequently, whenever a group of academics join together and produce a practical, focused and comprehensive discussion on the alliance in the East Asian context, it represents an important academic study. The group of academics who wrote The Japan-US Alliance: New Challenges for the 21st Century have produced a focused and comprehensive discussion on the future of the alliance and, rather than simply analysing the alliance as a bilateral matter or including a languorous reading of the alliance in the regional context, they have dealt with the alliance and its East Asian implications in depth. This work includes the important developments to the alliance and its environment as they stood in 2000 and develops a number of thought-provoking policy options and future scenarios for how the alliance might cope with regional change. For these reasons this book is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the Japan-US alliance in East Asia and a worthy subject for review.

The origin of this project lies in the developments to the US-Japan relationship which occurred through the latter half of the 1990s, in particular, the 1996 signing of a joint declaration on the alliance by Hashimoto Ryutaro and Bill Clinton. As a result, in late 1998 the Japan Center for International Exchange established a study group of young Japanese scholars aimed at discussing the myriad of alliance issues. The purpose was, according to Nishihara Masashi (page 9), "to identify policy differences between Tokyo and Washington on given issues, pursue their common interests, and suggest how the alliance might be strengthened by improving bilateral arrangements or by coordinating policies." The scholars came from various institutes around Japan, and the fruits of their labour is this volume, which consists of an introduction plus six chapters. In addition to the introduction by Nishihara, who is the president of the National Defense Academy, the remaining chapters each analyse separate issues associated with the US-Japan alliance in the East Asian context. Thus, there is a chapter on the alliance guidelines, others on the major issues of the alliance (the Korean peninsula and the Taiwan straights), still others on the alliance's Southeast Asian relations (including a chapter on Myanmar) and, finally, a chapter on arms proliferation.

To begin, Murata Koji looks at the development of the alliance from the 1960 Security Treaty, examines the 1978 Guidelines and its transformation into the 1997 Guidelines, and concludes with a section outlining what he considers necessary to strengthen the alliance in the future. Arguing that the alliance is unique, Murata contends that its longevity, despite weaknesses, can be attributed to several reasons, especially its low costs and the strategic nature of Japan. Murata argues that the 1978 Guidelines established the means by which the details of the revised 1960 US-Japan Security Treaty could be implemented; however, the 1978 Guidelines still had significant shortcomings, failing, for instance, to provide proper administrative measures for cooperation between Japan and the US in military operations. The 1997 revised Guidelines, therefore, represented a significant step towards establishing a formal alliance structure and addressing the one-sided nature of the alliance; that is, it moved away from the situation where Japan was the facilities provider and the US was the personnel provider. The 1997 revisions also aimed to renew the alliance for new post-Cold War security challenges and, consequently, a major change in the 1997 revision was to change a focus of the alliance from attacks on Japan and the Far East to include "situations in areas surrounding Japan" (Murata, page 28; Guidelines, Article V, pp. 283-285).

In the second and third chapters, Michishita Narushige and Nakai Yoshifumi address the two chief areas that might fall within the phrase "areas surrounding Japan" - the Korean peninsula and the Taiwan straights. Michishita (page 39) attempts to "provide a blueprint for the Japan-US and US-South Korea alliances should the North Korean threat disappear", while Nakai examines the Taiwan issue as a cause of future instability and "policy divergence" between Japan and the US. While accepting the uncertainties that a North Korean collapse would produce, Michishita argues that the US-South Korean alliance should be maintained for various reasons, including regional reassurance and as a hedge against China. He argues for a more symmetrical alliance structure between Japan, the US and South Korea and, consequently, looks at some of the challenges that such a structure might face, challenges that include discord amongst the three nations, domestic opposition and the problem of engaging China. Meanwhile, Nakai (page 71) argues that the 1996 Taiwan Straights crisis "shattered the peaceful complacence of Asian nations." For a variety of reasons, the US and Japan responded differently to the crisis and their policies further diverged following the crisis. Nakai looks at some of the regional dynamics behind this development, notably differing attitudes towards democracy and independence in Taiwan and the potential arms race in East Asia. Finally, Nakai presents some future scenarios and agendas for US-Japan policy coordination on Taiwan. He outlines three scenarios - divergence, convergence and coordination - and presents three possible 'agendas' for better policy coordination in the short, medium and long terms.

In the following three chapters, Sudo Sueo, Hoshino Eiichi and Miyasaka Naofumi shift the focus from the alliance's most conspicuous 'great power' problems of Korea and Taiwan to the more low-key but, nevertheless, important issues that the alliance must manage. Sudo (page 103) argues that instability in Southeast Asia - economic turmoil, a declining US and a rising China - means that Japan and the US should "coordinate their Southeast Asian policies more substantially." In prescribing greater cooperation, he looks at Japan-US economic, political and security cooperation, in particular, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the South China Sea conflict and US-Japan military coordination in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, Hoshino outlines US and Japanese human rights policies since the 1980s. He argues that the failure to coordinate policies could negatively affect the alliance, for example, by causing one partner to lose confidence in the other, and, in this context, he describes the increasingly divergent policies that Japan (engagement) and the US (disengagement/sanctions) have taken towards Myanmar during the 1990s. Hoshino puts forward four policy alternatives to improve the alliance. Finally, Miyasaka (page 161) looks at the issue of arms proliferation and aims "to strengthen the Japan-US alliance" by developing "a cooperative policy on this issue." In particular, he examines how the US and Japan have approached the issues of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation and small-arms proliferation, and his cooperative policy solution is a "well-coordinated body with a presence in both nations" (Miyasaka, 174). Through this "bilateral mechanism" Japan and the US would agree on basic anti-proliferation principles and would cooperate in various research and military endeavours aimed against proliferation.

As an entree, the first chapter by Murata is an illuminating examination of how the operational framework of the alliance has developed in past years and of how effective it remains in the post-Cold War environment. It constitutes what should be a mandatory 'first-step' in any book on the alliance. Murata also includes an interesting discussion on two current topics, collective defence and that ambiguous term "areas surrounding Japan". However, the main course of this publication arrives with the second, third and fourth chapters. This part of the book not only provides a detailed and sophisticated analysis of the underlying dynamics of the US-Taiwan-China-Japan, US-Korea-Japan and US-ASEAN-Japan entanglements, it also provides the reader with an insight as to how current Japanese academics and specialists in East Asian security studies view these relationships. Hopefully without reading too much into these chapters, it can be said that the writers project a guarded optimism mixed with some trepidation over the issue of Korean unification (Michishita, 40-41), some concern perhaps with Japan's 'low key' (and divergent from the US) response to the 1996 Taiwan Straights crisis (Nakai, 71 and 77-80) and frustration with Japan's still small role in Southeast Asia (Sudo, 115). Yet, by far-and-away the strongest theme projected in these chapters concerns the region's refashioned 'realpolitik' strategic environment and the future position of China in this environment.

The theme of an emerging Sino-US-Japan rivalry runs strongly through the three chapters on Korea, Taiwan and Southeast Asia (Japan-US-ASEAN). Sudo (page 106), for instance, argues that "it is the rapid rise of China as a great power that has contributed most to long-range apprehensions in Japan and Southeast Asia." In particular, the post-1997 economic crisis has "served to assist China in its ambitions to become the leading regional power" (Sudo, 106), and so, Japan and the US should seek to shore up these South-East Asian nations, both economically and militarily, by supporting and seeking reform at ASEAN and its associated institutions such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). Meanwhile, China will naturally be a key player in any discussion of the Taiwan issue, but Nakai's examination of the Taiwan issue from the perspective of the Japan-US alliance, in contrast to traditional bilateral US-China approaches, provides some absorbing insights into the issue's broader dynamics. Naturally, Nakai (page 71) does discuss the Taiwan issue as a "face off" between the US and China, but argues more interestingly that:

The [Taiwan] crisis demonstrated that post-cold war turbulence could also occur in Asia, bringing with it the potential for causing damage to both the economies and political stability of the region. The crisis ... demonstrated how the policies of Japan and the United States toward Taiwan could differ ... It suggested that this policy divergence, if unresolved, could seriously erode the foundations of the US-Japan security treaty and jeopardize the security of Taiwan as well as, eventually, that of Japan and the Asia Pacific region.

China's wariness about US-Japan security cooperation as a threat to its own security; regional arms build-ups, including missile defence systems between Japan and the US; and territorial disputes in the South China Sea: all these issues mean that, from Nakai's perspective, Taiwan is not a simple 'renegade province', but rather, is a cynosure around which Sino-Japanese and Sino-American antagonisms and, ultimately, the entire region, could be drawn.

China also plays a large part in Michishita's thinking on the future of the security arrangements in post-confrontation Korea. Michishita gives five reasons why the US-Korean security arrangements should remain beyond the fall of North Korea. His main reason is reassurance: "The US-South Korea alliance, together with the Japan-US alliance, would contribute to stable relations in the region, particularly between Japan and South Korea, South Korea and China, and Japan and China." (Michishita, 44) Michishita's other reasons include; secondly, the protection of regional and global security; thirdly, the maintenance the US-Japan alliance through burden sharing between Japan and Korea; and fifthly, the promotion of regional democracy. However, it is his fourth reason that would grab the attention of old Cold War realists and is, perhaps, not too far removed from the hawkish-leaning circles in Washington and Tokyo. This reason, according to Michishita (page 50), "is the hedge it [the alliance] provides against the rise of China as an aggressive power." Michishita puts forward China's involvement in territorial disputes, its defence build-up, its failure to combine economic reform with political reform and its increasing economic strength as the major reasons for using the alliance as a hedge. In the context of heightening tensions in the region over 2000-2001, it seems that such a policy, if explicitly endorsed, would represent a fundamental (and high profile) shift in US strategy in East Asia. If North Korea suddenly collapsed and the US was to endorse the US-Korean alliance as a 'hedge' with respect to China, the East Asian security framework would be transformed from a state of engagement to a state of containment. Readers might justifiably wonder whether this represents an extremely worrying trend in the international relations of East Asia.

Although arms proliferation issues are clearly important, the final article by Miyasaka highlights how difficult it is to examine such broad issues in a single chapter and in an alliance context. Firstly, the issues are too broad. WMD and small arms proliferation issues encompass both international and domestic aspects, including issues of law, culture, religion and sovereignty, issues that all need more space to be adequately examined. Miyasaka also discusses other matters, such as Aum Shinrikyo and the private possession of firearms, and raises many good questions; however, the lack of answers leaves an impression of superficiality and thematic confusion. For this reason, and also owing to the tragic events which occurred recently in the US, a future chapter in an alliance text might concentrate on the issue of 'Combating Terrorists'. Secondly, arms proliferation may be an alliance issue, but is it a major cause of friction in the alliance? Is it an alliance problem? Miyasaka (page 162) argues that "If we underestimate the threats [of arms proliferation issues], Japan-US relations will deteriorate", and to support this he claims that "the alliance has experienced undercurrents of dissatisfaction, frustration, and misunderstanding." Miyasaka proffers as evidence a failure to cooperate during the Aum Shinrikyo gas attack, as well as Japan's insufficient support for America's bombing of Osama Bin-Laden in 1998 and America's position on anti land-mine issues. These issues are, without doubt, weighty problems in contemporary international relations, but it is unlikely that they constitute, in comparison to the other issues raised in this book, an abnormal cause of major friction in the alliance.

Instead, tackling some of these issues together may open the door for better US-Japan cooperation. Indeed, as Miyasaka (page 77) argues, Japan has in the past "neglected to use them [proliferation issues] as a means of forging a stronger alliance with the United States." Nevertheless, tackling 'arms proliferation' does seem quite problematic. On the one hand, dealing with the specific problem of terrorists should improve intra-alliance cooperation; but, on the other hand, the broader issue of 'arms proliferation' contains too many complications for any realistic agreement to be reached. For instance, how might the US be expected to implement (and how might US citizens respond to) a US-Japan agreement which contains the following objective: "[N]either side should support, directly or indirectly, armed nonstate actors in the United States, Japan, or Asia Pacific"? (Miyasaka, 174-175) The Japanese government, in this case, would be better served by continuing with its multilateral stance on the broader issue of 'arms proliferation'. In fact, just as "going all the way with LBJ" created numerous problems for Australian foreign policy during and after the Vietnam War, Japanese interests may well be better served - even in terms of dealing with the issue of terrorism - by promoting 'multilateral' intervention and being cautious about "going too far with ol' Dubya".

There is little to complain and much to commend about the structure and style of this publication. The language is clear and concise, while the structure of the chapters enable the reader to follow the thoughts and arguments of the writers easily. The sub-headings are well placed and the occasional use of bullets to structure and separate key policy proposals is appropriately (though not overly) used. Each chapter is accompanied by extensive notes and a full bibliography that allows for further reading and research. These additions highlight the extensive research that has gone into this publication, as well as the authors' comprehensive knowledge of their respective research areas. The minor criticisms that should be made concern the book's title, the set-up of the introduction and the absence of a concluding chapter. Firstly, the book's title, The Japan-US Alliance: New Challenges for the 21st Century, undersells what seems to be one of the main strengths of the book - the way in which it analyses the alliance in the broader East Asian context. This aspect of the book makes for a more invigorated analysis and it is a pity that it did not find its way into the title. Secondly, the book would have benefited if the introductory chapter had been more than a summary of the various chapters, if it had, instead, delved more deeply into the alliance's background and provided some broad commentary on current alliance issues. Equally, the book would have benefited from a concluding chapter that brought together the various issues, thereby contributing to a stronger sense of cohesion. However, such knit-picking is easily overlooked in what is a very strong publication.


Boeicho (1999), Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation, 23 September 1997, in Defense of Japan, Boei Hakusho Eigohan, translated by Urban Connections, pp. 279-286.

List of Chapters

Nishihara, Masashi, 'The Japan-US Alliance: Defense Cooperation and Beyond', pp. 9-18

Murata, Koji, 'Do the New Guidelines Make the Japan-US Alliance More Effective', pp. 19-38

Michishita, Narushige, 'Security Arrangements after Peace in Korea', pp. 39-70

Nakai, Yoshifumi, 'Policy Coordination on Taiwan', pp. 71-102

Sudo, Sueo, 'Toward a Japan-US-ASEAN Nexus', pp. 103-122

Hoshino, Eiichi, 'Economic Sanctions against Myanmar', pp. 123-160

Miyasaka, Naofumi, 'Combating Arms Proliferation', pp. 161-181

Some Useful Websites

Japan Centre for International Exchange

Japan Defense Agency

Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States of America, 19 January 1960

National Defense Program Outline in and after FY 1996, 28 November 1995

Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Japan-U.S. Joint Declaration on Security - Alliance For the 21st Century, 17 April 1996

The Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation, 23 September 1997

US Department of State

Defenselink at the US Department of Defense

Department of Defense, The United States Security Strategy for the East Asia-Pacific Region 1998, 1998

Center for Strategic and International Studies

CSIS Japan Chair

Hirano, Eri G. and William Piez (eds) (1998) Alliance for the 21st Century: The Final Report of the U.S.-Japan 21st Century Committee.

Further Reading

Cossa, Ralph A. (ed) (1997) Restructuring the U.S.-Japan Alliance: Toward a More Equal Partnership, Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Curtis, Gerald L. (ed) (2000) New Perspectives on U.S.-Japan Relations, Tokyo: Japan Center for International Exchange.

Funabashi, Yƍichi (1999) Alliance Adrift, New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press.

Green Michael J. and Patrick M. Cronin (eds) (1999) The U.S.-Japan Alliance: Past, Present, and Future, New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press.

Hosoya, Chihiro and Tomohito Shinoda (eds) (1998) Redefining the Partnership: the United States and Japan in East Asia, Lanham, Md.: University Press of America.

Inoguchi, Takashi and Pernendra Jain (eds) (2001) Japanese Foreign Policy Today: A Reader, New York: Palgrave.

About the Author

H. D. P. Envall completed his Bachelor of Arts (Honours) with majors in Japanese and Political Science at the University of Melbourne, Australia, in 1998 and is now a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at the same university. David was an exchange student at Sophia University in 1997 and is currently based at the Graduate School of Law at Hitotsubashi University as a Monbusho research student. The title of his research is Leadership, Leaders and Environments: A Study of Japanese Prime Ministers at the G7 Summits.

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