Strengthening of political alliance, my perspective on US-Japan Alliance

While revising on the US-Japan alliance topic for my East Asia politics unit recently, I am just compelled to comment on certain things about the 60 years bonds the two countries have with each other.

  1. Japan, being the main US ally in East Asia, why aren't they granted at least a similar political footing and standard as countries in the West. It seems to me, that the West sees Japan as a 'second best' nation in terms of their position in international politics.
  2. Why aren't they granted a permanent seat in the UNSC? While China, was afforded that privilege in spite of their lack, if not same level of soft power and influence in the world in comparison to Japan. Is it only because China possesses Nuclear capability that they are afforded the seat? Also, why is there just a single representation from Asia in this seat, and ironically, with all due respect to China, held by a country that aren't really representative of the region.
  3. What is the whole point of a US-Japan alliance post cold war? Isn't it time that Japan reconsiders their pacifist standpoint and build their own defence unit and capability?

Being an Asian, I am so infatuated with Japan's progress. Looking back on the country's history, Japan isn't short of a good case of an 'enliven state', being from an emerging great power after the Russo-Japanese war (the first Asian state to defeat a western power), to a sustainable emerging economic giant, only to destroy themselves with the World War II alliance with Nazi Germany and later conquered almost half of Asia in that war. Defeated and forced to surrender by the US via the Nuclear bombshell that rocked the country, Japan had to rebuild itself and put their negative World War II reputation away from the spotlight, and doing so by creating firstly a strong and important alliance with the US, and later added to their new constitution (possibly drafted with/by the US) a Pacifist stance by prohibiting themselves their own military force and security of the country was to be in the hands of the US Marine Corps based in the Okinawa Island. From here and thereof, apart from national unity and so on, the main focus was placed solely on economic growth. The amazing part about this restructuring process was the rate and ethics put in place to make that vision achievable. At the end of the day, Japan leaped frogged industrialised-developed countries like Britain and France (later EU) and placed themselves at the second spot in the World's Largest economy list. Interesting right? Not quite, actually.

Beyond the spectacular rise of economic prowess not just in the region but the world in general, Japan is de facto an 'odd power' in the region. Despite being technologically advanced and economically successful, they lacked one luxury that most countries in the world that even out tiny our country Brunei possesses, the capacity to have their own military forces, restricted and bounded by their constitution, which make it seems that they are an 'incomplete power'. To date, Japan in spite of not having such capacity, they do however possess defence technology to deter external attacks. Moreover, the role of security enforcer for the country is held by the American forces based in Okinawa. As such, the US-Japan alliance importance not just for strategic economic and friendship relations, but in terms of geo-political and security reasons as well. But the issue that both countries have even until today is that the US-Japan alliance mimic much of an on-off love affair. Some scenarios in the two countries' relations where a lot of disagreements and frustrations were evident. At times, Japan was compelled to follow US's footsteps in terms of agreeing with things that would embitter the Japanese public opinion, such as signing a treaty with China in the early 70's after Nixon's visit to Beijing. Much of the terms in the treaty weren't necessarily favourable to the Japanese, forcing Japan to accept most of the Chinese government's demands. Perhaps this treaty was desirable for both parties since it was afterall during the height of the Cold War and the West would rely on China's relationship to curb Russia's influence in particular during the Vietnam War. Furthermore, Japan was of US' strategic importance in terms of being the main American ally in the region, geographical location and being the host country for American bases in Okinawa. Japan similarly recognised the point and importance of this as they are clustered by socialist threats from their neighbours notably China and the Korean Peninsula, and especially so when North Korea acquired Nuclear capability not long after. US protection was deemed imperative. As it may be fruitful for US, it was not necessarily so for Japan. The treaty was obviously a let down knowing that in 1978, the Sino-Japanese relations were on the rocks again over a territorial dispute, on the island of Senkaku/Daiyou that is still ongoing today.

As the Cold War had ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, as much as one questions the point of NATO's existence, one might question the point of the Cold War era treaty that US and Japan had between them. This led to a series of 'redefinition' in the terms and meanings of the US-Japan alliance, often times Japan seeking at least an equal footing from US and the West in part of their contributions during the Cold War. This however was a futile cause. From my opinion, Japan was and is still viewed as second best by the West, despite everything. And frustration was evident after the 2008 elections in Japan, whereby the longest ruling party in Japan, LDP lost their seats and eventually their power in the government to DPJ, a party with a breed of young and new generation politicians. Led by Hatoyama, their aims were ambitious, seeing Japan's future outside of the former LDP standpoint. They wanted more autonomy and an equal footing in the regional and world politics. This change of administration led to a change of perspective, and eventually calls for a redefinition of US-Japan alliance were made, and part of this was the question of Okinawa, in which the DPJ administration wanted back from the US. In the world stage, they also claimed for a permanent place in the UNSC, with the wanting an official backing from the US. From this point, we can see the fragility and how rocky the US-Japan alliance has evolved into.

The US-Japan alliance is indeed important for both countries, no doubt. However, with the US currently consumed with issues elsewhere, in particular their agenda post 9/11 and the Middle East as well as the Afghanistan and Iraq situation, how much can they actually take? On top of that, a rising China which rise resembles that of past Germany and actions which involved them to not shy of using force towards their neighbours, and an attention seeking and provocative North Korea would launch test missiles from time to time to send a message to the world that they are to be feared, isn't it time already that Japan should refocus their attention on building their own military front, not just for the sake of deterring those 'negative' connotations but their own personal security as a whole?

In my opinion, Japan deserves more after all that they've gone through. I do however believe that US should keep their presence in Okinawa. US position from herein would be to keep tabs and as Joseph Nye would put it, acts as a 'stabilizer' in the region. In return, Japan should put more attention on placing the security of their nation, and reduce their reliance from US. From the US part, they should allow Japan to do so without any agitation or negativity. Afterall, Japan is one of US oldest and strongest ally in the region, and they've proven themselves as being reliable in spite of some US policies in the region that disfavoured Japan's position. On top of that, I think expectations between the two countries must be met with agreement. They should learn to compromise on certain aspects of things especially on a broader context of security in the region. Importantly, for the sake of peace and stability and survival, constant engagement must be made between US, Japan, China and North Korea, and possibly from here some sort of assurances can be made with each other.

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