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New Security Policy Fosters US-Japan Alliance

  • Victor Beattie

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives for a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo, July 1, 2014.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives for a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo, July 1, 2014.

The United States has welcomed Japan’s decision to adopt a new policy of "collective self-defense," allowing its military to engage in a wider range of operations. Despite criticism from China and South Korea, a U.S. Defense Department spokesman sees the policy revision as fostering the U.S. "re-balance" to the Asia-Pacific region.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf Tuesday welcomed the new policy announcement, saying Washington has followed the extensive discussions within Japan in defending allies and participating in U.N. peacekeeping operations.

"As you know, the U.S./Japan alliance is one of our most important security partnerships. And, we value efforts by Japan to strengthen that security cooperation and also value Japan’s efforts to maintain openness and transparency throughout this decision-making process that’s left up to this new policy," said Harf.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called it an important step for Japan as it seeks to make a greater contribution to regional and global peace and security. The new policy, he said, also complements our ongoing efforts to modernize our alliance through the revision of bilateral guidelines for defense cooperation.

Last October, both countries agreed to revise 1997 guidelines with the goal Hagel said of a “more balanced and effective alliance, where our two militaries are full partners working side-by-side…and with regional partners to enhance peace and security.”

Japan has been operating under a U.S.-drafted postwar constitution that includes Article 9, which renounces war and the threat, and use, of force to settle disputes, and states that land, sea and air forces, along with war potential, will never been maintained.

China, which is involved in a territorial dispute with Japan, said Tokyo is challenging the post-war order and raising regional tensions. The move is also opposed by some in South Korea, which, along with China, was a major victim of Japanese colonial aggression in the 20th century.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said Tuesday there is no concern the move will inflame tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

"Now, there is a lot of work left to do inside the Japanese government on this, on this policy change that they’re seeking. It’s a democracy. They’ve got a Diet [parliament] that needs to vote on this. I mean, there’s a lot of work left to do," Kirby reiterated.

"We, frankly, think it’s a very, encouraging sign and will help inform the revision of the defense guidelines, a bilateral defense guidelines that we have with Japan. So, it helps inform that process, which as you know is ongoing. So, for us, we find it very, very helpful. And there is not going to be, there is no reason from our perspective to believe or to worry that it would, that it’d make tensions worse. And, quite the contrary, we think it will help with security and stability in the region."

Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum security analysis think tank, says in no way is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe turning away from Japan’s commitment to what they call "proactive pacifism:"
"The Japanese position is very much that this is a much-needed change that will allow them to more actively contribute to regional security and to work with allies and partners in a very narrowly constrained set of circumstances. And it’s always conditioned legally, politically and, I think, most importantly publicly. By no means is Japan making a radical shift in its policies," he noted.

Glosserman said the United States has pressed Japan for decades to do more in the context of regional security. He said Japan has been reluctant to do so given its postwar constitution and skepticism of military force for anything other than defense of the homeland.

He said the United States faces many new threats:

"And, I think we’ve recognized that our partners are capable of contributing more than they have in the past, not because the U.S. is disengaging, but again because I think the Japanese, the Koreans, the Australians are far more capable and have they own abilities to respond to certain threats," stated Glosserman. "And we would be remiss and, frankly, foolish to not try to tap those abilities in ways that make the most sense and are the most efficient."

Glosserman said the U.S. re-balance to Asia-Pacific is premised on strengthening relations with allies."This, actually, is a form of the re-balance. It is an attempt to modernize and update the Japan/US alliance. So, it fits very much within the framework of the re-balance generally," he said.

China’s state-run People’s Daily calls the Japanese policy change a "dangerous move that will lead to security worries for other Asian countries." The New York Times quotes analysts who say the policy change will make it easier for Japan to forge new military alliances with nations like the Philippines, who have similar territorial disputes with China.

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