By Kazuya Sakamoto —
Since coming back to office in December 2012, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been making serious efforts to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance.
His efforts include setting up a Japanese National Security Council to discuss security matters more closely with U.S. counterparts, introducing a stricter state secrets law, revising Japan’s defense export controls, turning the tide of declining defense expenditures, and promoting a four-power “Security Diamond” framework in the Indo-Pacific region by bolstering security relationships among the Japan-U.S. alliance, Australia, and India.
Most importantly, Prime Minister Abe and his administration finally succeeded in revising the legal frameworks for Japan’s security policies, making Japan more prepared than ever before to defend itself and contribute to world peace. Coupled with the new Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation, which were also revised last year, these new frameworks will substantially enhance the mutuality of the Japan-U.S. alliance. This will enable much more solid and effective security cooperation in the coming years.
In a joint press conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in April 2015, President Barack Obama described the essence of the Japan-U.S. alliance using a Japanese saying:
I’m told there’s a phrase in Japanese culture that speaks to the spirit that brings us together today. It’s an idea rooted in loyalty. It’s an expression of mutuality, respect, and shared obligation. It transcends any specific moment or challenge. It’s the foundation of a relationship that endures. It’s what allows us to say that the United States and Japan stand together. Otagaino-tame-ni—“with and for each other.”
The president of the United States invoking the Japanese phrase “otagaino-tame-ni” symbolizes the evolution of the Japan-U.S. alliance and the beginning of a new stage in the relationship. Responding to the president, Prime Minister Abe declared, “Today, we turned a new page in the history of the U.S.-Japan alliance.”
For some 65 years, Japan-U.S. security cooperation has been moving in the direction of becoming more mutual, or “otagaino-tame-ni.” At the press conference, President Obama also said that Japan and the United States are “not just allies” but “true global partners.” The president’s words suggest how the two nations should develop the alliance in the future.
Japan and the United States must work together to enhance the mutuality of the alliance, all the more so because the security environment in the Asia Pacific has become increasingly severe. North Korea’s adventurism in its nuclear development and China’s adventurism in the East and South China Sea must be dealt with seriously.
Japan, for example, needs to increase its defense expenditures even more, and the United States should give more substance to its rebalance to the Asia Pacific. Japan should help the Philippines and Vietnam build up their maritime police forces. The United States should also continue conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. Additionally, the two allies should cooperate to put greater political and economic pressure on North Korea.
Both sides must also keep in mind Article 2 of the 1960 Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, the pact on which the Japan-U.S. alliance has been built. It obligates the two nations to jointly contribute to “the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations” through the political and economic means of “free institutions.”
Both nations should remember this obligation when they develop their security policies in the Asia Pacific. Their recent efforts to fashion a multilateral regional trade agreement through the Trans-Pacific Partnership may be better understood in this context.
Another way to enhance the “mutual purpose” of the alliance is to make sure that efforts to ensure security in the Asia Pacific are closely related to those that seek to build security at a global level. The eventual success of the alliance depends on whether it can be a valuable asset not only for the region but also for the world.
In this regard observers should look at the current situation of the alliance from a broader perspective: the threats the Japan-U.S. alliance faces are part and parcel of the threats facing the liberal world order, which is based on international law and universal values like freedom, democracy, rule of law, and basic human rights. Russian military adventurism in Ukraine and the Chinese military buildup in the South China Sea are cut from the same cloth in that they both threaten this order.
Only by enhancing the mutual purpose of the alliance in these ways do Tokyo and Washington deserve to be called “true global partners” as well as true allies in the Asia Pacific. After turning this “new page” in the history of the alliance, Japan and the United States must work hard not just for the region but also the world, defending and advancing the liberal world order with all the means at their disposal.
Dr. Kazuya Sakamoto is a professor at Osaka University’s Graduate School of Law and Politics. In 2016, he was a Visiting Scholar with the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Dr. Sakamoto’s essay is part of CSIS’s Strategic Japan Working Paper Series featuring Japanese scholars addressing pressing issues in Japanese foreign and economic policy.