The U.S.-Japan Alliance Gets an Upgrade

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The U.S.-Japan Alliance Gets an Upgrade

The U.S.-Japan Alliance Gets an Upgrade

April 27, 2015

This week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in Washington to address a joint session of Congress. This is the first time any Japanese prime minister has addressed both chambers of Congress. The historic event stands as a stiff rebuke to conservatives who charge that the United States has allowed its system of global alliances to decay. On the contrary, the U.S.-Japan alliance – the cornerstone of America’s network of friends in the Asia-Pacific – is becoming stronger and more central to Tokyo and Washington’s mutual interest in a peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific region. During Abe’s trip, the United States and Japan are poised to finalize a long-negotiated upgrade to the military alliance between the two countries. President Obama and Prime Minister Abe will also discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal after the latest round of negotiations produced progress but did not resolve outstanding differences between the United States and Japan, by far the two largest economies of the 12 nations negotiating the agreement.

Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Washington will cement a major upgrade to the U.S.-Japan military alliance. For over a year, the United States and Japan have been negotiating a new set of guidelines for shaping U.S.-Japan defense cooperation to make the alliance more agile and effective as the Asia-Pacific takes on greater importance in world affairs. The revised guidelines are expected to be finalized during Prime Minister Abe’s visit. James Schoff of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace explains the significance of the recently-concluded revision of the guidelines for U.S.-Japan defense cooperation: “Whereas the current alliance concept creates separate zones of [military] activity [for U.S. and Japanese forces] that require relatively little joint planning or training, the revised guidelines should enable more integrated operations especially in the areas of missile defense, surveillance and reconnaissance, antisubmarine warfare, counter proliferation and more direct logistical support of each other, depending on the situation. These could apply to the defense of Japan or other situations around the world.” [James Schoff, 4/21/15]

Implementation of the upgraded U.S.-Japan alliance involves thorny political issues for Japan. Schoff continues, “Today, Abe’s government is preparing new security legislation that will expand the activities Japan can engage in, and the revised U.S.-Japan defense guidelines describe how bilateral cooperation might function in anticipation of the new laws…there will be political and legal limits to what Japan can do. Japan’s new security legislation will not allow the Self-Defense Forces to use force unless the country is directly threatened or attacked.” But managing this legal and strategic change for Japanese society is politically complex given the country’s historical legacy. The Wall Street Journal reports, “In a recent Pew Research poll, just 23% of Japanese said they felt their military should be more active ‘in helping to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,’ while 68% agreed that ‘given its history, Japan should limit its role.’” Meanwhile, 47% of Americans said they would like to see Japan play a more active military role in Asia and 43% said Japan should limit its military role. [James Schoff, 4/21/15. Wall Street Journal, 4/26/15]

U.S.-Japan economic statecraft on the agenda: Despite progress, hurdles remain for the United States and Japan to successfully negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

U.S.-Japan negotiation on TPP crucial to the prospective trade deal: The TPP appears to be high on the agenda for Abe’s visit. The Japan Times reports, “Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are expected to discuss trade issue [sic] in their summit on Tuesday. The U.S. and Japanese economies account for a combined 80 percent of the envisioned TPP area.”

Recent U.S.-Japan TPP negotiations mix progress with challenges: The Wall Street Journal reports, “U.S. and Japanese negotiators have been working for 21 months on lowering or eliminating barriers to trade. Those include concrete barriers such as duties protecting Japanese farms and Detroit auto makers, as well as the regulatory red tape blamed for keeping Detroit’s cars out of Japan, among other complications.” Despite these challenges, recent talks have yielded progress: “Before the two countries even sat down to talk formally in the TPP, officials agreed that Japan would lower barriers to U.S. beef and insurance, while the U.S. agreed it would cut its 2.5% tariff on cars and a big tariff on trucks but only over an unspecified length of time.”

Japan, other nations paying close attention to fast-track authority: The press in Japan has focused on the importance of Congress granting fast-track trade promotion authority, which would produce an up-or-down vote on any final trade deal and avoid members of Congress offering amendments to the agreement. The Japan Times notes, “Enacting the trade promotion authority bill would likely help the negotiations, which date back a number of years, as participating countries would no longer need to worry as much about whether their make-or-break proposals to Washington could be rejected by lawmakers there.” [Wall Street Journal, 4/26/15. Japan Times, 4/27/15]



Photo Credit: Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Samantha Power meet with Japan Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and Japan Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida before they hold a 2+2 meeting to discuss foreign policy and defense issues in New York on April 27, 2015. [State Department, 4/27/15]

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