In The Atlantic, Kyle Mizokami—who blogs at Japan Security Watch-–argues very persuasively that the US—Japanese security relationship needs to be brought into the 21st century.
Read the whole thing on your own—here’s just a taste (and a timely taste at that):
Like Japan, the United States has benefitted greatly from the bilateral relationship. Changing times however have made the treaty a dangerous anachronism for America. While the notion of defending Japan’s Home Islands during the Cold War was clearly in the American interest, today the United States risks being drawn into territorial disputes in which it has no clear national interest, with an ally unprepared for war.
The alliance shackles the United States to a total commitment of Japan’s defense. This was appropriate when the primary adversary was the Soviet Union, and to a lesser extent North Korea and China. Today, however, America risks conflict over longstanding territorial grievances in Asia. Japan has territorial disputes with most of its neighbors, several of which are nuclear armed (China, Russia) and some, awkwardly, are key American allies (South Korea, Taiwan.) One need look no farther than the current crisis over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands to see a situation where America might be dragged into a conflict. Very few Americans see the Senkaku dispute as America’s problem.
The alliance also risks drawing America into conflict alongside a Japanese ally that is unprepared to do its share of the fighting. Japan’s self-defense forces, while well equipped and trained, are crippled by a lack of offensive weapons and doctrine. Japanese forces know only the defense; offense-minded American forces would be obliged to assume responsibility for the offense in any conflict. The idea of America counter-attacking China or some other Asian country over a handful of tiny islands is ludicrous, but here we are.
The only thing I’d add is that it would probably be a lot easier to renovate the US—Japan security relationship if Japan had some regional security partners with whom to work. South Korea would seem the most obvious potential partner, and once upon a time, it seemed this partnership would materialize. Given the way China is behaving, it still might, despite the best efforts of politicians in both Seoul and Tokyo to ensure it doesn’t.
The fact remains, though, that the way things are now, any attempt to revise the US—Japan security relationship in a way that boosts Japan’s military role in the region will be viewed quite negatively by just about everyone in Northeast Asia—save for possibly Taiwan—and this will hurt US relationships in the region. Mizokami writes that “A new U.S.-Japan security agreement would demonstrate to Asia that the United States understands the fundamental rules have changed and that America is renewing its commitment to the region,” but unless this agreement is accompanied by efforts to improve ties between Japan and its neighbors (particularly other US allies), the region will view a new US—Japan security agreement not as a renewed US commitment, but rather as a threat and source of instability. And as the region’s former colonizer and potentially the dominant military player (save for China), Japan shoulders most of the burden of soothing the animosity and concern.