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Tuesday, May 9, 2000

Testing times for Japan-U.S. alliance

Staff writer
ALLIANCE ADRIFT, by Yoichi Funabashi. New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1999, 501 pp., $49.95 (cloth).

The jacket of this hefty chronicle of the recent history of Japan-U.S. security relations proclaims that Japan has found its Bob Woodward. Consider yourself warned.

The Washington Post's seemingly indefatigable investigative reporter has carved out a distinctive niche in journalism, featuring minutely detailed accounts gleaned from access to high-ranking decision-makers. Funabashi definitely matches Woodward there: "Alliance Adrift" is packed with information, from former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's drink preferences to the bargain rates the Hotel Okura charges the Japanese government. His access is extraordinary. The list of interviewees covers just about every major player on both sides of the Pacific, and he -- unlike Woodward -- footnotes almost every quote. (In some private conversations, he provides the thoughts of both participants.)

For real info-junkies, this stuff is a gold mine. But most readers will be on the ropes after 100 pages. A periodically clunky translation, a tendency to put far too many phrases in quotes -- not because anybody said anything but because the English phrase was used in Japanese (I assume) -- and a narrative that seems to go backward in time, all cry out for a good editor. "Alliance Adrift" could be half as long and would lose precious little.

There is one more of Woodward's defining characteristics in "Alliance Adrift": a startling lack of analysis. We get the pieces of the mosaic, but precious little of the overall design. That is a pity. All the more so because Funabashi can provide it. His other books have been model works that blend theory and fact, history and analysis. He knows his stuff and it shows. In "Alliance Adrift" you have to persevere and dig. "Gambaru."

In the preface, Funabashi explains that the book consists of four "case studies" showing how the two governments tried to "redefine" their security alliance. The four components include: the impact of trade and economic frictions on the alliance; the question of how the alliance ought to function, which was tested by suspicions about North Korea's nuclear program; the stationing of U.S. troops in Okinawa and the frictions created by the 1995 rape incident; and Chinese challenges to the alliance and the Taiwan problem.

That is a lot of territory, and to Funabashi's credit he covers it. But the sprawl makes any coherent summary pretty difficult. If there is a single thread winding though it all, it is this: The two countries view the alliance from fundamentally different perspectives. In short and only slightly oversimplified terms, Japan sees the Japan-U.S. security alliance through the prism of domestic politics; the U.S. sees it through a strategic lens.

Funabashi quotes one high-ranking U.S. Department of Defense official: "The Japanese tend to look at the alliance not as a shared asset, but as a zero-sum game. Basically they see the alliance in tactical terms." Funabashi then adds, "Amid the talk of strengthening the alliance, Japan failed to give a clear indication of what sort of alliance it wanted, how it would cooperate with the United States, what it could do, what it couldn't do."

Part of the problem is the age-old inability to speak with a single voice. As "Alliance Adrift" makes abundantly clear, there are bureaucratic rivalries on both sides of the Pacific. There are battles between bureaucracies, within bureaucracies and among services. Most of us are aware of disagreements between militaries and foreign services, between politicians and bureaucrats. But those only scratch the surface: Within Japan's defense establishment, a poor relative to the other bureaucracies, there are splits between services, between the JDA and the Self-Defense Forces and between civilians and military officials. Perhaps the remarkable fact is that they ever find common ground.

An air of unreality is evident when Funabashi first discusses the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1996, when China tried to influence Taiwanese presidential elections by lobbing missiles near the island. (The first treatment of this episode is particularly ill-served by the "case study" approach: Funabashi merely states that a crisis was caused by missile tests; he leaves out all the political background. It is provided much later in the book, but the informed reader is dumb-founded at the way he ignores the context.)

Kurt Campbell, then the point man in the U.S. Pentagon for Japan issues, explained that "The Japanese government was consumed by Okinawa, . . . we spent almost no time talking about Taiwan and China."

Funabashi explains that "the Japanese side was wary of having Futenma Air Station, and the Okinawan bases in general, casually linked to developments in the Taiwan Strait." He then quotes Yoshio Omori, then head of the Cabinet Research and Information Office, as saying, "The Japanese government didn't broach the Taiwan Strait issue head on because of Okinawa. The showdown in the Taiwan Strait made everything more difficult. That's why they kept quiet about its implications."

That is a damning indictment. The U.S. presence in Asia, including Japan in general and Okinawa in particular, is there for just such contingencies. To deny that the U.S. bases have any connection with a conflict in the Taiwan Strait is surreal. It suggests that either the Japanese government is utterly dishonest with the Japanese public or it is completely unready to deal with a military crisis in the region. It bodes ill for the alliance; if Funabashi is correct, the security relationship is not only "adrift," it's doomed to sink.

That partly explains the U.S. reluctance to fully share the burdens of the alliance with Japan. There is little indication that the Japanese are willing to take up those burdens on their own terms. The people who understand the military dimensions of those decisions are outweighed by the pols; the pols have little appreciation of the military side.

Furthermore, Funabashi shows how the U.S. learned not to get drawn into Japanese domestic political fights. They were burned when Okinawan Gov. Masahide Ota tried to take his case to Washington. U.S. officials thought they were being good neighbors by hearing his complaints; instead they were accused of complicating matters for the Tokyo government.

(For what it is worth, former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto also comes across as genuinely committed to resolving the Okinawan problem. He rarely gets such praise these days.)

The two divergent perspectives guarantee miscommunication and distrust. On the occasions when officials from one side see the alliance from the other's perspective, eyes open with an audible pop. One U.S. negotiator visits Kadena Air Base for the first time and is overwhelmed by its sheer size. "That trip was a breakthrough; I started to think we had to give Futenma back when I actually saw just how big Kadena was. I came back and said please tell me why we (the marines) can't do these things on Kadena." Unfortunately for the alliance, those moments are rare.

Fortunately for the alliance, no one has given up. There are continuing attempts to make the alliance relevant. There have been no moments of bad faith, no political Rubicons. Although Japan's response to the 1991 Persian Gulf War was a lesson for both sides, there has been no subsequent test to see what was learned. A contingency in which there is actual conflict, U.S. blood is shed and Japan must decide whether to support its ally and risk being drawn into the conflict -- as almost happened in 1994 with North Korea and could happen in the Taiwan Strait -- has yet to occur. Hopefully, it won't.

Funabashi is correct when he concludes that "the alliance must be rearranged to suit the new age, the mutually supportive roles of the two sides must be 'redefined,' and a framework must be created that will truly contribute to peace and stability in the 21st century."

He's also right to point out that the first challenge is creating an intellectual dialogue between the two sides, when there is no history of such a dynamic between the two governments. To do that, each side must first break free of its own ideological and political straitjacket.

It is tempting to say the burden falls on Japan. The alliance problem is a base problem and the base problem is a domestic political problem. There are few signs that the Japanese government is willing to address the issue head on. Instead, it prefers time-tested stratagems and ploys. Only when the Okinawa question is settled -- and that will require something more than payoffs and pious statements about burden-sharing -- will the security alliance develop a firm foundation.

Sadly, "Alliance Adrift" offers precious little grounds for hope.

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