On October 26, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and the Tokyo Foundation (TF) will issue a ‘new vision’ for the US-Japan alliance – “Renewing Old Promises and Exploring New Frontiers: The Japan-US Alliance the 21st Century” – that a task force organized by the two think tanks hopes will get the attention of policy makers in both countries.
Highlights of the upcoming report will follow, but first a little background.
Yomiuri Shimbun’s October 18 report that the US and Japan would not issue a joint security declaration upon President Obama’s upcoming November visit to Japan received lots of attention, and rightly so, as it underscored the diplomatic stalemate that has plagued the alliance for the past year.
There was really no “news” in the Yomiuri report. Diplomats on both sides have known for months that no security declaration would be forthcoming, for a simple reason: Washington and Tokyo have had nothing close to the kind of strategic dialogue needed as a foundation for an updated alliance vision.
Indeed, a draft of the upcoming CNAS-TF report put together by the American side of the task force stated that “Many had hoped that the golden anniversary  of the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty would provide both governments with a powerful impetus to engage in long-term thinking about the alliance. Instead, other developments…have intervened.”
The dispute over restructuring the US Marine basing arrangements on Okinawa has held the alliance hostage. Because of this, and political ups and downs in Japan, the American draft argued, “Neither the US nor the Japanese government has enjoyed the leeway to craft a long-term agenda for the alliance. Leaders in Washington and Tokyo recognize the need to strengthen the alliance, yet they remain unsure of how, and more importantly, to what end.”
Only recently, with tension with China as a backdrop, has the mood between Washington and Tokyo improved, but not sufficiently so to make a security declaration likely any time soon.
However, the lack of substantial government-to-government strategic dialogue has not precluded all dialogue. As the Yomiuri report was circulating, the chairman of the Japanese side of the CNAS-TF task force, Yoichi Funabashi of Asahi Shimbun, and a colleague, Yoshihide Soeya of Keio University, were finishing the executive summary and conclusion pages that will accompany the final report.
This is no ordinary report on US-Japan relations, where prominent dignitaries from the two sides put their names to a fairly predictable set of general statements about the alliance that few even read.
Filling a vacuum
From the beginning, the dialogue that led to the upcoming report was designed to fill a troublesome vacuum caused by the fact that the newly-governing Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) had few lines of communication with alliance managers in the United States.
“This was not just a conversation among specialists from the old order of US-Japan relations,” says task force member Daniel Sneider of Stanford University. “It was a dialogue that definitely reflected and included the views of security and international policy specialists in Japan who are close to the DPJ’s foreign policy making process. That enabled the production of a report that could actually speak to the government, and thereby facilitate communication with Washington.”
The chairman of the American task force, Patrick Cronin of CNAS, was the prime mover behind the entire project. Some task force members had lengthy discussions with high-ranking US and Japanese officials, including at least two rounds with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, as well as with current Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and his predecessor, Katsuya Okada. CNAS specifically aimed at drawing DPJ rising stars, including Goshi Hosono and Shinji Tarutoko, into the discussion orbit.
For the most part, the task forces met separately, in Washington and Tokyo, and produced two separate report drafts. Dan Kliman of CNAS wrote most of the American draft, while Funabashi and Soeya were in charge of the Japanese draft.
At a September meeting in Tokyo, Cronin suggested that the Japanese draft be the basis of the final report, with ideas from the American draft folded in. With the goal in mind of releasing a report prior to President Obama’s trip to Japan, there were no objections, though one American member of the task force complained somewhat that there was no chance for task force members in Washington to review the final product. Instead, all relied on Cronin working largely with Funabashi. The result was “sensible, and probably a safe tone for the DPJ under Kan,” this task force member was quick to add.
And CNAS brought real authority to the table. In the few years since its 2007 founding, CNAS has become Washington’s most influential think tank on security issues, proving particularly effective at bridging the traditional gap between civilian defense intellectuals and uniformed military personnel. One CNAS co-founder, Michele Flournoy, is now undersecretary of defense for policy, and has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Defense Secretary Bob Gates. The other founder, Kurt Campbell, is now assistant secretary of state for Asia-Pacific affairs. Daily CNAS operations are now run by Nathaniel Fick, a Dartmouth College graduate and decorated Marine Corps officer with extensive combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and John Nagl, a West Point graduate and Rhodes Scholar, and co-author of the US Army’s counterinsurgency field manual. Both Fick and Nagl authored influential memoirs of their respective combat experiences, and are influential among the rising generation of military officers.
The Nye Initiative as precedent
Cronin is a veteran of trying to refocus US policy toward Japan in times of drift in the alliance. In 1994-1995, he was a critical behind-the-scenes actor in the Nye Initiative (named after then-Assistant Secretary of Defense Joe Nye) to upgrade the US-Japan alliance in the wake of the Cold War’s demise. At the time, Cronin worked at National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS), which became a hub for back channel communications between the Pentagon and Japan’s then-Defense Agency.
Cronin worked closely with his friend, Kurt Campell, who was then at the Pentagon and had been charged by Nye with day-to-day responsibility for his Japan initiative. The two nudged and pushed reluctant bureaucrats on both sides, in a process that ultimately led to the Clinton-Hashimoto security declaration of 1996, and a significant rewriting/upgrading of the bilateral guidelines for US-Japan defense cooperation.
It’s interesting to point out that for the current project, Cronin brought back together three other key ‘co-conspirators’ in the Nye Initiative: Michael Green and David Asher, who then operated from the Institute for Defense Analysis, and Paul Giarra, then a Naval officer who was in charge of the Pentagon’s Japan desk.
Giarra and Cronin are scheduled to soon release a jointly-authored report on upgrading Japan’s Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, an issue also discussed in the CNAS-TF report.
Highlights of the report
- “The new core role that the Japan-US alliance should serve is to maintain the liberal international order by making sure that the global commons [air, sea, space, cyberspace] are available to everyone…”
- China’s emergence is welcomed, but some inauspicious signs produce anxiety over the possibility of Chinese adventurism.
- The forward deployment of US military forces in Japan remains critical to deterrence, and regional and global stability.
- “Full-scale bilateral dialogue should be launched to create an inclusive regional security architecture…” Japan and the US should promote “strengthened trilateral ties” with South Korea, Australia, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
- “Since Japan’s relative capacity to deal with the rise of China unilaterally will decline, Tokyo will need a mutually reinforcing portfolio of alliances and partnerships in Asia. By the same token, Japan-US-China trilateral dialogue should be promoted.”
- US-Japan-Korea trilateral coordination is critical in the event the current regime in Pyongyang collapses.
- The 2006 “roadmap” for realignment of US Forces in Japan should proceed. (This includes construction of a replacement facility for the US Marine Air Station Futenma.) “While reaffirming the foundations of US bases in Japan, it is also important to diversify the stationing options and increase US access to facilities throughout the Asia-Pacific region, including in South Korea, the Philippines and Guam. The regional networking of US bases and facilities will enhance the flexibility of US response…”
- Japan’s indigenous military capabilities are essential. Japan should augment its intelligence capabilities, air and sea capabilities (including more diesel attack submarines and a near-term replacement of the F-4EJ fighter), and US-Japan defense-related technology cooperation.
- The US and Japan should have a full-scale dialogue on maintenance of nuclear deterrence, and advance talks with China on strategic stability, as well as actively crafting a regional deterrence architecture.
- Japan should establish a national security office (NSO) “to serve both as an agent for continuity and change where outside experts could join with experts in government to determine a policy approach.”
- For such an NSO to work long-term, Japan needs to cultivate a “vibrant security policy community,” involving universities, think tanks, and other institutions.
- Japan and the US should expand the current “2+2” bilateral dialogue involving defense and foreign policy officials to be a “2+2+2” involving aid officials to promote strategic development assistance.