Converging Interests and Shared Values: The U.S.-Japan Bilateral Alliance Enters the 21 st Century

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Yet another challenge that the alliance faces is Japan’s current law concerning defense technology. Under a 1976 provision, Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Miki strengthened the countries restrictions on arms exports by banning his countries export of and foreign investment in military technology. This ban, according to Christopher Griffin,

[M]eans that Japan is becoming ever more excluded from trends in the global defense industry, with a highly capable base that can license and produce some of the best platforms in the world but that has not experienced the consolidation and integration that has characterized the rest of the global industry.23

The restraints now hold serious implications for the bilateral alliance. Because Japan cannot partner with other nations and must, instead, establish entire industrial lines to construct relatively small orders, the result has been unnecessarily high defense industry costs on large ticket items like tanks and fighter jets. Of critical importance, these restrictions have thus far prevented Tokyo from taking part in the multinational Joint Strike Fighter (F-35 Lightning 2) program, a US-led effort that also includes Australia, Britain, Canada, and Turkey.24 Furthermore, the inability of Japan to work jointly with other nations has limited potential avenues of cooperation, specifically with the US. If the bilateral alliance is to be strengthened into the “normal” relationship, the “Miki” provisions must be severely restrained or entirely rescinded in the coming years.25

One of the most significant developments within the US-Japan relationship is the decision by both governments to cooperate in the development and deployment of a ballistic missile defense system. Under a 2004 agreement, the two nations have agreed to continue to develop the technology necessary for both the midcourse sea-based SM-3 interceptor and the terminal phase PAC-3 “Patriot” interceptor.26 Japan has also established an X-band radar station at Camp Shariki that will significantly enhance the tracking capabilities for US missile defenses. Although the initial plan was for the deployment of the system to begin in August 2008, after the test firing of seven ballistic missiles in July 2006 by North Korea, Japan and the US chose to begin deploying in March of 2007.27 The decision by Japan to work together with the US on a missile defense system was largely driven by the ballistic missile capabilities of North Korea and the increased military posture of China, specifically with regards to Taiwan.

A number of factors have complicated Japan’s decision to deploy a missile defense shield. First, Tokyo has committed about $1 billion US dollars to the project over the next nine years. Due to the limitations on defense spending (a 1% GDP defense-spending cap), Japan will be faced with difficult decisions in the coming years concerning defense-spending priorities. Second, the Constitutional issue is again a major concern as a Japanese serviceman may be put into a position in the future where he is expected to make a decision concerning the interception of a missile headed towards the United States, an action considered by all accounts to be collective self-defense. The questions surrounding this complicated scenario may in fact allow for a new point of cooperation between the two countries, as closely coordinated contingency plans and command and control arrangements will have to be developed to deal with real life possibilities.

Another area of cooperation, albeit not as important as missile defense, has been the enhanced preparedness by both countries to deal with the threat posed by North Korea’s trafficking of weapons, illegal drugs, and counterfeit US currency. Recent reports have estimated that North Korea has sold weapons, including hundreds of Scud missiles, to at least 18 countries, mostly in Africa and the Middle East.28 To help counter the proliferation of weapons, specifically weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration organized the Proliferatio Security Initiative (PSI) in 2003. The initiative, made up of 15 core members, including Japan, aims to organize the resources and intelligence gathering capabilities of its members to undertake  interdictions efforts to “stop, search, and seize” illicit arms shipments.29 In 2004, Japan hosted “Team Samurai 04,” one of several PSI training exercises undertaken to date.30 Japan’s decision to enter into the PSI, specifically in defiance of China which rejected an invitation to join for what it claims are legal issues, is a clear indication of Tokyo’s commitment to work more closely with the US on a wide range of security related issues.  

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