Can Japan be a Friend in America's Time of Need?
Tomohiko TANIGUCHI (GLOCOM Fellow)
We all know the English maxim: a friend in need is a friend indeed. When America is once again in desperate need of friends and allies to stand beside her, Japan must not repeat the utter failure it displayed during the Gulf War. What was needed then, as now, is that Japan cooperate with America: not only that our hearts be with those men and women who have lost their loved ones, but rather more importantly we must act with them and do so firmly. This is a precious chance for Japan to "reverse Pearl Harbor", notes Jim Auer, an old Japan hand at the Pentagon and professor at Vanderbilt University. He believes that Japan could reverse its infamous past by allying with the US in its response to the horrendous terrorist attacks that could even have hit the US President. Indeed, whatever the US elects to do, Japan must undeniably endorse it and then follow if Japan wants to remain an ally of the US.
No one can really pinpoint the reason why Japan's Cabinet Legislation Bureau sticks to its interpretation on collective defense. The truth lies in the fact, according to what I learned from a former Vice Minister at Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that no succeeding head of the bureau has wanted to cause "loss of face" for their predecessor, who first introduced the constitutional interpretation that Japan could in no way engage in any collective defense arrangement with the US. If this is so, it will only take a decision first and foremost by the Prime Minister himself and secondly by his cabinet to unilaterally declare revision of this interpretation. Junichiro Koizumi can and must do this immediately.
There is good reason why such action is necessary. Suppose you were a defense strategist for Beijing. You might well advise your leaders that China send a token military presence to the warfare that is very likely to arise within months or even weeks between the US and some rogue state. Even such token participation will pull the rug out from under Japan's feet and demonstrate to the men and women in America how utterly unreliable Japan is, in stark contrast to China that they can count upon. That will be the end of the US-Japan alliance, whose 50th anniversary was celebrated by both nations only a week before the terrorist attacks.
The recent terrorist activities have brought about a situation whereby Japan can no longer rest on its laurels. Up until now, it has enjoyed the luxury of mere debate, which so far has only been concentrated on its economic structural reforms. However, the time has come for Japan to reassess its foreign policy and prove that it can work with the US - and indeed with the rest of the world community - not just in an economic capacity but as a friend to be relied upon in any eventuality.