U.S. alliance least served by genuflecting: expert

by Sayuri Daimon

Japan needs to think strategically and hold dialogue with the United States in that light if it wants to be a true ally, according to a former deputy chief of the Defense Agency.

“Would the U.S. even think of asking Japan’s opinion about its strategy for global security problems?” asks Masahiro Akiyama.

“The U.S. merely expects Japan’s support and would never imagine it acting against U.S. policy. For Japan to become a true partner of the U.S., it should offer harsh advice when necessary,” said Akiyama, who is now a special visiting professor at Gakushuin University.

Immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the international community stood side by side with the U.S. in its war on terrorism.

But one year later, the country is having a hard time trying to forge an international coalition for its apparent plan to attack Iraq.

In a recent interview, Akiyama, who recently published the book “The Japan-U.S. Strategic Dialog,” claimed Japan should not support the U.S. unless Washington presents clear evidence that Iraq is nurturing terrorists.

The former bureaucrat, who has dealt with major security issues with the U.S. involving Okinawa and the Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines in the 1990s, said that even Americans, who once overwhelmingly supported President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism, are currently divided over Iraq.

The looming general election in November is believed to be one factor prompting the Bush administration to take a hardline stance, he said.

“For the U.S. to take military action against Iraq, there must be clear evidence” that it is sponsoring terrorists, he said, adding that if the reason for invading is Iraq’s alleged production of weapons of mass destruction, this would mean the U.S. merely wants to attack the country, and thus Japan should not support such an action.

But if Washington can substantiate that Iraq poses a terror threat, Japan should decide on its own whether to lend support, such as supplying fuel to the U.S. military as it did in the Afghanistan campaign, he added.

Akiyama said many members of the Bush administration’s security team, including Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, attach great importance to the relationship with Japan.

Unlike the administration of former President Bill Clinton, they have said they would refrain from “gaiatsu,” or exerting outside pressure on Japan.

However, Armitage still believes Japan should play a greater role, not only in the economic arena, but also in terms of security, Akiyama said.

Japan must realize there are silent U.S. expectations, and that if it fails to meet them, a severe backlash may ensue, he said.

The bureaucrat-turned-professor lamented that Japan currently is like a vassal state of the U.S. in terms of security.

Although the country claims to be an ally of the U.S., it does not engage in any significant strategic security dialogue, Akiyama said, noting that Japan in the past has merely stressed the limitations of its support, without ever offering strategic opinions.

No such discussions take place with politicians, bureaucrats or academics, in terms of diplomacy, he said.

If Japan were to offer strategies, it must be able to take responsibility for its stand, he added.

“To do that, political infrastructure must be established, including proper laws and possible revisions to the Constitution,” he said.

But if Japan avoids strategic dialogue with the Americans, this could spell serious trouble in the future, Akiyama said.

“A mistake on the part of the U.S. in the early years of the 21st century could drag Japan down with it,” the professor warned.

“If our bilateral security alliance loses the trust of the Asia-Pacific region, Japanese diplomacy will be in shambles. And a U.S. mistake is highly possible, because the country has become too strong.”

Regarding China, Akiyama said the Bush administration is taking a realistic approach and now feels the country, which may try to become a hegemonic power in the near future, must be contained by power.

China is taking the same approach, and only Japan is living in a dream world, cherishing the notion of “friendship,” he stressed.

Akiyama was shocked by a Foreign Ministry bureaucrat’s explanation of Japan’s basic diplomacy toward China during a recent seminar.

“The Foreign Ministry official said Japan’s basic policy has been ‘not to upset China,’ and I told him such a policy is wrong,” he said with a sigh. “We need to say whatever is necessary to China, and that’s the way to build a good relationship with the country.”