Nation urged to boost defense role

by Yasushi Azuma

Kyodo

Japan needs to play a greater role in addressing regional crises in the dynamic Asia-Pacific region and secure a position as a “tier-one nation,” according to a new report released Wednesday by a group of U.S. defense experts.

“Japan should expand the scope of her responsibilities to include the defense of Japan and defense with the United States in regional contingencies,” said the report on the Japan-U.S. alliance published by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Japan is at a critical juncture” between complacency and leadership, the report said. “In choosing leadership, Japan can secure her status as a tier-one nation and her necessary role as an equal partner in the alliance,” it said.

The report titled “The U.S.-Japan Alliance: Anchoring Stability in Asia” was compiled by a panel of experts cochaired by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Harvard University professor Joseph Nye.

The report said the alliance must develop capabilities and policies that will be adaptable to “China’s possibly expanding core interests, changing trajectory and a broad range of possible futures,” saying China’s continued high economic growth and political stability are not assured.

“With 88 percent of Japan’s supplies, including vital energy resources, transiting through the South China Sea, it is in Japan’s interest to increase surveillance in collaboration with the United States to ensure stability and continued freedom of navigation,” it said.

The report also calls for an active military role in the Mideast.

“At the first rhetorical sign or indication of Iran’s intention to close the Strait of Hormuz, Japan should unilaterally send minesweepers to the region,” it said.

“A sealed-off Strait of Hormuz or a military contingency in the South China Sea will have severe implications for the security and stability of Japan,” the report said.

While prodding Japan to “confront the historical issues” associated with South Korea and conclude pending bilateral military pacts, the report advised Washington to “exert full diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions” and refocus attention on the two nations’ core national security interests.

With regard to the stalled relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, the report said the alliance had “spent far too much high-level attention over the past decade” on the issue.

But the report failed to present a specific solution, only saying, “Whatever the legacy problems arising from past dispositions, we are likely to find them more easily soluble if we focus more firmly on the future.”

As for Japan’s energy policy, the report noted “cautious resumption of nuclear power generation is the right and responsible step for Japan,” saying restarting nuclear reactors is the only way to meet Tokyo’s carbon dioxide emissions reduction goals of 25 percent by 2020.

“A restart is also sensible to help ensure that high energy costs coupled with a high-valued yen do not drive vital energy-dependent industries out of Japan,” it said.