In July last year I took issue with an article written by former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa (“Japan-U.S. Security Treaty: A kind of insurance policy” July 11, 1998). In his recent May 31 article “A de facto treaty revision,” Hosokawa called for “a full dress debate on se curity issues, including not only those issues that involve the Constitution but also those pertaining to the modalities of the Japan-U.S. alliance.” I fully agree.

Hosokawa writes ominously about the direction in which Japan is proceeding and he is not alone. The Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland wrote recently that Japan is moving, albeit almost imperceptibly, “in one constant direction: toward greater self-reliance in military and security affairs and international politics.”

Hosokawa argues that the recently enacted defense-guidelines bills were passed with only cursory debate, and are at least questionably unconstitutional. Hoagland warns that Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi will travel to China in July “with a new set of made-in-Japan priorities” that represent “a process of change that Washington needs to watch.” I disagree, but Hosokawa and Hoagland’s articles help make the case for the former’s call for a thorough debate in Japan.

An essential part of such discussions needs to be the Asia Pacific security environment. The date of Korean reunification is uncertain, but its inevitability is not. Japan and the United States hope for a peaceful reunification and for a nonnuclear Korea with close political and economic links to Japan and to the U.S. and to continued Korean-American security ties. But can Tokyo rule out a nuclear, nonaligned or pro-China regime in Korea in the future? Hopefully so, but many Japanese wonder.

Despite recent talk of a “strategic partnership” on the part of U.S. and Chinese leaders there is little evidence to support such an outcome. Increasingly heard is a Chinese view that U.S. military forces should be withdrawn from the Asian Pacific. If the U.S. would accede for budgetary or political reasons, Japan’s position as a democratic, free-market economic superpower could be quickly compromised. China’s current leaders desire Japan to take its “appropriate” subordinate position to the Middle Kingdom. Japanese need to consider and discuss what would be the terms of a deal they would almost certainly need to cut with the Chinese in an Asian Pacific not balanced by a U.S. presence.

Hosokawa and Hoagland’s articles express the often repeated simplistic notion that a “grand security bargain” under which the U.S. agrees to protect Japan in return for Japan’s agreement to provide military bases and forswear the use of military force is slowly and dangerously slipping away. In fact, although from 1950-1980 Japan had relatively little military power and Japan’s strategic location has always made the bases important, the U.S. has since the 1950s desired a defensively capable Japanese military force complementary to the U.S. for regional use. Japanese governments have been more than willing to allow the U.S. to provide a stable security environment within which Japan could prosper without raising domestic and foreign concerns about potential Japanese remilitarization and with relatively low defense expenditures, but these same governments have been wise and realistic enough to procure enough military capability to maintain American goodwill and to hedge against an American withdrawal.

A number of Japanese now realize that Tokyo kept its once justifiable neomercantilist economic policies in place for too long, resulting in a crippling decade of financial stagnation and decline. Japan needs to carefully consider whether its unnecessarily limited security policy could crack the Japan-U.S. defense alliance in a crisis, resulting in a U.S. withdrawal and the dawn of Chinese regional hegemony.

Hoagland writes of an increasingly self-reliant Japanese security posture, and Hosokawa contends that the very limited guidelines, which do not allow Japan to fight by America’s side in East Asia, constitute a “de facto revision” of the grand bargain. They make these statements despite the fact that Japan currently continues to self-proclaim — contrary to common sense and to Japan’s national interest — that Japan cannot exercise collective self-defense force outside Japanese territory.

The logic defies the imagination: Suppose there is a Chinese attack on a U.S. Navy destroyer that has rushed to international waters near the Senkaku Islands at Japan’s request. If the Chinese attack and disable or sink the U.S. ship, would late arriving Japanese “Aegis” ships and F-15s from Okinawa have to stand by and watch the U.S. ship sink without any assistance? If Americans heard of such Japanese inaction, they would be outraged.

Hopefully, in the full and open debate Hosokawa advocates some Japanese voices would realistically argue that while Japan need not and should not become aggressive and offensive in its security capability and practice, a Japan that is unwilling to share defensive risk reasonably cannot expect even as benevolent a security guarantor as the U.S. to tolerate the world’s second largest economic power failing to do what it clearly has the capability to do when it is in its national interest.

From 1950 to the end of the 20th century, Japan has enjoyed peace and prosperity living in a U.S.-stabilized Asian Pacific. Japan now needs to seriously consider and realistically discuss whether Hosokawa is right that Japan should uphold “the quintessential principle” to “never use force abroad,” even in its own defense and national interest. Should Japan decide that it will continue to forswear offensive, power-projection military force but will, with the utmost caution and by its own good judgment, transparently declare its willingness to fight by the side of the U.S. in the Asian Pacific when it is in Japan’s national interest to do so, the chance to live the first half of the 21st century as a prosperous maritime democracy under conditions of peace and stability will be maximized.

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