The issue for 2001 is whether Japan’s leaders will take responsibility for their own national security. The stage is set for them to make this choice and the United States is ready to cooperate no matter what decision they make.

As we have seen, the accidental sinking of the Japanese fisheries training vessel, the Ehime Maru, by a U.S. submarine is forcing Tokyo to debate this issue more carefully. An equally important debate over how to deal with Japan on the security front is also shaping up within the Bush administration.

There was never any doubt that this debate would eventually come to the fore, it was just a question of when. What has forced it to the surface is the seriousness with which Bush administration officials take national security, or should we say national survival, issues.

The debate is not a new one, it has just taken on a sense of urgency. In the 1980s, pro-Japan trade specialists argued that by giving Japan easy access to the American market, technology and research, at some point Japan would reciprocate in an equal way, thereby contributing to a more open economic relationship and closer ties in all areas. These idealists saw this as a low-cost way to keep Japan within the American sphere of influence.

As we now know, the Japanese proved their American friends wrong and consistently tried to seek unfair economic advantage from the relationship. It was probably foolish to think that the Japanese would do otherwise, but the gap between the perception of a benign Japan and reality of an aggressive economic power subsequently contributed to creating considerable conflict and distrust in the relationship in the 1980s.

Fortunately for the U.S., the export driven, beggar-thy-neighbor Japan economic machine faltered in the 1990s and Washington was spared what could have become an even worse confrontation with Tokyo.

We are now seeing a replay of the economic debate in the security area. With the Bush administration’s emphasis on the importance of genuine alliance burden sharing, the battle over Japan security policy has taken on shades of the old economic debate. Traditionally off limits for discussion, the bilateral security relationship has now been moved to the front burner in the relationship.

Ever since the communist revolution in China in 1949, America has given Japan a free ride on U.S. defense and security presence in Asia in exchange for military bases and infrastructure support. Japan-U.S. Security Treaty discussions in the past were always about incremental upgrading of this arrangement, never about eqitable power sharing.

For years, the pro-Japan “America carries the burden of Japanese defense” faction within the Pentagon, now led by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and his colleagues on the National Security Council, has called on Japan to make only incremental upgrades in its defense ability. This group has defended its turf as a back channel with Tokyo by maintaining that the U.S.-Japan relationship was fair and reasonable.

To the Armitage team’s dismay, the Tokyo defense establishment has been less than enthusiastic in supporting their proposals or looking out for American security interests in the region. “No thank you” has been Tokyo’s response to getting involved in U.S.-initiated missile defense programs. Instead, Tokyo has unilaterally upgraded its satellite surveillance and reconnaissance capability.

Equally disturbing, Tokyo has failed to speed-up base relocation in Okinawa, has not increased funding for base support, or taken seriously Japan-U.S. command and control interoperability. In the early 1990s, theater missile defense was introduced to Tokyo as an alliance issue but it has gone nowhere. Since 1998, Tokyo has indicated its reluctance to go very far with ballistic missile defense research. The USS Blue Ridge was also recently refused a port call recently in Tomakomai in Hokkaido by a local mayor. And it should not be forgotten that a decade ago, Tokyo refused to respond in alliance terms to the Persian Gulf War, opting instead for checkbook diplomacy.

In the 1980s, when Tokyo decided to reject American economic demands for a more open and competitive form of Anglo-Saxon capitalism, they did so because it did not fit their interests or needs. The same situation is unfolding today with regard to Tokyo’s weak response to Washington’s recent proposals for enhanced security cooperation.

The first taste of hardline, shall we say revisionist, impatience with Tokyo’s weak-kneed approach to national security issues came when Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston, commander of the U.S. forces in Okinawa, called the governor, both vice governors, the mayor of Kin City and a Diet member “nuts and a bunch of wimps” for standing idly by while the Okinawa prefectural assembly passed an inflammatory and damaging resolution about American troops in Okinawa.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Department of Defense Director of the Office of Net Assessment Andrew Marshall and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz are realists who see Tokyo as a weak and unreliable ally. They doubt Japan’s reliability in supporting U.S. interests against China.

RAND Corporation hardliners are also now filling posts in the Pentagon. In a recent presidential transition study they asked: What is the military purpose of Japan? Answer: To check China. What is the purpose of the alliance with Japan? Answer: To check Japanese remilitarization? Conclusion: Since Japan does not share the American global perspective, it has to either opt to stay as a cooperative free rider or decide to carry its own weight. There is no middle ground.

In the same way that President Bill Clinton staffed his administration with “revisionist” economists who promised to use pressure to blow open the Japanese market place, President George W. Bush has staffed his Pentagon slots with hard-nosed security specialists who expect Japan to be a responsible ally.

The battle lines have been drawn and now the Japanese will have to clarify their position and sort out where they stand. Will the Pentagon’s armor-plated revisionists be able to get the Japanese to stop being wimps? Or will the blue-suit State Department Armitage team be able to get Bush to back off from forcing Tokyo take the alliance seriously?

Either way, the cork is out of the bottle and even Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which served to keep the Japanese from major unilateral rearmament, is on the table for amendment. Combine this with the current Japanese view that the end of the Cold War presents them with different options, that growing nationalism in Japan calls for greater security autonomy, and that Tokyo believes that America is no longer needed to guarantee Japanese security in Asia, and you have the makings of a head-to-head battle over the Japan-U.S. security alliance that will make the trade wars of the 1980s look mild in comparison.

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