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The Japan-U.S. alliance is evolving into one that “plays a vital role in enhancing regional and global peace and stability,” according to a joint statement issued last month by the defense and foreign ministers of the two countries. The statement sets common strategic goals for dealing with the new security environment in the Asia-Pacific region and the rest of the world.

Ministers attending so-called 2-plus-2 security talks agreed not only on regional goals — particularly those related to resolving security problems involving the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Strait — but also on global goals such as fighting international terrorism and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The global “transformation” of U.S. forces now under way is intended to change the Japan-U.S. alliance as well. As U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said at a press conference, “(The security meeting) is an opportunity to continue the momentum toward strengthening and transforming this important alliance.”

The Japan-U.S. agreement on missile defense — which anticipates joint development to follow up joint research — also shows that the alliance is reaching new stages. The statement says “the ministers reaffirmed their commitment to advancing U.S.-Japan cooperative research in ballistic missile defense systems with a view toward possible cooperative development.

The agreement on common strategic goals reflects drastic changes in the regional and global security environment over the past decade. On one hand, sovereign states pose “conventional” security threats, such as North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and China’s military modernization and buildup.

On the other hand, “new threats” — symbolized by the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States — come primarily from nonstate entities. Preventing the spread of WMD is now an urgent task that must be tackled by the international community.

The Japan-U.S. alliance, originally aimed at maintaining peace and security in Japan and the Far East, was expanded in scope to cover the Asia-Pacific region under a 1996 joint security declaration. As a result of new guidelines on bilateral defense cooperation, Japan established rules for cooperating with U.S. forces in the event of a security crisis in the surrounding area.

However, the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq far exceeded some of the assumptions in the 1996 security declaration. Consequently, U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration, as part of its global transformation of the military, has changed the plan that called for maintaining 100,000 troops in the Asia-Pacific region.

Regional strategic goals focus on North Korea, China and the Taiwan Strait. The 2-plus-2 statement says Japan and the U.S. will seek a “peaceful resolution of issues,” including North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles as well as its abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the statement, the ministers “strongly urged North Korea to return to the six-party talks at an early date without preconditions and to commit itself to the complete dismantlement of all its nuclear programs.”

Porter Goss, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that North Korea “could resume flight-testing (of missiles) at any time, including the Taepodong-2 system.” He also said, “We believe North Korea probably has chemical and possibly biological weapons ready for use.”

China received both good and bad marks from the ministers. They appreciate its role as the chair of the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis. Strategically, Japan and the U.S. seek to “develop a cooperative relationship with China, welcoming the country to play a responsible and constructive role regionally and globally.”

The ministers also “encouraged the peaceful resolution of issues concerning the Taiwan Strait” through dialogue while “encouraging China to improve the transparency of its military affairs.”

It is the first time that a Japan-U.S. joint statement has mentioned the Taiwan Strait. Reacting sharply, Beijing has issued a strongly worded statement. Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura brushed aside the Chinese criticism during an NHK talk show, saying, “We have no sense that we have fundamentally changed our China policy.”

Japan and the U.S. have deep misgivings about China’s moves to boost its military spending and expand its maritime interests. CIA chief Goss said during the Senate hearing that “Beijing’s military modernization and buildup is tilting the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait” and that “improved Chinese capabilities threaten U.S. forces in the region.”

Behind the U.S. misgivings is strong concern that expansion of Chinese influence in the region would lead to a weakening of U.S. influence.

As for common global strategic goals, the joint statement calls for, among other things, the reduction of WMD and their delivery systems, the nonproliferation of WMD and the prevention of terrorism.

Confirming these goals, Japan and the U.S. are to strengthen security and defense cooperation measures. For this purpose, the ministers “underscored the need to continue examining the roles, missions and capabilities of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. armed forces.”

The ministers also “emphasized the importance of enhancing interoperability between U.S. and Japanese forces,” possibly paving the way for joint use of military bases. In fact, Defense Agency Director General Yoshinori Ono declared that U.S. and Japanese forces would “become more closely integrated.”

Japan expects joint talks on a review of the U.S. force structure here to conclude by yearend. The fact remains, though, that the plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps air base at Futenma, Okinawa, has been put on hold for nearly 10 years.

The base issue is not only a diplomatic problem but also a domestic political one. The challenge for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who regards himself as a staunch Bush ally, is how to reduce the burden of U.S. bases on Japan while maintaining the deterrence of U.S. forces.

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