Just days after a Camp David summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President George W. Bush, Japanese and U.S. foreign and defense ministers held top-level security talks in Washington and agreed to pursue “alliance transformation.” The joint statement issued by Foreign Minister Taro Aso, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates covers a vast range of security objectives.

They include sharing missile defense and other military information, a comprehensive pact to protect military information (to be signed in the future), strengthening the two countries’ relationship with Australia and India, deepening cooperation between Japan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and accelerating the realignment of the U.S. forces in Japan, especially in Okinawa. The statement points to a further integration of Japanese and U.S. military capabilities, and a departure from Japan’s traditional security policy of sole cooperation with the United States under the bilateral security treaty.

Given Mr. Abe’s eagerness to revise the Constitution and readiness to change the constitution-based long-standing government position that Japan cannot exercise the right to collective defense, citizens will likely fear that Japan’s ties with the U.S. are becoming too military oriented and that the Self-Defense Forces may circumvent constitutional restraints in expanding their overseas activities. At the very least, the government must fully explain to the people and the Diet what it intends to do under the joint statement and what effects and changes these actions will bring to Japan.

The statement of the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee, known as the two-plus-two security talks, says that “the North Korean provocations, including missile launches in July and a nuclear test in October 2006, serve as stark reminder of the importance of transforming the U.S.-Japan Alliance to ensure its continued effectiveness in an ever-changing security environment.”

It takes the trouble to reaffirm the U.S.’ offer of deterrence by saying that “the full range of U.S. military capabilities — both nuclear and nonnuclear strike forces and defensive capabilities — form the core of extended deterrence and support U.S. commitment to the defense of Japan.” This should be interpreted as a reflection of American apprehension toward some Japanese politicians who called for discussions on Japan possessing nuclear arms in the wake of North Korea’s nuclear test last fall.

The statement advocates ballistic missile defense as an apparent way to cope with North Korean threats. It calls for efforts to “ensure tactical, operational and strategic coordination” and commits the two sides to “the routine sharing of BMD and related operational information directly with each other on a real-time, continuous basis.” As part of BMD efforts, Japan will deploy 16 Patriot interceptor missile units with PAC-3 capabilities by early 2010, and modify one Aegis ship this year and expedite modifications on three others to give them Standard Missile (SM-3) capabilities.

But both the U.S. and Japan must consider the possibility that North Korea, which dreads the U.S.’ overwhelming military power, may feel threatened by the BMD system and act irrationally. Moreover, in the long run, the strengthening of BMD in and around Japan could give a wrong signal to China and Russia that the U.S. and Japan regard them as untrustworthy nuclear powers. Their reactions could destabilize regional security.

To smoothen BMD cooperation and in view of a series of information leaks involving SDF personnel, the ministers agreed to conclude a “general security of military information agreement” to protect shared military information. But such a pact, which is more comprehensive than existing domestic laws to protect military information, must be scrutinized because it could limit the people’s right to know about the nation’s defense policy.

The four ministers correctly call on China “to conduct itself as a responsible international stakeholder, improve transparency in its military affairs and maintain consistency between its stated policies and actions.” They also call for strengthening cooperation among the U.S., Japan and Australia in the areas of security and defense, and “continuing to build upon partnership with India to advance areas of common interests.” Utmost care should be taken to keep China from viewing such cooperation as aimed against it.

The four ministers also call for achieving broader cooperation between Japan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Although they did not elaborate on what Japan’s role would be, it goes without saying that the SDF’s actions should be guided by the no-war principle of the Constitution.

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