The essay devoted to analysis оf the evolution of the relations between Japan and the USA in the period after the end of the Second World War and up to the present day. Under evaluation there is an American occupation policy influence on formation of the strategic course of the Japanese foreign and domestic policy over the post-war period. The choice was in favour of the military alliance with the USA in the interest of concentration of the country's own efforts not on formation of defense potential but on economic revival, modernization and social development. This choice put limits on possibilities for independent actions in the spheres of international relations and defence policy. In the process of obtaining solid economic potential aspirations for greater independence in the framework of the alliance with the USA have started to develop. There are descriptions of the examples of such attempts. Japanese-American relations in the period during the prime-minister Abe and President Trump administrations are also under analysis.
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This essay tries to describe the United States seen from the perspective of a former Japanese diplomat who has experienced it through his family narrative1, his own experience and all that he came to learn in living within the Japanese society.
On September 2, the formal surrender document was signed by the representatives of Japan, Foreign Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru and General Umezu Yoshijiro, Chief of Staff of the Army, and General Douglas MacArthur and other allies’ representatives. The occupation began. The occupation policy was directed largely by the United States. It consisted of so called three “D’s” during the first two years: Demilitarization, Democratization and Decentralization.
Kishi Nobusuke is known to be one of the most powerful post-war Japanese prime ministers. He was the first general secretary of the Liberal Democratic Party, formed after the merging of the Democratic Party and Liberal Party in November 1955. He then assumed the post of prime minister in February 1957. His major accomplishment turned out to be the conclusion of the Security Treaty with the United States, signed on January 19, 1960 as a revised version of the Security Treaty of 1951, signed immediately after the San Francisco Peace Treaty. The essence of the new document was to level up Japan’s role to a more autonomous position vis-à-vis the United States. The gist of the new treaty was Article V, whereby the United States was obligated to defend Japan in case of an attack. But Japan was not obliged to participate in American military actions if they were not connected with the defense of Japan. The Japan-US Exchange Notes attached to Article VI prescribed three issues obligating the US to entering preliminary consultations with Japan, one of which being the introduction of nuclear weapons to the American bases in Japan, and another about the location of large-scale military base on the Japanese territory.
However, clear-cut direction of Japan after the reversion of Okinawa for greater autonomy has been obscured by several factors. First, criticism remained in Japan that American bases in Okinawa would continue to oppress the Okinawa people even after the reversion. In fact, the impact of American bases was felt somewhat more keenly because American bases from the four main Japanese islands came to be reduced.
Enormous amount of discussion is going on concerning President Trump. This essay does not intend to make a new discovery but tries to keep a minimal shared understanding. His policy, right from the beginning of his campaign, was “America First”. But in concrete terms, what does “America First” mean? This paper offers the following five points as a basic understanding.
President Trump’s basic message toward Japan in line with his basic positions described above was fairly simple: in economic area, “buy more American products”. In order to pressure Japan to buy more American products, Trump typically mobilized the logic of trade-off between economy and security: “because Japan is typically profiting from the United States on security, it should buy more American products.” Well, here Abe has a lot to say. He could say for instance, the following:
“Mr. President. You are right, or rather you were right until 2016. Before that, as the result of concluding a new security treaty with the United States in 1960, the United States came to bear under Article V, legal responsibility to fight against any country which might attack Japan.
But because of the interpretation of the strongly pacifist nature of Article IX of the Constitution, Japanese Self Defense Forces (SDF) were not allowed to fight against a country which might have attacked the US. In other words, the SDF were forbidden to implement the right of collective self-defense, which under the UN Charter all countries were possessing, because of the interpretation of the Constitution.
I have long thought that this asymmetry has to be corrected. Going through the procedure of revising the constitution is one approach, but this entails a lot of time and complex procedure. So I decided to go for the revision of the interpretation of the Article IX. We first announced that direction by a Cabinet decision in 2014, enacted a new law in 2015, and that law entered into force in 2016, as if to have anticipated President Trump’s justifiable accusation of Japan, had we have not enacted the new law.
Legal measures adopted in 2015 are called ‘Japan’s Legislation for Peace and Security’. In case an attack against a country such as the United States which has close relationship with Japan occurs, the new law allowed to mobilize SDF only ‘when an armed attack against a foreign country that is in a close relationship with Japan occurs and as a result threatens Japan’s survival and poses a clear danger to fundamentally overturn people’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.’
In simple terms, ‘if the US is attacked, Japan may join and fight against that attackers, provided that that attack would create the same level of danger as if Japan itself is attacked.’ It is a unique legal situation never existing before, but most certainly structural asymmetry is substantially if not holistically removed. Japan is in a more autonomous position vis-à-vis the United States.”
Let me conclude briefly by reinterring to Trump’s Russian policy and how this is affecting Japan-Russia relationship. As said in comparison to America’s institutional policy lines, which see President Putin representing real threat against the US, President Trump behaves more friendly toward him. But nevertheless, given the overall policy lines by the US leadership in Washington DC, Abe’s unwavering insistence on concluding the peace treaty with Russia, based on substantial concession of traditional claim over the islands, is no better proof of autonomy, or genuine efforts toward greater autonomy from the United States. Abe, as the prime minister, certainly is not in a position to say this, because it entails useless political reaction from Washington. A humble academic analysis has, fortunately in a democratic society like Japan, the right to express freely any of author’s views.
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