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‘The security treaty between the United States and Japan is unfair’ is an old argument

Updated: Jul 13, 2019

Asabi Shimbun Globe

July 7, 2019

Since it was reported that President Trump talked about ‘tearing up’ the Japan-U.S. security treaty, there has been ongoing uncertainty has about what will become of the Japan-U.S. alliance. Although it doesn’t appear to be the case that this was directly touched upon in the leaders’ meeting, it is clear that a conflict of interests exists. In response to the American president’s insistence that ‘Japan does not have an obligation to defend America - a one-sided treaty is unfair,’ Japan responded by noting that ‘Japan’s has taken on an appropriate burden in matters such as providing financial support for U.S. forces stationed in Japan, and the Japan-US security treaty is the foundation of stability in the Asia-Pacific.’ In truth, this argument is not new…


Generally speaking, during the cold war, the greater fear was that Japan could by dragged into a war brought about by America’s situation [as the number one enemy of the Eastern Bloc]. One the one hand, it was absolutely necessary that Japan existed as a keystone in the Asia-Pacific. Japan was able to be lightly armed and focus its energies on growing the economy because America shouldered the burden of its defence.

At the conclusion of the cold war, the greater fear was that Japan would be abandoned. At this time, Japan and America were economic rivals, and the special concerns that applied during the cold war were no longer warranted. On the other hand, given the rise of China’s military and North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles, Japan had no option but to rely on America.

Previously, Japanese diplomats have been wise to try their hardest to attain a balance between these two ‘fears’. However, this balance has been lost since we entered the 21st century. Since the administration of Junichiro Koizumi, Japan has tread the path of completely supporting the United States, and the result is that we have ignored the deterioration of our relationship with our Asian neighbors. The irony is that the closer we get to America, the lower our diplomatic value to the U.S. becomes.

Think about it.

Which is more useful to America - a Japan that is able to voice an independent viewpoint in relation to China or Korea and exert an influence, or a Japan that must solely rely on America?

Japanese diplomacy is likened to a Koala that clings onto America. The inexorable logic at work here is that the more you cling, the more you are taken advantage of, and a greater burden will be placed on the alliance.

So, is it possible that America will abandon Japan in the near future?

I don’t think this is the case. To America, this is an incomparable alliance in which it maintains military bases and receives “appreciation payments” [Omoiyari Yosan]* to support them, so it is difficult to imagine that President Trump, who is sensitive about pragmatic gains, would personally set about abandoning it.

Nonetheless, I have no doubt that by saying that ‘the Japan-U.S. security treaty is unfair’, the U.S. will come to ask for further concessions in relation to the procurement of weapons and trade.

However, how should I put this? The Japan-U.S. security treaty has become the subject of the ‘deal’. To Trump, the ‘wrecker’ of the international order built by America after the Second World War, is this an exception not to be passed over? The Japan-U.S. security treaty is facing a completely unforeseen crises. Thus the crises is in some aspects the result of Japan’s diplomacy towards America.

* Omoiyari Yosan - financial support towards welfare benefits and allowances of U.S. forces stationed in Japan.