In an interview with an American television station, U.S. President Donald Trump expressed dissatisfaction over how the defensive responsibility grounded in the security treaty between the United States and Japan is one-sided. America protects Japan, but, he pointed out, “If we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to help us at all.”
There’s no need to fret about whether this statement is a portent of America discarding the security treaty. Yet it is undeniable that it throws the treaty’s structural instability into relief.
We may soon get requests for an increase in defense expenditures or assistance with guarding tankers in the Middle East. Japan should contribute its share of the responsibility.
At a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, “Viewed as a whole, there is a balance between Japanese and American responsibilities, and the claim that our relationship is one-sided doesn’t hold water,”* while emphasizing that the treaty would not be reexamined.
The framework of the security treaty is that America defends Japan while Japan provides bases; it could also be called an “asymmetric bilateral relationship.” The treaty is vital to America.
Thanks to Japan’s supply of bases, the U.S. military can spread out from Northeast Asia to the Western Pacific and Middle East. Annulling this would fundamentally overturn America’s global strategy. Without the alliance with Japan, America wouldn’t be able to conduct a “new cold war” with China to its advantage. It wouldn’t be able to obstruct Chinese hegemony.
The Japanese-American alliance is an international public good that upholds the freedom and prosperity of the people of the Indo-Pacific region. Maintaining it is the international duty of Japan and America.
Both the Japanese and American governments understand this well. There is no reason to discard the security treaty.
And yet, the structural instability remains. “If we’re attacked … [Japan] can watch it on a Sony television, the attack,” Trump pointed out.
If this occurs, the American people will not see it as reciprocal and will instead strongly object. If their hearts are not with Japan, then the American government will find it difficult to implement the treaty.
The Shinzo Abe administration has prepared security-related legislation to enable limited exercise of the right of collective defense. It opened the way to a situation where Japan and America can protect one another, but there are excessive restrictions on its application. The situation Trump described is not unlikely.
In 2011, The Sankei Shimbun argued in favor of another revision of the security treaty to establish a fully equal mutual defense system between Japan and America. The significance of this has not been lost even now.
*Editor’s note: This quote, although accurately translated, could not be verified.