Starting with the defense ministry talks on April 8, the U.S. and Japan began to reconstitute their alliance. The heart of the meeting is in revising the defense guidelines in a way that will allow Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to play a greater role in the region’s security. They are expected to finalize the revision in the upcoming U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee on April 27, with both heads of the defense and the foreign affairs departments present, followed by the summit talk (April 28) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s address to the joint session of Congress (April 29). An appropriate response is called for, since it will undoubtedly impact the geopolitics of East Asia profoundly.
The defense guidelines between the U.S. and Japan, first drafted to prepare for potential invasions from the Soviet Union in 1978, went through only one revision, in 1997, in response to nuclear threats from North Korea. What both countries strive for is “military integration”; it has manifested as an essential part of the United States’ “Pivot to Asia” policy, and for Japan, an escape route from its framework of pacifism and to rearmament. No doubt the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the U.S. is pushing hard, is part of their Asia Pivot policy.
At the moment, the U.S. seems to be taking Japan’s side in terms of history, as exemplified by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s interview on April 8, which noted that “we [the U.S.] believe the potential gains of cooperation — the opportunities that exist for both our long-time allies, and the entire region — outweigh yesterday’s tensions and today’s politics.” On a related note, Japan has intensified provocations regarding “Dokdo.”* We cannot allow this trend to go on. At least for the history issues, there is a need to remain unyielding to both the U.S. and Japan. The pressure from the U.S. to advance the trilateral security cooperation is getting bigger by the day. The THAAD** installation on the Korean peninsula, among many other pressures the U.S. is exerting on us, is getting more air time and attention from U.S. officials and think tanks, only by them (over)emphasizing North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. Our government needs to show decisiveness in this matter. The trilateral missile defense system, including THAAD, cannot be the sole answer to our security issue.
What is even more worrisome is that these moves by the U.S. and Japan are interlocked with their dangerously complicit North Korean nuclear policies, which would rather suffer abrogation than dialogue. This, too, is stacked against us. The more unstable the Korean peninsula becomes, the less we can voice our concerns. In other words, we cannot be taken seriously by these countries unless we get things going with Pyongyang again.
The U.S. secretary of defense is scheduled to visit Seoul on April 9, shortly followed by a high-ranking officials talk with South Korea, the U.S. and Japan in one week. The government cannot give in to the trend that the U.S. and Japan are controlling. It needs to stay true to its principles of balanced diplomacy, Korean Peninsula-centric agendas (including the North Korean nuclear problem), and resolving the history issues.
*Translator’s Note: Liancourt Rocks. These islands in the Sea of Japan are controlled by South Korea, but Japan contests their sovereignty.
**Editor’s Note: Terminal High-Altitude Aerial Defense.