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Tokyo says No…until May?

by Sheila A. Smith
December 14, 2009

The Japanese cabinet announced today that it will postpone its decision on a relocation option for Futenma Marine Air Station until May. Yet, it retains the budget needed in its fiscal 2010 budget, and will continue the ongoing environmental assessment of the coastal area around Henoko.

Perhaps the most interesting is the decision to ask the United States for a new working-level consultation. See http://blogs.cfr.org/asia/2009/12/11/abrupt-changes-on-futenma/.

But what does the Hatoyama Cabinet want to discuss? My sense is the United States will want to listen, but they may want to hear something more than the relocation options the Hatoyama government wants to discuss.

Perhaps the time has come to recognize we need a broader exercise for the United States and Japan.

The overall challenge for the United States and Japan is to find a mechanism that will have the credibility to craft policy going forward. Given decisions made in the last few weeks by the prime minister, it is hard to believe that the working group approach will provide new options.

Japan seems to have just rejected the U.S. preference for relocating the U.S. Marines.

It will now need to come up with its own options, and persuade the United States of their merits.

Perhaps now policymakers in Washington will get a chance to listen to what ideas are motivating Tokyo’s behavior, and the new Japanese government will be able to articulate their strategic goals and preferences.

What is their vision of the U.S. military presence in Japan?

Broader still, what are the priorities looking forward for our relationship?

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  • Posted by S. Mahmud Ali

    The US-Japan alliance, described variously as the fulcrum, linchpin and cornerstone of both bilateral relations and the region’s security architecture at least since Bill Clinton’s mid-1996 visit and revival of the mutual defense treaty, is faced with serious challenges. There are changes in both the allied states, and in their bilateral relations.

    As Manmohan Singh, the Indian premier, so recently insisted during his state visit to Washington that the international security order was changing, US allies and partners across Asia (as indeed elsewhere) would find it reasonable to review their security priorities and preferences. Prime Minister Hatoyama has repeatedly asserted Japan’s desire for a more equal relationship, something the Obama administration has accepted as inevitable. However, what the practical consequences of this equality will be for the alliance, and for Washington’s ‘hub-and-spokes’ security framework in the region remain unclear. Both Obama and Hatoyama came to offices with mandates for change – but they are clearly seeking very different kinds of changes. The USA presumably wishes to retain – indeed strengthen – its pre-eminence in the region and globally (Secretary of State-designate Clinton referred to America’s leadership role 18 times in her Congressional testimony); however, America’s allies and partners see it as a gently declining hegemon and are taking what they consider appropriate measures to defend respective interests – to wit, Australia’s dramatically increased investments in long-term military capability.

    In sum, Secretary Robert Gates’s recent hardball approach during his Tokyo visit has not generated a significant convergence of views. The DPJ’s coalition partners will push for a more assertive Asian focus and less pronounced obeisance to the leaders across the ocean. The fulcrum/linchpin is moving in a slightly different direction, and the entire edifice may have to move with it. While it would be melodramatic to say ‘resistance is futile,’ Washington’s meritocratic cognoscenti would do well simply to read up what the National Defense University has been saying since this past spring about America’s security role in the emerging new world.

    Happy to discuss this further.
    Regards
    mahmud
    (S. Mahmud Ali)

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