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Issues and Insights Vol. 15, No. 5 – A Legacy of Peace: The US-Japan Partnership after 70 years

April 9, 2015

The event that elicited the enclosed recommendations was made possible by the generous contribution of the Japan-US Friendship Commission. Its support for Pacific Forum and the Young Leaders Program allows us to continue to forge bonds across the Pacific and to bring more voices to these important discussions on Japan-US relations. Special thanks go to Paige Cottingham-Streater for her patience and leadership in managing our foundation relationship and for Brooke Mizuno‘s skillful stewardship on behalf of Pacific Forum. We would like to thank Professor Denny Roy for his insights and willingness to join us for the discussion and Barbara Foster for her generosity in helping us arrange a venue. Thanks are also due to Mari Skudlarick, John Warden, and Brad Glosserman for their substantive contributions and leadership of the discussion. We would especially like to point out the substantial assistance provided by Petra Kubalkova whose tireless effort resulted in a smooth, well-organized meeting. Finally, we would like to thank all the Young Leaders, scholars, and professionals who took time from their busy schedules to join us and to actively contribute to this important discussion.


To mark the occasion of 70 years since the end of the Pacific War, a group of young professionals and scholars met in Honolulu to discuss the state of the US-Japan partnership. With generous support from the Japan-US Friendship Commission, the discussion veered from our usual focus on security and military alliance issues and instead examined the personal, cultural, educational, and professional ties between the United States and Japan. The group of 19 Japanese and American nationals (including a number of Japanese-Americans) looked ahead to future areas for collaboration in the realms of agriculture, educational training, technology, and innovation.

Our conversation emphasized looking forward instead of back and concluded that the war should not be the benchmark by which the health of the relationship is measured. This does not mean that either side should forget the past, but rather that the partnership between the US and Japan should be built upon consideration of our mutual strengths instead of dwelling on individual failures. For example, one recommendation is that the United States should emphasize Japanese language instruction in more schools, contributing to a learned population that can communicate effectively across borders. Another recommendation is to build exchanges that emphasize innovation and capitalize on Japanese and American enthusiasm for improving technology and problem-solving. Despite vocal support for the US-Japan partnership that exists in both countries, something is still missing.

The Pew Research Center recently released a new survey called, “Americans, Japanese: Mutual Respect 70 Years After the End of WWII.” ( While the Pew survey had a much larger sample than ours, the enclosed documents show that we came to very similar conclusions: the alliance is strong and is based upon feelings of mutual respect. While both results indicate that the war is no longer the most important moment in the history of the alliance, both surveys emphasized the importance of the military alliance for Japanese national security as well as for regional stability and security. Also like the Pew results, we found that most Americans feel that Japan should take a more active role ensuring peace and security in the region, while Japanese respondents were divided. One aspect of the Pew poll that is getting attention is that Japanese views of Americans are based on negative stereotypes—that Americans are selfish, dishonest, and not innovative. In order to combat these competing visions of the relationship, we recommend more meetings such as ours.

The Pacific Forum established the Young Leaders Program in 2004 as a means to prepare the next generation of foreign policy specialists and to integrate them into the world of Asia-Pacific policymaking and analysis. We hope that by bringing Young Leaders to the table and encouraging them to interact with one another and with senior experts that they will have the opportunity to hone their views and to confidently contribute them to Asia-Pacific security policy discourse. One of the main obstacles that I face as head of the Young Leaders program is to assemble the right mixture of experience, personality, and citizenship, and to foster a well-balanced discussion between Young Leaders and with their more senior counterparts. Over the last six months, we have tackled East Asian crisis simulations, US-Japan bilateral issues, and US-ROK-Japan trilateral issues. Though our surveys indicate that the US-Japan relationship is one of the most important in Asia today, time and again we struggle to get young Japanese to participate in our meetings. This is a symptom of a relationship in need of repair. If we can cultivate more respect by elevating the US-Japan relationship beyond the Pacific War and the historical memories associated with it, perhaps more conversations like this can air grievances, spark policy innovation, and bring more young Japanese to the table.

Julia Cunico
Director, Pacific Forum Young Leaders Program