pacific forum History of Pacific Forum

Issues & Insights Vol. 14 – No. 12 – Substantial progress, but still further to go

A strong relationship between Japan and the United States has been a cornerstone of each country’s post-World War II foreign policy. Japan was devastated by that conflict and relied on US aid and assistance to rebuild. Japan provided bases for the US forward-deployed presence in Asia. The two former enemies created an alliance that was instrumental in promoting regional stability and helping to create a durable postwar order.

The bilateral relationship now extends beyond security and provides economic and political benefits for both countries. Japan’s extraordinary economic development in the 1950s, 1960s, and ‘70s was touted by many as a “miracle,” and the country rose to become the second largest economy in the world, trailing only the United States. The foundation of this exceptional performance was the strong partnership forged by the two nations. The alliance is a framework that has encouraged growth and trade for the US and Japan and other nations too. This partnership has served as a pillar of the US presence in the Asia-Pacific. The US has also acted as a link between Japan and neighboring countries that harbor bad memories about Japan’s imperial era.

That last point underscores the Japan-US partnership’s critical role in promoting stability in the Asia-Pacific region. The US has acted as a buffer for Japan, China, and Korea, facilitating interaction among them. The relationship, and those that it enables with other governments, has promoted cooperative security measures that encompass both hard, traditional security concerns, and newer, nontraditional security issues. The partnership with Japan, and the engagement with other regional countries through this alliance extends US influence in regional politics and economics. While the US gets much credit for promoting Japan’s re-emergence in the region after World War II, Japan has also encouraged US engagement in the region.

While vital to each country’s national interest, the US-Japan alliance and partnership, cannot be taken for granted. While this relationship is strong today, it needs continued tending to survive and thrive. The Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF) and Pacific Forum have been working together for several years to consolidate and strengthen the Japan-US partnership. The Sasakawa Peace Foundation Fellows program gives current and aspiring policymakers opportunities to look over the horizon at new and emerging issues for this partnership, bringing new voices to the fore and promoting creative thinking about the alliance. The fellowship brings together individuals from a variety of fields and endeavors, many of whom have not focused on the alliance, to infuse new blood, new ideas, and new thinking to the bilateral partnership, all with an aim to providing solid, actionable recommendations for the two countries.

The papers in this volume are some of the fruits of that endeavor. Drawing on research presented at a conference March 2014, contributors explore issues ranging from the impact of changes in Japan’s arms exports control policies to Asia-Pacific maritime cooperation. Each paper includes background and geopolitical context to facilitate an understanding of why each particular issue mattters, along with policy recommendations to meet regional security challenges.

The SPF program aims to encourage next-generation thinking that will escape the silos and constraints that characterize much of contemporary alliance discussions. (To be fair, many of the constraints reflect urgency; dealing with daily concerns absorbs so much time that there is little opportunity for more long-term issues.) The SPF program allows next-generation policymakers to not only develop and share ideas among themselves, but to bring their thoughts and suggestions to current policymakers.

These papers offer new perspectives on US-Japan relations. Our contributors and fellows strive to identify new problem areas along with innovative policy proposals and peaceful conflict resolution strategies. We hope they stimulate others to think in new and creative ways about enduring and emerging challenges.