Japan's new government is on a tear to redo the so-called U.S.-Japan Alliance. It is first trying to figure out how a security arrangement became an alliance. Next it is trying to discern why so many U.S. troops remain in so many former Imperial Army and Navy bases.
Most important, the Hatoyama government is discovering that a handful of essentially self-selected elites in Japan and the United States, nurtured by Japanese funding, have charted the course and character of the Alliance for over 2o years.
Last week's AEI presentation on "Troubled Waters for the U.S.-Japan Alliance" gave the audience a glimpse into this rarified world of Pacific strategists and Alliance Managers.
After reading, not paraphrasing, from his paper on the Looming Crisis in U.S.-Japan Relations and listening to Professor Kent Calder criticize the inability of a small group of elites to broaden the security dialogue, Dr. Patrick Cronin was in a defensive mood. As an "alliance manager" he respected the results of these men. He had just moved from a U.S. government research center to the Center for a New American Security, which had been founded by his friend, fellow Alliance Manager, and now Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell. In the "private" sector he would have more time to write and to participate with little scrutiny in Alliance building meetings.
Cronin blithely jumped into the discussion after the presentations with a defense of the Alliance Managers. The Alliance he felt had been "tremendously successful," but he admited that it is in need of "a much wider public support base in Japan":
It [the Alliance] has been indeed managed by elites. I know I have had privileged conversations whether at the onsen or up in the mountains of Aspen with future prime ministers, defense ministers. And there is no doubt there has been a very candid exchange of views. There has been a very deep exchange of views on the most serious and sensitive issues. No doubt that takes place. [See 36.24 of the video of the event posted on the AEI website.]
Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs James Shinn was so bemused, that he interupted Cronin to ask if there were onsen in Aspen.
So there you have it: naked men with deep views at tony resorts conjured up America's lynchpin Alliance.
This is good to know, but I am still having a very hard time getting a picture of Patrick Cronin, James Kelley, Shinzo Abe, and Hisahiko Okazaki soaking together buck-naked in an onsen discussing Japan's potential defense posture out of my head...it is not pretty. Not exactly the U.S. Men's water polo team.
After Dr. Cronin's comment, my intern whispered: What is an onsen?
Myself: A bath, a hot spring, usually outdoors.
Intern: I assume they have towels.
Myself: Very small towels.