The article quotes a "former US government official" as saying that the current relationship between Japan and the United States "is worse than the relationship between the United States and South Korea during the Roh Moo-hyon [No Mu-hyo'n] administration that was said to be the worst." The writer then worries that Japan will be again "passed over" and rendered irrelevant by its unwillingness to maintain the U.S.-Alliance.
The President's visit to Japan will not be canceled and the "relationship" will not get any worse than it always has been. There are other issues of cooperation and amity. Have we already forgotten that it was the LDP that delayed the Futenma move nearly 15 years, crushed the U.S. auto industry, stalled at the Six-Party Talks, and destabilized East Asia with less than empathetic remarks on history?
The tension caused by differing aspirations for Japan's security strategy should not have been a surprise. They have always existed. It was never enough that the U.S. and Japan shared a common goal of a peaceful Asia. How Japan would contribute to this peace is a continuing subject of debate, misunderstanding, and exasperation.
Yet, this simple "goal," as a senior U.S. State Department official told the Washington Post, encouraged the United States to "grow comfortable" believing Japan as a constant in U.S. relations in Asia. The situation allowed for troubling inconsistencies and unholy alliances between Japan and the U.S.
Now, although the goal has not changed, the means to achieve Japan's security is being reevaluated. This too should not have been a surprise. The DPJ Manifesto, the DPJ visitors to Washington (often ignored), and Japanese public opinion all indicated a general lack of interest in international affairs, a skepticism for hosting U.S. bases in Japan, and a reluctance to engage anywhere militarily.
The LDP simply made assumptions about what the Japanese people wanted. And as you can see they have paid dearly for this. Public support for the Alliance does not imply a similar support for increased militarization of Japan.
The Hatoyama Administration sees other means to achieve regional security. Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, and the Senkakus are all trouble spots. Democracy remains weak or nonexistent throughout most of Asia. And memories of Japan's 20th century aggression remain bitter and deep. Their approach is to emphasize de-nuclearization, non-proliferation, human rights, democratic principles, and reconciliation with Imperial Japan's victims. The goal of a safer East Asia is to be achieved through a commitment to never appearing as a military threat to any other people or country.
Thus, the new DPJ administration was likely shocked and disappointed by the vehemence of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' objections to the desire to rethink and reevaluate one component of the Alliance. Hatoyama thought he was bringing something new to the Alliance and showing the sincerity of a democracy to review past decisions.
More important, Prime Minister Hatoyama and Foreign Minister Okada believed that Japan's greater commitment to global nuclear nonproliferation would strengthen the Alliance. After all the Obama Administration was championing nuclear disarmament. Differences in "details" would not trump the pursuit of shared goals. They had not in the past.
Maybe this coming week Foreign Minister Okada will visit Washington to see how to ensure the upcoming Obama-Hatoyama summit a success. Unfortunately, I suspect, he is coming to appeal to the Obama Administration with the belief that the American tradition of civilian control over the military will have the White House compel the Pentagon to be more reasonable. He will seek "understanding" to give his new government more time to examine the backroom deals of the LDP, to present its plan for Afghanistan, and to develop Japan's vision of a Northeast Asian Nuclear Free Zone.
And the Obama Administration, I suspect, believes the Japanese Foreign Minister will simply accede to American demands.