EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the July 4, 2005, issue of National Review.
Pacifism has never been so silly. In an East Asia featuring both one of the world’s most irrational states and a rising dictatorial power bent on changing the region’s strategic balance, it is a crucial ally of the United States that labors under a constitution that could have been written by Quakers. Of course, it was an American team put together by Douglas MacArthur after World War II that wrote the Japanese constitution imposing pacifism as state policy. That was understandable 50 years ago. Now, the constraints of the Japanese constitution — and the Japanese attitudes that preserved them all these years — are senseless anachronisms.
Japan has slowly been emerging from its shell over the last decade, and it is one of the diplomatic triumphs of the Bush administration that it has helped accelerate this process, strengthening the U.S.-Japanese bond and enhancing its usefulness. The Japanese will proceed at their own pace, but our response to every step they take toward becoming a more “normal” country should be nothing but encouragement: “More, please.” The goal, although it will never be fully achievable given historic, cultural, and other differences, should be to make Japan as reliable a partner of the U.S. in Asia as Britain is in Europe.
“There is no fear of Japan. The old cork-in-the-bottle theory is dead,” says an administration official, referring to the former fear in the U.S. government that any Japanese step toward rearmament would mean an inevitable slide toward aggressive militarism. “The old saw is that Japan is just an aircraft carrier, a jumping-off point for American forces. Well, we want to make it a jumping-off point for both U.S. and Japanese forces.”
The alliance is a natural. Japan broadly shares our values. The U.S. is the world’s number-one economy and Japan is number two, a powerful combination. We want to check China, and Japan feels threatened by China. Japan provides the basing the U.S. needs at a time when we have lost our bases in the Philippines and our relationship with South Korea looks shaky. We want to stay in East Asia, and the Japanese want to keep us there, in a dangerous neighborhood. Japan is surrounded by three nuclear countries that would make anyone nervous: North Korea, China, and Russia.
After the Cold War, the alliance seemed headed for a breakdown. Japan provided only financial support for the first Gulf War and refused to give the U.S. intelligence and logistical aid during the 1993–1994 showdown with North Korea. The Clintonites, meanwhile, were obsessed with banging on the Japanese on trade issues, to the exclusion of national-security considerations. They talked up a “strategic partnership” with China.
But nothing concentrates the mind like a few missile launches. . .
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