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U.S.-Japan Relations

The U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of U.S. security interests in Asia and is fundamental to regional stability and prosperity. Despite the changes in the post-Cold War strategic landscape, the U.S.-Japan alliance continues to be based on shared vital interests and values. These include stability in the Asia-Pacific region, the preservation and promotion of political and economic freedoms, support for human rights and democratic institutions, and securing of prosperity for the people of both countries and the international community as a whole.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had its origins in a growing antagonism between the United States and Japan that first developed during World War I. Japan claimed a special "sphere of influence" in China, in which it would have economic, and even to some extent political dominance. Americans, however, stood for the principle of the "Open Door"—that all countries should have an equal opportunity to market their products to the Chinese. By the late 1920s Japan was in the midst of an economic crisis, and in 1931 seized the rich Chinese province of Manchuria. The foundations were fully laid for a full-scale showdown with the United States.

In the years after World War II, Japan's relations with the United States were placed on an equal footing for the first time at the end of the occupation by the Allied forces in April 1952. This equality, the legal basis of which was laid down in the peace treaty signed by forty-eight Allied nations and Japan, was initially largely nominal, because in the early postoccupation period Japan required direct United States economic assistance. A favorable Japanese balance of payments with the United States was achieved in 1954, mainly as a result of United States military and aid spending in Japan.

The Japanese people's feeling of dependence lessened gradually as the disastrous results of World War II subsided into the background and trade with the United States expanded. Self-confidence grew as the country applied its resources and organizational skill to regaining economic health. This situation gave rise to a general desire for greater independence from United States influence. During the 1950s and 1960s, this feeling was especially evident in the Japanese attitude toward United States military bases on the four main islands of Japan and in Okinawa Prefecture, occupying the southern two-thirds of the Ryukyu Islands.

The government had to balance left-wing pressure advocating dissociation from the United States against the realities of the need for military protection. Recognizing the popular desire for the return of the Ryukyu Islands and the Bonin Islands (also known as the Ogasawara Islands), the United States as early as 1953 voluntarily relinquished its control of the Amami group of islands at the northern end of the Ryukyu Islands. But the United States made no commitment to return Okinawa, which was then under United States military administration for an indefinite period as provided in Article 3 of the peace treaty. Popular agitation culminated in a unanimous resolution adopted by the Diet in June 1956, calling for a return of Okinawa to Japan.

Bilateral talks on revising the 1952 security pact began in 1959, and the new Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security was signed in Washington on January 19, 1960. When the pact was submitted to the Diet for ratification on February 5, it became the subject of bitter debate over the Japan-United States relationship and the occasion for violence in an all-out effort by the leftist opposition to prevent its passage. It was finally approved by the House of Representatives on May 20. Japan Socialist Party deputies boycotted the lower house session and tried to prevent the LDP deputies from entering the chamber; they were forcibly removed by the police. Massive demonstrations and rioting by students and trade unions followed. These outbursts prevented a scheduled visit to Japan by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and precipitated the resignation of Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke, but not before the treaty was passed by default on June 19, when the House of Councillors failed to vote on the issue within the required thirty days after lower house approval.

Under the treaty, both parties assumed an obligation to assist each other in case of armed attack on territories under Japanese administration. (It was understood, however, that Japan could not come to the defense of the United States because it was constitutionally forbidden to send armed forces overseas. In particular, the constitution forbids the maintenance of "land, sea, and air forces." It also expresses the Japanese people's renunciation of "the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes". Accordingly, the Japanese found it difficult to send their "self-defense" forces overseas, even for peace-keeping purposes.)

The scope of the new treaty did not extend to the Ryukyu Islands, but an appended minute made clear that in case of an armed attack on the islands, both governments would consult and take appropriate action. Notes accompanying the treaty provided for prior consultation between the two governments before any major change occurred in the deployment of United States troops or equipment in Japan. Unlike the 1952 security pact, the new treaty provided for a ten-year term, after which it could be revoked upon one year's notice by either party. The treaty included general provisions on the further development of international cooperation and on improved future economic cooperation.

Both countries worked closely to fulfill the United States promise, under Article 3 of the peace treaty, to return all Japanese territories acquired by the United States in war. In June 1968 the United States returned the Bonin Islands (including Iwo Jima) to Japanese administration control. In 1969 the Okinawa reversion issue and Japan's security ties with the United States became the focal points of partisan political campaigns. The situation calmed considerably when Prime Minister Sato Eisaku visited Washington in November 1969, and in a joint communiqué signed by him and President Richard M. Nixon, announced the United States agreement to return Okinawa to Japan in 1972. In June 1971, after eighteen months of negotiations, the two countries signed an agreement providing for the return of Okinawa to Japan in 1972.

The United States withdrawal from Indochina in 1975 and the end of the Second Indochina War meant that the question of Japan's role in the security of East Asia and its contributions to its own defense became central topics in the dialogue between the two countries. United States dissatisfaction with Japanese defense efforts began to surface in 1975 when Secretary of Defense James A. Schlesinger publicly stigmatized Japan as a passive defense partner.

United States pressures continued and intensified, particularly as events in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East after 1979 caused the United States to relocate more than 50 percent of its naval strength from East Asian waters to the Indian Ocean. Japan was repeatedly pressed not only to increase its defense expenditures and build up its antisubmarine and naval patrol capabilities but also to play a more active and positive security role generally.

The Japanese government, constrained by constitutional limitations and strongly pacifist public opinion, responded slowly to pressures for a more rapid buildup of its Self-Defense Forces (SDF). It steadily increased its budgetary outlays for those forces, however, and indicated its willingness to shoulder more of the cost of maintaining the United States military bases in Japan. In 1976 the United States and Japan formally established a subcommittee for defense cooperation, in the framework of a bilateral Security Consultative Committee provided for under the 1960 security treaty. This subcommittee, in turn, drew up new Guidelines for Japan-United States Defense Cooperation, under which military planners of the two countries have conducted studies relating to joint military action in the event of an armed attack on Japan.

As long-standing military allies and increasingly interdependent economic partners, Japan and the United States cooperated closely to build a strong, multifaceted relationship based on democratic values and interests in world stability and development. Japan-United States relations improved enormously in the 1970s and 1980s, as the two societies and economies became increasingly intertwined. Each society continued to see the other as its main ally in Asia and the Pacific.

Growing interdependence was accompanied by markedly changing circumstances at home and abroad that were widely seen to have created a crisis in Japan-United States relations in the late 1980s. United States government officials continued to emphasize the positive aspects of the relationship but warned that there was a need for "a new conceptual framework." The Wall Street Journal publicized a series of lengthy reports documenting changes in the relationship in the late 1980s and reviewing the considerable debate in Japan and the United States over whether a closely cooperative relationship was possible or appropriate for the 1990s. In Japan some commentators argued that the United States was weak, dependent on Japan, and unable to come to terms with world economic competition. They urged Japan to strike out on a more independent course. In the United States, prominent commentators warned of a Japanese economic juggernaut, out of control of the Japanese government, which needed to be "contained" by the United States.

Japan provides bases and financial and material support to U.S. forward-deployed forces, which are essential for maintaining stability in the region. Under the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, Japan hosts a carrier battle group, the III Marine Expeditionary Force, the 5th Air Force, and elements of the Army's I Corps. The United States maintains approximately 50,000 troops in Japan, about half of whom were stationed in Okinawa.

Since the 1990s the alliance has been strengthened through revised defense guidelines, which expand Japan's noncombatant role in a regional contingency, the renewal of the agreement on host nation support of U.S. forces stationed in Japan, and an ongoing process called the Defense Policy Review Initiative (DPRI). The DPRI redefines roles, missions, and capabilities of alliance forces and outlines key realignment and transformation initiatives, including reducing the number of troops stationed in Okinawa, enhancing interoperability and communication between the two countries' respective commands, and broadening cooperation in the area of ballistic missile defense.

In February 2009 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone signed the Guam International Agreement (GIA) in Tokyo. The GIA committed both nations to completing the transfer of approximately 8,000 U.S. Marines from bases in Okinawa to new facilities in Guam built with the assistance of Japan. In May 2010, the U.S. and Japanese Governments issued a joint statement that reaffirmed bilateral commitments to DPRI, including plans to transfer the capabilities of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa to the Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) at Camp Schwab in the prefecture’s northern area.

The DPJ won the 2009 election partly based on a promise to relocate the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station outside Okinawa, despite an agreement by the previous LDP-led government to move the facility to a less populated area within the prefecture. The administration of then-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama later backtracked on this promise, but also failed to implement the earlier agreement with the United States. This situation disappointed both the people of Okinawa, who expected the new DPJ government to move Futenma outside the prefecture, and leaders in Washington, who were planning the realignment of US forces in the region.

On June 21, 2011, in Washington, the United States and Japanese Governments held a Security Consultative Committee meeting (“2+2”) chaired by Secretary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, along with Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa. The meeting, which marked the first 2+2 since the establishment of the DPJ-led government, issued a joint statement reaffirming the continuing importance of the alliance. More specifically, the statement outlined regional and global common strategic objectives and highlighted ways to strengthen security and defense cooperation.

In the context of reconfirming both sides’ commitment to U.S. force posture realignment, including initiatives in Okinawa, the 2+2 principals noted their decision in favor of a V-shaped runway configuration for the Futenma Replacement Facility. The 2+2 principals also issued accompanying statements on host nation support as well as cooperation in response to Japan's March 2011 earthquake. In February 2012 the two sides announced a plan to de-link progress on the FRF from the relocation of U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda worked to patch up relations with Washington after a series of policy flip-flops surrounding the relocation of a US military base in Okinawa. The LDP capitalized on the situation by accusing the DPJ of weakening the Japan-US alliance. The situation, opposition leaders said, sent the wrong message to neighboring countries, and ultimately allowed Chinese ships to freely enter Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands.

Because of the two countries' combined economic and technological impact on the world, the U.S.-Japan relationship has become global in scope. The United States and Japan cooperate on a broad range of global issues, including development assistance, combating communicable disease such as the spread of HIV/AIDS and avian influenza, and protecting the environment and natural resources. The countries also collaborate in science and technology in such areas as mapping the human genome, research on aging, and international space exploration. As one of Asia's most successful democracies and largest economies, Japan contributes irreplaceable political, financial, and moral support to U.S.-Japan diplomatic efforts.

The United States consults closely with Japan and the Republic of Korea on policy regarding North Korea. The United States works closely with Japan and Australia under the auspices of the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue and the Security and Defense Cooperation Forum to exchange views and increase coordination on global and regional initiatives. In Southeast Asia, U.S.-Japan cooperation is vital for stability and for political and economic reform. Outside Asia, Japanese political and financial support has substantially strengthened the U.S. position on a variety of global geopolitical problems, including the Gulf, Middle East peace efforts, and the Balkans. Japan, which was a member of the United Nations Security Council for the 2009-2010 term, is an indispensable partner in the UN and the second-largest contributor to the UN budget. Japan broadly supports the United States on nonproliferation and nuclear issues.

The 2014 revision of defense cooperation guidelines between Japan and the US is the first since 1997. Initially the Guidelines for US-Japan Defense Cooperation were adopted in 1978 with a view to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. The guidelines consider US-Japan cooperation under normal circumstances, in case of an armed attack against Japan and in situations in areas surrounding Japan that jeopardize its peace and security. The new guidelines will "capture the greater scope of our alliance cooperation, reflecting its more global nature," a senior State Department official stated in the October 2014 interim report. Information sharing, surveillance and reconnaissance, air and ballistic missile defense, peacekeeping, maritime security and space activities are among the spheres where cooperation between the two states may be enhanced.

The United States and Japan plan to expand their military cooperation under new guidelines that, for the first time in the history of the alliance, will allow Tokyo to project its power on a global scale. US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Defense Secretary Ash Carter met 27 April 2015 with their Japanese counterparts in New York before announcing the update to the defense cooperation agreement that had last been updated in 1997.

During the 2016 US presidential campaign, Donald Trump was very critical of America’s military allies South Korea and Japan, accusing them of not bearing enough of the financial burden for forces stationed in their countries. Trump suggested he would pull troops and allow allies in the region to develop their own nuclear weapons if they did not agree to pay the US more for protection. Trump sent shockwaves across the globe after replying in an interview with US media in March that he will not rule out using tactical nuclear weapons against Islamic State militants. On another occasion, he suggested Japan could acquire nuclear weapons to counter threats from North Korea.

Japanese government officials said they will aim to build a relationship of trust with the incoming US administration under President-elect Donald Trump. They said they believe the strong ties cultivated by Japan and the United States will remain basically unchanged no matter who becomes the next US president. However, they said Trump's foreign and security policies were not necessarily clear and they will keep a close eye on the foreign policy stance the incoming administration takes. People in the atomic-bombed city of Hiroshima are keeping an eye on the nuclear policy US President-elect Donald Trump will unveil. And Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, the Chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, expressed concern over the impact of a Trump presidency on the country's economy. He said if Trump took a protectionist stance as pledged in his campaign, it would have a major impact on Japanese stocks and the currency market.

Donald Trump expressed his commitment to the security of Japan in accordance with the bilateral security treaty. Trump spoke at a news conference with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe following their first summit at the White House on 10 February 2017. Trump said the US-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Pacific region. He said the United States is committed to the security of Japan and all areas under its administrative control. The 2 leaders affirmed that the bilateral security treaty covers the Senkaku Islands.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida described discussions between the leaders of Japan and the US as thorough and substantial. He said the meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump provided a good opportunity to proclaim the unshakable Japan-US alliance to the world. Kishida said that administration changes had not altered the perception by both countries that the stability of the Asia-Pacific region, including the East and South China Seas, is vital. He said Japan will carry out its role for that purpose with cooperation with the United States. He also indicated that the countries will hold a meeting of their foreign and defense ministers soon.




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