Wednesday, November 8, 2006

A changing US-Japan alliance?

Meanwhile in the midst of the nuclear weapons flap, two senior US State Department officials were in Tokyo for meetings with Foreign Minister Aso. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, and Robert Joseph, undersecretary for arms control and international security, met with Mr. Aso to continue alliance coordination in response to the DPRK's nuclear test but also to coordinate positions in advance of a meeting between the five parties -- the two allies plus China, South Korea, and Russia -- on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Hanoi in mid-November.

Such coordination is, of course, to be expected and is not especially notable except that it shows the goal to which the two allies should aspire. Policy consultation should be ongoing; it should not be limited to emergency situations. That is how Japan can be the "Great Britain" of Asia (as called for in the 2000 Armitage-Nye Report) -- not through the use of force or having nuclear weapons, but to be an indispensable partner politically, capable of taking the lead on important issues, including regional democratization. Accordingly, the sooner the alliance establishes a standing politico-military planning and coordination cell in Tokyo, staffed by suitably high-ranking officers and diplomats, the sooner the alliance will be able to play a more creative role in the region.

Without such a step, alliance cooperation will remain reactive, as is the case now.

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