Thursday, March 8, 2007

Driving a wedge in the alliance

Once again a response to a post deserves a fuller response. Adamu of Mutantfrog Travelogue noted in reply to this post:
You keep saying that America is abandoning Japan, but wouldn't a grand nuclear bargain that works be more in Japan's interest than letting the whole thing fall apart over the abduction issue?
It's a fair point. Of course a grand bargain that meant North Korea's giving up nuclear weapons and becoming integrated into the region would be preferable than continuing to demand that Pyongyang come clean on abductions from decades ago, but then, that would depend on a government that was able to take a more balanced view of Japan's national interests.

The reason that Japan should be -- and, I think, is -- fearful of being abandoned is because given Washington's new realism, I don't think the Bush administration would turn down a deal that contained the possibility of a disarmed North Korea just to stand alongside Japan on the abductions issue. I think Pyongyang knows this, and is going to do everything in its power to entice the US to abandon its ally.

This just goes to show that the time for the US and Japan to reassess the political character of their alliance is long overdue. It may be necessary to revisit this idea, raised in the first Armitage-Nye Report, published in October 2000: "We see the special relationship between the United States and Great Britain as a model for the alliance." The first Armitage-Nye Report looked at the special relationship almost exclusively in military terms, but the US-Japan alliance should seek to emulate the US-UK relationship in political terms: for all the talk of Blair being Bush's "poodle," Britain has not hesitated to pursue its own political projects internationally, and has maintained a steady, if occasionally bumpy, relationship with Brussels on the side (i.e., Janus-faced Britain, as described by Timothy Garton Ash). But all of that is done in the confidence that the US and Britain share values and interests, and have in place the mechanisms to pursue both when necessary -- and they are capable of communicating when they have disagreements (once again, criticism of Blair notwithstanding).

The US-Japan alliance needs to move strongly in this direction, and the US can start by cautioning Japan against forgetting its other interests on the Korean Peninsula, instead of just telling Japan what it wants to hear, as it seems Cheney did on his visit. The same goes for Japan: comments by a cabinet member critical of one US policy or another should not be the cause for controversy. But clear, honest, and regular communication requires a mechanism or mechanisms -- and an attitude that sees openness between allies as an essential part of a more robust political alliance. On this foundation, the allies can craft an alliance in which each partner can pursue independent initiatives without fearing for the long-term durability of the relationship.

But there appear to be depressingly few signs that the allies are moving in this direction; rather, they seem to be playing a game whereby each ally pursues its own initiatives, while occasionally reassuring the other that the alliance is strong.

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