Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Two plus two equals...no change whatsoever?

In advance of Tuesday's 2 + 2 meeting in Washington, Secretary of State Rice met one-on-one with Foreign Minister Aso, and Secretary of Defense Gates met with Defense Minister Kyuma.

The pre-meetings, it seems, were as limited in scope as the full meeting of the Security Consultative Committee (the formal setting of the 2 + 2) looks to be.

According to Yomiuri, the defense policy meeting focused mainly on the need to implement last year's realignment agreement fully, without amendment, with some talk of the ongoing investigations into leaks of classified information about the Aegis system by MSDF sailors. Secretary Gates also reiterated that the F-22 is not for sale, although he suggested that it would be good "from the perspective of the division of roles between the US and Japan," hinting at further investigation of the issue.

The foreign policy meeting, meanwhile, reiterated the message to North Korea expressed by President Bush and Prime Minister Abe last week.

Interestingly, in a preview of the SCC meeting, Sankei reports that the joint statement will include a reaffirmation of the US nuclear umbrella, in part as a response to last autumn's debate on having a debate on Japan's nuclear weapons policy. Other than that, though, the 2 + 2 will undoubtedly include statements reiterating bilateral cooperation on North Korea, missile defense, on the realignment of US forces in Japan, and on cooperation in the reconstruction of Iraq — but nothing on the long-term health of the US-Japan alliance or a discussion of steps that should be taken to strengthen the alliance.

In regard to the realignment agreement in particular, in the years leading up to the relocation of US Marines to Guam, the allies must discuss what will happen to the alliance when it becomes decoupled from the defense of Japan, the natural implication of a drastic reduction in the scale of US forces forward-deployed in Japan. While the allies seem to be groping towards some kind of transformation of the alliance into a global alliance, the terms of that change have yet to be made explicit, having been handled on an ad hoc basis in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Changes in the alliance must be made explicit, preferably with unambiguous language in a joint statement. As such, every meeting of senior US and Japanese officials that passes without the future structure of the alliance being discussed is a wasted opportunity.

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