Thursday, November 8, 2007

The alliance cools

Robert Gates, US secretary of defense, is in Japan for talks with Prime Minister Fukuda and members of Mr. Fukuda's cabinet, including the defense and foreign ministers, for talks on US-Japan security cooperation. Not surprisingly, Japan's interrupted refueling mission in the Indian Ocean topped the agenda.

It's a shame that Mr. Gates did not take office until too late in the Bush administration, with Iraq more or less the sole focus of his attention. A low-key administrator who has a pronounced tendency to say the right thing at the right time — unlike his predecessor — Mr. Gates might have done some good for the alliance. He certainly possesses an ability to listen to other governments, a quality that has been altogether rare among members of the Bush administration.

As noted by Thom Shanker in the New York Times on remarks on constitution revision in a speech by Mr. Gates at Sophia University, "...Mr. Gates made clear that such decisions were an internal matter for Japan."

As for the substance of Mr. Gates's talks with Mr. Fukuda and others, there appears to have been lots of "urging" and reminding Japan of its international responsibilities regarding the war on terrorism and operations in Afghanistan. With Foreign Minister Komura, there was talk of a resolution this month of the dispute over a proposed cut by Japan to its "sympathy budget" for US forces in Japan.

In general, though, the mood seems to be more subdued than earlier bilateral security meetings under the Bush administration. The joint press conference with Messrs. Gates and Ishiba seems remarkably businesslike and free of excessive flights of rhetoric. This may in part be a function of personnel changes: neither Mr. Gates nor Mr. Fukuda and his cabinet lineup are prone to outbursts of enthusiasm about the glories of US-Japan cooperation from which Mr. Abe and Mr. Aso suffer. But it might also be indicative of a new realism about the alliance. By now, both governments cannot deny the existence of tension in the relationship, and it does not serve the relationship well to raise expectations about the health and value of the alliance to unreasonable heights.

The allies have a lot of work to do to alter their relationship for a new era. It is probably too much to expect that the Bush administration will get this process rolling in its final year in office, or, alternatively, that Mr. Fukuda and the Japanese government will take the initiative in the absence of US leadership.

1 comment:

Orwell said...

Japan is losing its pride by the strong pressure and seeks its own role in international affairs without being imposed. It is good to hear that the meeting in Tokyo went businesslike and with mutual respect, while avoiding domestic affairs. Japan 'sturucturally' helped Bush administration especially by the Koimumi adminstaration and Japanese populace are now frustrated by the introduction of the market fundamentalism which was prevalent in the United States. The political environment is quickly changing on both sides of the Pacific, probably it is high time to think about the positive change with in two years. In the coming election, it is now clear that the new government will emerge, and the LDP will fade out from the ruling position. Master servant relation should be soon rectified and it is strongly expected that the possible new American administration by the Democrats will think about the changed course of Japan, which definitely remain as a strong supporter of democracy and freedom in the region.