Government Conflict Represents Risk To US-Japan Alliance
The United States and Japan have long been allied forces; despite the obvious conflicts during World War II, Japan is allied with the US over territorial disputes with China, while relationships in that area also provide the US with an anchor in its military conflict with North Korea.
In September, however, Okinawa elected Denny Tamaki as the city’s mayor, which could potentially cause a serious disruption in the US-Japan alliance. Tamaki, whose father was a US Marine, opposes placing a US military base in Okinawa, leaving both President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in difficult positions.
Governments Growing Apart
Tamaki’s election is just one of several issues in the military relationship between Japan and the United States. Another problem stems from Trump’s trade sanctions against Japan – and China. Both Japan and China have been on the receiving end of Trump’s trade sanctions, and as a result, the two countries are coming together despite the conflicts mentioned above. By partnering more closely with China, Japan hopes to minimize the impact of a trade war with the US. Moreover, as both countries develop their military capabilities, having the right alliances can make all the difference.
Facing Military Risk
For the last several decades, the US-Japan military alliance seemed largely perfunctory. Yes, the US was carrying out military campaigns in many countries, but none of those conflicts seemed likely to extend beyond their existing boundaries. As the US continues to beat the drums of war with North Korea, however, the area of the Pacific near Japan is feeling increasingly tenuous. So, both Japan and the United States are increasing their military preparedness. In Japan, this includes a five-year commitment to advancing electronic warfare as well as cyber warfare and even space defense.
As for the United States, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working to build an adaptive radar countermeasures program to support electronic warfare practices. These systems are designed to assess and characterize threats, address the threat, and then determine the effectiveness of the automated response. These are extraordinary capabilities, designed to fight a thoroughly modern, long-distance war, as the US would see if it entered into conflict with North Korea.
Is there any way to repair the relationship between the United States and Japan before it’s too far gone? Since trade is such a key issue in the divide between the two countries, relaxing trade sanctions and improving relationships between the US and China could help improve the situation and even bring all three countries into closer alignment. During this years G20 conference, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on the meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Trump. Though the meeting is presented as being more important for China than the US, from the perspective of US-Japanese relationships, the meeting takes on new meaning.
President Trump seems unconcerned about the state of US-Japan relations; as he recently stated regarding trade policy, though the US has a good relationship with Japan, “that will end as soon as I tell them how much they have to pay.” Trump isn’t listening to experts who say that this relationship should be a top priority. Those concerned with contemporary geopolitics, then, should keep a close eye on talks between Trump and Abe. What happens at those tables could have long-term consequences.