Towards a global alliance

Commentators have had a day to digest the joint statement produced at Tuesday’s SCC meeting in Washington. For an excellent review of the circumstances surrounding the meeting — including the impact of impertinent statements by Defense Minister Kyuma and Foreign Minister Aso — check out former Japanese diplomat Amaki Naoto’s blog, in which he criticizes harshly Abe’s handling of the US-Japan relationship. (Granted, he also criticizes the government for failing to assume full responsibility for the defense of Japan.)

Having read the joint statement, I have a few responses.

It is interesting that in the list of common strategic objectives, there is no mention of Taiwan. Readers will recall that the statement produced in February 2005 was notably in that it was the first significant mention of Taiwan being a shared interest of the alliance. As such, Taiwan’s absence from this statement is interesting.

In place of Taiwan, there is a clear shift away from thinking about specific contingencies that the alliance might face and a greater emphasis on shaping the East Asian and global strategic environments. Beyond talking specifically about the resolution of the North Korean crisis, the statement calls on China to become a stakeholder in regional and global order; APEC to become a greater mechanism for regional cooperation; a more significant role for ASEAN; strengthened US-Japan-Australian cooperation; greater cooperation with India; and bilateral cooperation in Iraq and the Greater Middle East.

Accordingly, given the broader thrust of the shared strategic objectives, the specific measures for bilateral military cooperation are designed to improve the ability of the alliance to operate throughout the “arc of instability.” While the statement also discusses greater operational interoperability on missile defense, it is exceedingly clear that the purpose of this document — statements on realignment included — is to indicate that the alliance is becoming distinctly more global in character, a point entirely missed by this Japan Times summary, for example.

What is absent, however, is more than a line about how the alliance’s structure ought to change as it becomes more global and more equal in nature. As in earlier joint statements, the SCC called for the “establishment of a flexible, bilateral interagency coordination mechanism to coordinate policy, operational, intelligence, and public affairs positions before and during crisis situations.” This has been a standard line in joint statements throughout the decade, but there is no indication of how the alliance ought to change to reflect its new purpose and new division of roles and missions.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is a discussion that needs to happen now, and it needs to happen in full view of the Japanese public (and not just in the form of Abe visiting the troops as “commander-in-chief.”)

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