Schieffer bemoans Japan’s (lack of) defense spending

On Tuesday, J. Thomas Schieffer, US ambassador to Japan, spoke at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, where he called on Japan to spend more on defense.

Judging from the coverage in the foreign and domestic press, it appears that the ambassador spoke bluntly, declaring, “I think the Japanese are getting a bargain in the (US-Japan) alliance on what we bring on the table.” The Japanese press seems to have emphasized his remarks on the Asian arms race; both Yomiuri and Sankei note little on the remarks other than that the ambassador called attention to rising defense expenditures in China, Russia, and South Korea at the same time that Japan’s have continued to drop. (AP and Bloomberg also focus mostly on the regional dimensions of his remarks.)

The problem is not the message but the messenger. The US government has been urging Japan to spend more on its defense for decades (a half-century of remorse for giving Japan Article 9). What will these remarks achieve that decades of prodding haven’t? Does the US have a solution to Japan’s fiscal crisis that will give Japan the budget room to spend more on defense? What good is accomplished by telling the Japanese government to spend more on defense at the same time that it’s trying to pay down the national debt and overhaul the welfare state?

How about some creative solutions for getting more out of what Japan is already spending on defense? Laudably, Ambassador Schieffer called attention to Japan’s woefully corrupt defense procurement process. But what he didn’t do is look at the US role in encouraging Japan to free or cheap ride on US defense expenditures. It is hard for the US government to complain about Japanese cheap-riding with some 40,000 US military personnel stationed in Japan. Japan has had no incentive to change its behavior thanks to the US security guarantee. As such, I would be more impressed if the ambassador spoke on what the US can do to change the incentives. For example, the US government could offer to renegotiate the 2006 realignment agreement and free Japan from paying for the relocation, which would both free up money for the Japanese government and hasten the realignment process (which should in turn force the Japanese government to reassess its defense policy in light of the III MEF moving 1500 miles eastward).

Ambassador Schieffer’s remarks are probably harmless — it’s easy enough for Tokyo to ignore them. But is this any way to run the alliance? Given that the budgetary (and legal) constraints on Japanese foreign and defense policy are unlikely to change in the short and medium terms, it would be better for the US and Japan to discuss how to make the most of existing capabilities and determine why exactly the alliance exists in the twenty-first century, a discussion that’s been delayed (at least at senior levels) for too long.

4 thoughts on “Schieffer bemoans Japan’s (lack of) defense spending

  1. Anonymous

    \”How about some creative solutions for getting more out of what Japan is already spending on defense?\”***It is not the United States\’ responsibility to find ways to save money in the Japanese budgetor to help them with their fiscal problems.Why should it be the U.S. perogative to offer creative solutions?Who is helping the U.S. with its fiscal problems? The tone of your writing about the U.S.-Japan Security relationship always is antagonistic towards the U.S. side. The Ambassador\’s comments about the Japanese side getting the better deal are a major understatement.All of the burdens of the relationship should be shifted in a major way toward the Japnanese side… the Japanese should pay more, they should spend more on defense, but most importantly they need to be more deferential to the United States on matters of defense and in politics in general. (Koizumi understood this.) They are the junior partner; this is not an equal relationship nor should it be.The United States has given Japan peace, democracy, and helped Japan by making the economic miracle possible. Article 9 was indeed imposed on Japan for good reason, but the legal problems associated with it are not the fault or the burden of the United States.I see nothing at all unusual or contradictory about sharply criticizing Japan for not spending enough on defense and taking enough responsibility in the world, while simultaneously keeping as many troops as we so wish in Japan.It is an intrinsic characteristic of being a world power when people expect and demand you to successfully run overlapping, complex policies and operations that contain contradictions. It is an intrinsic characteristic of being a world power that you are criticized regardless of what imperfect solutions you execute…Your criticisms of American policy are great evidence of this.And yet you do not apply the same standards to Japan for some reason.I don\’t understand this kind of hyper-self-criticism by the American Left… as it undermines American power and American interests. Anyway, it is good we have an Ambassador who is honest, blunt, and who is bossy with the Japanese.We need more of this in the US-Japan relationship; the fact that our partnership is not an equal one needs to be communicated now and again. And I do not see a time in the future when the role of Japan will be independent or more able to shape its own destiny.In fact quite the opposite.Japan and the world are better off under American hegemony than if they were running the show themselves. (Maybe I am blunter than Schieffer… I find it refreshing when diplomats are not afraid to tell hard truths. In this sense Schieffer is following in the brilliant tradition of another blunt and effective leader, former Defense Sec. Rumsfeld…)


  2. ross

    Look, you can want Japan to spend more on defense or you can want Japan to be more deferential to the US but you\’re crazy to think that you\’re ever going to get both. They are not a package deal. A more capable Japan is a more independent Japan. Right now Japan spends what it wants to spend. It\’s their choice to spend more or less. If it\’s not the place of American\’s to suggest that Tokyo spend defense money more efficiently, as you suggest, then it is not the place of American\’s to tell Japan to spend more.Honestly, I think anyone can make either statement. But Tobias is correct here, telling Tokyo to spend more is not constructive. Not surprising from a US ambassodor sadly out of his depth on the country in which he is charged with representing American views.


  3. OperationNorthwoods

    Anon,The Japanese prop up the dollar, which is a key aspect of America\’s dominant position in the world. Thinking that the US of 2008 resembles the US of, say, 1958 is ridiculous. A declining power, who is bossy with his banker, is a risky game. Especially when the US seems to be taking on an indirect but anti-Chinese policy.


  4. Anonymous

    Just to see if I\’ve got this straight: Japan should greatly increase its military spending, without any thought towards reducing its national debt or overhauling (as opposed to eliminating) social welfare programs? This advice makes perfect sense when one recalls that the Ambassador represents the Bush Administration; this has been our policy in the US for years. Gee, what could possibly go wrong?-RobW


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