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U.S.-Japan Strategic Dialogue

Nov 30, 2007
8:00am to 6:00pm ET

Sponsored by: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) & The Center for a New American Security

On November 30, 2007, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan (MOFA) co-hosted a joint U.S.-Japan Strategic Dialogue, where participants discussed a range of issues important to the U.S.-Japan alliance both now and in the future. The discussion was a success on all accounts and provided a valuable vehicle for dialogue and debate on the future of the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Introductory Remarks

Ambassador Ryozo Kato, Dr. Kurt Campbell, CEO of CNAS, and Mr. Nobukatsu Kanehara, Director of the Policy Coordination Division of MOFA, began the morning discussions by highlighting shared interests and concerns.  Both Ambassador Kato and Kurt Campbell underscored the importance of the alliance and affirmed that regardless of the outcome of the 2008 American presidential elections the alliance will remain the foundation for America’s Asia policy.” Ambassador’s comments not only helped guide discussions but reemphasized the importance of collaboration and friendship for the alliance. Moreover, Dr. Campbell noted that the alliance enjoys bipartisan support in Washington that will continue regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican wins the 2008 election. However, there was a certain concern over a perceived lack of commitment and discussion by major American presidential candidates – particularly, Democrats – on Japan, especially in the wake of Prime Minister Fukuda’s recent visit to Washington.

Security and alliance issues in East Asia guided many discussions throughout the day.  Many Japanese participants conveyed their belief that it was the responsibility of the U.S. and Japan to engage and ensure that China becomes a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system. On a related subject, the participants identified the Taiwan Straits and the Korean peninsula as continuing sources of instability and tension.  There was disagreement regarding America’s negotiating position toward North Korea, however, both sides agreed that an overly conciliatory denuclearization policy should be avoided.

Uncertainties exist, however, on this and other issues within the U.S.-Japan alliance.  Some Americans argued that despite Japanese involvement during American interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Japanese government and polity has shown itself to be reluctant to fully support American policies.  This was highlighted by strong opposition in the Diet over antiterrorism assistance in the form of refueling operations in the Indian Ocean. Nonetheless, these uncertainties underscore the growing need for dialogue between the U.S. and Japan to broaden and strengthen existing bonds.

As evidenced by all of the American participants, Japan remains the keystone to America’s Asia policy.  In economic terms, the speakers were supportive of continuing efforts to increase trade in the region, specifically alluding to partners like India, Australia, and ASEAN.  For this too, the speakers strongly believed that the U.S.-Japan alliance was a critical vehicle for expansive economic integration and growth in Asia-Pacific.

State of U.S.-Japan Relations in North East Asia

Northeast Asia remains an area of concern for both Japan and the U.S. The Japanese discussant expressed a continued concern over North Korea.  Given previous failed negotiations, there is not much optimism in Japan for complete dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Furthermore, the Japanese worried that disarmament negotiations should not overlook important Japanese interests, including the “abductees’ issue.”

North Korea also remains an area of deep concern for the United States. Americans are glad that progress has been made on the Six-Party Talks, but they recognize the history of distrust in the region. The U.S. believes that its relationships with Japan will play an indispensible role in maintaining peace and security in Northeast Asia, as well as the denuclearization of North Korea. The Americans sympathized with the Japanese position but reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring Japanese and East Asian security.

Regional Challenges: North Korea, China, Southeast Asia, India

Despite the topical constraints for this panel (North Korea, China, Southeast Asia and India), American discussants were concerned that little attention has been directed toward the growing influence of Russia in Asia. Moscow has historically played a strong role in Asia and continues to do so by engaging in prolific arms sales to Indonesia, China and India. Even though Russia’s intentions and trajectory remain unknown, neither Japan nor the U.S. can afford to ignore Moscow’s power plays in the region. Apart from Russia, both the Americans and the Japanese discussants believe there is an enormous potential for growing partnerships with ASEAN and India. Moreover, the prospects for greater military cooperation between India and Japan – as highlighted by naval cooperation – can help compliment America’s role as security guarantor in Asia.

Both the American and Japanese delegates acknowledged that China will be one of the key strategic challenges to regional peace and security in the future. It is, in fact, a global challenge.  Currently, there is concern over what China’s strategic vision and goal are.  How quickly is China developing a full spectrum military?  With the difficulties in accurately understanding China’s military budget, this will remain an area of concern for the U.S. and Japan. The Taiwan issue also remains a contentious issue for the U.S., China, and Japan. Taipei’s recent saber rattling is causing many in Beijing to take a proactive and hard-line military posture toward Taiwan. This is of significant concern for the U.S. because of its doctrinal commitments to Taiwan and also to Japan because of its proximity to the Cross Straits. Japanese participants acknowledge that one of the biggest concerns is that there is no Washington consensus on how the U.S. should treat China.


Both participants reminded luncheon participants that historical ups-and-downs in relations were inevitable. One of the speakers argued that the bilateral relationship is currently in the ‘trough’ stage – or between historical highs and lows. The desire and need for strategic engagement should be continued and to focus solely on short-term irritations also overlooks the tremendously important role of the alliance to regional and global security.

The key note discussants also brought up concerns important to the U.S. and Japan. Primarily, Tokyo and Washington should do a lot more to understand and integrate preparedness and reaction to potential bioterrorist attacks. Collaboration on more niche areas, like bioterrorism, could help broaden the scope of cooperation and further enhance the alliance. This sentiment should also be acknowledged to deal with other non-traditional threats, such as environmental degradation and global warming.

Prospects for Broader Cooperation: Ideas and Institutions

There are a number of different ways the U.S.-Japan alliance can continue to deepen its relationship and better address many of the issues discussed thus far in the seminar. For one Japanese discussant, China was the most important challenge to deal with. In order to deal with China’s military build up he suggested better transparency regarding Chinese military budget is needed.

The Japanese discussant also moved into issues that the international community could work on together. In particular, he argued that the U.S.-Japan alliance could help foster dialogue and greater debate on how to help mitigate many existing problems with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). He also noted that regional architectures, like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and East Asian Community (EAC) needed to be reinforced to help the bilateral alliance deal with dynamic challenges in the region . Some American participants also identified the need to establish a trilateral dialogue between Japan-China and the U.S.

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